While some Minnesota school districts who might be a little short when it comes to civics and government-specific curriculum in their high schools are concerned about losing more local control to another state mandate, the benefits of requiring high school graduates in the state to know at least a little bit about government, politics and the world they’re poised to enter as adults probably outweigh the negatives.
There’s simply too much at stake when it comes to electing people in power who are steering our state, nation and world down a certain road to not know who in the heck you’re voting for, why you’re voting for them, or you’re voting for them for the wrong and/or uninformed reasons. Worse yet, if high school graduates don’t know nearly enough about civics and the government that surrounds them, apathy inevitably sets in, leaving a generation of young adults who probably don’t care enough or know enough to even head to a polling place on Election Day.
It might not be a bad idea for high school graduates to know in great detail their rights.
Carla Nelson, a Republican state senator from Rochester, has introduced a bill in the Minnesota Senate that would require high school students in the state to take and successfully pass a government and citizenship course. High school students are currently required to take 3.5 credits of social studies as a graduation requirement. Under the parameters of Nelson’s bill, one of those credits would need to be a government and citizenship course. If approved, freshmen entering high school in Minnesota during the 2020-21 school year would be the first to face the requirement. The measure would also make an “understanding of civic life” a performance measure for school districts. Students would be tested on that understanding and the state education commissioner would have to report the percentage of high school graduates who received a passing grade on the test.
“Civics is essential. Our democracy requires that we not only have engaged citizens, that we have involved citizens that know how their government works,” Nelson said in various news stories detailing her proposed legislation. “We want all of our students to graduate knowing how their government works so they can shape their government, so they can participate.”
The bill has been discussed by a Senate committee and could possibly be added to a larger committee bill later in the legislative session. A companion bill has been introduced in the Minnesota House.
There is room in Minnesota’s graduation standards for this requirement. While it’s admirable and absolutely necessary that educators are trying to get kids engaged and interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), it’s no less necessary that high school graduates know a thing or two about the world around them, and the people who are hoping to be voted into positions of power. And, no, that doesn’t mean that Minnesota high school teachers would have free rein to teach civics and government with a partisan bend or angle that fits their particular beliefs.
This is about filling young people’s brains with the knowledge that they need to live successful, informed adult lives. Of course we want them to be able to understand science, be technological whizzes, build things and solve problems. But we also want and need them to know what’s going on in the world around them, and how they can have a say in all of that.