For many years, GorT has been advocating that we need to improve our teaching of Civics in our schools. Never is it so apparent as during Presidential campaign season when we get to witness sitting Senators completely forget that they are in the legislative body of our federal government and promise one legislative act after another as part of their Presidential platform – many over-reaching, in my opinion, the bounds of the federal government. It typically ranges from various budget initiatives* and immigration practices to protection laws and taxes.
Kate Hardiman pens a great opinion piece in the Washington Examiner tackling the new Fairfax County (VA) policy allowing students in grades 7-12 to miss “one partial school day per school year” (not sure what defines a “partial school day”) in order to participate in “optional civic engagement activities”. Civic engagement is not defined by the policy so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. She makes great points:
- what teenager wouldn’t want a half-day off school to do something that they get their parents to write that they want to do and then did. Note: they don’t actually really have to do said thing, the parents (or a forging teenager) just needs to say they did.
- From an political spectrum perspective – liberal efforts tend to have more public protests/marches/etc. and therefore it may skew who is in school and become a greater divide between peers at a younger age. Add in the peer pressure of being the ones that would be in school, it may lead to participation by those not fully supportive (see below for more on this)
- Ms. Hardiman also cites that protests and marches might not actually encourage authentic civic engagement.
She concludes by arguing that it would benefit the kids to have the schools focus on civics rather than supporting them missing school in the hopes that it could unite Americans above the divisions that current protests exacerbate.
If Fairfax County (or other school districts) want to allow this, I’d stipulate a requirement that any student participating in it must pass a comprehensive civics test appropriate for their school grade. And by this I don’t mean simple civics stuff. If an 8th grader is going to go attend the “March for our Lives” (supporting additional gun laws), then they should demonstrate a knowledge of the 2nd Amendment, the process by which Amendments to the Constitution occur, how laws get passed, an overview of current gun control laws, etc. in addition to general knowledge of the roles and responsibilities laid out by the Constitution for the three branches of government.
Have the school districts really thought out about how the kids will cover missed work and learning? Probably not. As a knee-jerk reaction, I’d guess they would say the students are responsible for determining what was missed and what they have to make up. So these students turn to their peers who attended for help. Now, the students who stayed in school and used the taxpayer’s money effectively and for its designated purpose, have to help those who missed to attend (or not) some political event that the students in school either didn’t agree with or weren’t allowed to attend. Maybe the school and teachers will feel for these students and go easier on them for missing class – setting up multiple standards for those who attend vs. protest. Imagine if a student is absent to protest something the teacher personally opposes – think that’ll go smoothly and without bias?
As an example, the Volgi, ‘Puter, and GorT attended a high school in the Washington DC area. The religion department our senior year decided that the class should take a field trip to witness the protests around the U.S. policies regarding the Contras in Nicaragua near the Capitol. As it neared, a number of students (rightly) pointed out a few things: (1) our presence at the protest could convey the support of our school (as many of us would wear school-logo/name clothing) for the protest – is the official policy of the school that we are in support of it? (2) a number of us were not in support of the protest and felt like this was coercive, (3) really, many in our class didn’t fully understand the full context of the political situation. As a result, and in some respects to the credit of the school, some students stayed home, many attended, and a few of us (‘Puter and GorT included) were told to sit in the library during the half-day “field trip” and write an essay about the Contras situation. GorT penned an essay (as did others) about why the field trip was coercive and wrong. Upon reflection, at least one religion teacher expressed an understanding that it might not have been the best idea and admired the students taking different stands on the event.
Civics matters. Far too many Americans are ignorant of how this country works – or more accurately, is supposed to work based on our foundational documents and laws. People should easily be able to discern Presidential campaign promises (from either side) that are legislative duties – and then go ask, “if these are priorities, why didn’t they champion them in Congress where they are sitting now?”. People should understand who controls the federal purse-strings and how that gets done – and why government shutdowns are solely the fault of Congress not the President.
But sure, let’s have our students miss more educational time and go marching around cities, waiving posters and signs, or sit at home for half-a-day playing X-Box. As GorT, Sr. has pointed out, American education is where it seems we aim to get the least for our money.
* Yes, I know the federal budget process starts with the President submitting a proposed budget to Congress but that budget is a request from the executive branch – Congress goes thru (or should go thru) a whole budgetary process where the President’s budget is, essentially, tossed out.