Guest Column: Understanding civics critical for our democracy

As Democratic Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Committee, it is often disappointing to hear from teachers and professors that our younger generation lacks basic civic knowledge and the understanding of how this great country was created.

Today’s youth are often unfairly assailed for their cell phone usage or a lack of work ethic. I often find these characterizations to be unfair. 

Whether I am visiting a school or attending an event in my district, I am often inspired by the ambition, determination and ingenuity of our younger generation. Yet, I cannot ignore the importance of assuring that our future generations understand the history and ideals of America.

If our youth cannot navigate through the functions of our government, or comprehend basic civic history, then we have failed.

To bridge this gap of civic understanding, I am a co-sponsor of House Bill 564 with my colleagues, Representatives Karen Boback and William Kortz. The bill is a bi-partisan effort that would require students to pass the United States Citizenship Test on Civics to graduate high school.

The exam would feature 100 questions and require a minimum grade of 60 percent to pass.

Those required to take the exam would consist of students that attend public school, charter school, cyber/charter school, private school, or those seeking their GED.

In 2015, a study by the independent nonprofit organization, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, showed that more than 80 percent of college seniors at 55 top-ranked institutions would have failed a historical knowledge test.

Similar studies have shown that less than 20 percent of liberal arts schools require courses in American history or government before they graduate.

In the age of information, this level of historical and civic awareness is simply unacceptable. Since 2015, over a dozen states from Arizona to New Hampshire, have agreed.

It is clear from these grim statistics that action must be taken, but in a diligent manner.

House Bill 564, which would not go into effect until the beginning of the 2020-21’ school year, recognizes that forced standardized testing is often a burden to the school district, teachers and students.

That is why schools will have the freedom to determine how these exams are administered.

Exams can be taken in any grade from seven through 12, while students will have the flexibility to take the exam three times throughout the year.

This will help alleviate the student angst that is often associated with standardized testing.

As a former educator and current state representative, it is imperative that we assure our history and ideals do not become forgotten on bookshelves.

It is also vital that we achieve this without burdening our schools and handcuffing our teachers’ creative abilities to teach to learn and not teach to test.

This legislation takes the proper steps to accomplish both.

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