More schools requiring civics In this Wednesday, March 8, 2017 photo high school teacher Natalie O'Brien, center, calls on students during a civics class called "We the People," at North Smithfield High School in North Smithfield, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
More schools requiring civics
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Should U.S. high school students know at least as much about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist papers as immigrants passing a citizenship test?
 
In a growing number of school systems, having such a basic knowledge is now a graduation requirement. But states are taking different approaches to combating what's seen as a widespread lack of knowledge about how government works.
 
Kentucky and Arkansas recently became the latest of more than a dozen states since 2015 that have required the high school social studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions asked on the naturalization exam. Lawmakers in other states are hoping to foster even deeper understanding of the fundamentals of American democracy by adding a full course to study its most important documents.
 
"Rights might be inherent, but ideas need to be taught," said Maida Buckley, a retired teacher in Fairbanks, Alaska, who testified last year to an Alaskan legislative task force on civics education. "When you have a system of government that's based on ideas, espoused in the Declaration of Independence and carried out with a working document in the Constitution, those ideas need to be taught."
 
It's a bipartisan cause, and in many states such bills are jointly introduced by Republicans and Democrats. But proponents' motivations vary from dismay about the lack of participation in local school boards and town halls to concerns about how Republican President Donald Trump and his supporters view the power of the executive branch.
 
"We clearly have seen there is a serious civics deficiency in this country, all the way up to the top, the very top," said Rhode Island Democratic state Rep. Gregg Amore, a longtime high school history teacher who is co-sponsoring state legislation that contends the "survival of the republic" depends on Americans understanding its principles and history.
 
A campaign by the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute has led many states to pass laws requiring students to know what's on the citizenship test.
 
"It's not a panacea or silver bullet, but it's a step forward," said the group's Lucian Spataro, who said 17 states have adopted the model or something similar. "You have to learn the basics before you can have the higher-level discussions."
 
Other civics education boosters say such a mandate is too simplistic.
 
"If you do something like that, people are going to start teaching to the test and teaching a game of Trivial Pursuit," said Charles Quigley, executive director of the Calabasas, California-based Center for Civic Education. "Kids are already tested to death."
 
The Rhode Island bill, introduced by a Republican from North Smithfield, a conservative town, is partly inspired by a ninth-grade class taught at North Smithfield High School. The honors class uses the "We the People" curriculum developed by Quigley's group. Students participate in a national competition in which they must orally defend their ideas.
 
On a March afternoon, teenagers stood at their classroom's lectern one by one, debating whether a California police officer can search a suspected gang member's smartphone without a warrant.
 
As they argued, some cited language from the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. Others looked to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' 1928 dissenting opinion in a wiretapping case.
 
Their teacher, Natalie O'Brien, gently prodded them to think critically and tap into more than 200 years of American history and legal philosophy. She didn't tell them that, in 2014, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in the California case that police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.
 
"Someone's going to channel James Madison, right?" she said. "What would Brandeis be saying about this particular decision? What would the founders be saying?"
 
North Smithfield High student Megan Skinner said she didn't pay much attention to politics before O'Brien's class, but the 15-year-old now said she now uses the founding U.S. documents as a guide as family and friends debate the Trump presidency.
 
"It gives us an entirely new perspective on all the events that are going on," Skinner said. "You see all these things in the news, and especially about the election, and all the things that are going on with the executive orders he passed, the travel bans. Before this class, we wouldn't have understood these things."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How does orally defending your ideas help you to understand them?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (26)
  • Lucero-mar
    4/21/2017 - 09:16 p.m.

    The moral of this story was that us as young adults should have some knowledge about the civics of our country, in order to better comprehend the events going on in with our presidency.

  • Daijzia-mar
    4/21/2017 - 11:44 p.m.

    From this article " More schools requiring civics," show if they should teach the high school kids about Declaration of Independence. Many teachers strongly agree about it so their able to understand the concept. Only Arkansas and Kentucky have them graduate with social studies curriculum. More states start using using it to teach and have debates about politics and Republican. Students now say that if they didn't be that class they wouldn't never learned that or never had understood those things.

  • Priscilla-mar1
    4/22/2017 - 11:56 p.m.

    The character are the students. The problem is that the students don't know that much about the government. And the resolution is that schools are making an effort to let their students get to know about the government.

  • Adrian-mar1
    4/23/2017 - 07:41 p.m.

    It's about how there needs to be more schools requiring civics classes. They want us people to learn more of the government and how it works by teaching us.abd taking a test on it.

  • Vasti-mar1
    4/23/2017 - 10:37 p.m.

    Now in school's you should have basic knowledge as a graduation requierment. Some states are taking action and belive there is a lack of knowledge about government information.

  • Vasti-mar1
    4/23/2017 - 10:40 p.m.

    The moral:
    Students should be taught about how the government works so they can see the perspective of how everything works and what's going on.

  • Amaris-mar1
    4/24/2017 - 12:07 a.m.

    C .The character in this story was Natalie O'Brien
    P . The problem in this story was as they argued , some cited laugauge from the U.S. consititution's For Amendement others looked to supreme court justice Luis Brandeis '1928 dissenting opinion in a wiretapping case.

    • Ralph-mar2
      4/26/2017 - 02:33 p.m.

      I agree with you amaris you have the character and problem but where the moral

  • irisp-ste
    4/24/2017 - 09:25 a.m.

    I feel that civics classes are extremely important in today's world. Now, politics seem to be unavoidable in discussion. Many students say they don't care who the President is or what policies are being put in place to affect US citizens' live, but they should. Or, they should at least know how to build a strong argument and defend their beliefs. Hopefully an addition of civics classes can boost these skills.

  • Karla-mar1
    4/25/2017 - 09:16 a.m.

    I think if it helps you understand the world more and how the story unfolded, but it is not necessary since you do not need it, you might need it to understand the laws but you do not need it for everything

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