A recent national study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center study found that more than a third of adults surveyed can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, and only 26 percent can name all three branches of government.
As a condition of high school graduation, several states require students to to score a passing grade on the test that immigrants must pass when they apply for US citizenship. Should New Mexico?
This year New Mexico considered a different goal. House Bill 23, which died quietly in our recent legislative session, proposed a graduation requirement that focused on readiness for work, not citizenship. The bill would have required high school students, for graduation, to demonstrate that they have applied for college, got a job, or committed to an internship or military service. This would have added to existing requirements for “next step plans” for graduating seniors.
We have been justifiably concerned with educating our students to earn a living, but some of us worry that we may be neglecting to educate them to be citizens.
I had been looking at this issue for some time, talking with teachers and others who share this concern about the decline in civic literacy.
I found some bright spots.
One high school teacher told me his students take that immigration test as a start for the semester. Travis Crawley, winner of a Golden Apple teaching award, said, “We use it as a teaching tool.” After the test, the students research and debate the issues.
Here’s another bright spot called National History Day.
This is a competition with regional, state and national levels. Mid school and high school students prepare projects, individually or in small groups, that are judged by volunteer panelists. The projects can be websites, exhibits, performances, documentaries or papers.
This year’s theme is “Conflict and Compromise,” the profound principle that underlies our Constitution, as articulated by James Madison in 1787 in the Federalist Papers. There is no more relevant theme for a student history project in 2018.
About half of the state’s school districts (plus private school and home schooled students) are participating. The three regional competitions took place in March. The state contest will be April 27 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. State winners compete nationally in June.
At the Metro area contest, among the many entries I saw a video documentary on the Iranian hostage crisis, a group performance about the women’s suffrage movement and an individual performance on education for the deaf using sign language. Exhibits included the use of the atomic bomb in World War II and a long-ago controversy in New Mexico involving the employment of Catholic nuns in public schools. The display of knowledge and enthusiasm was exhilarating.
And then the world changed.
We are now witnessing the most powerful civics education project of our generation. The protest movement against gun violence, led by the students of Parkland, Florida, will offer young people the chance to learn for themselves how citizen participation can bring about change – – or not.
These students are learning in real time about the way our system works. They very well may get the change they are asking for. And they may lead their generation to much broader reforms. Many high school seniors who are eligible to vote this year will vote.
I hope this new activism includes the students at whom HB 23 was aimed – – the ones who may be uncertain about their own futures. They will be voters too.
Meanwhile, you can find the practice version of the naturalization civics test online at my.uscis.gov/prep/test/civics. This practice version is multiple-choice. Before you ask your kids to take this test, you may want to try it yourself.
Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018