WE NEED FULL CREDIT GOVERNMENT CLASSES IN HIGH SCHOOL
As adults, we don’t know how to fit political information into our schedules. If we haven’t gained political education before we graduate, we aren’t likely to for several more years. We glance at the news to catch the weather, or a sports score, but seldom do we sit down to watch the entire broadcast. Even worse, we spend less time listening to our political figures when they speak at a State of the State, or State of the Union Address, for instance. Even people who say they get their news online often read only the headline and a paragraph or two. Practically speaking, we elect our leaders and our representatives based on a picture, a few sentences we’ve randomly heard them speak, and a well-written biographical paragraph by a paid marketer. Some voters watch for the political ads and decide by what they see there, not realizing that these are nothing but mini-commercials by marketing strategists, selling you their product. Rarely do we think to look up an incumbent’s voting record or find out what their previous jobs were and what their business reputation was. The truth is, unless we take courses in college related to the political arena, most of us know very little about our government and how it operates. Once we leave high school, our lives become a whole new world of responsibilities with a job, and/or college classes. Many marry and begin families which brings in a whole new dimension of responsibility. We now have bills to pay, and of course we want a social life. We need a car, or a place to live… and on and on. High school prepares us for this new world with information that helps us make good choices, but does it prepare us to improve our lives and our worlds through the power of the vote?
Just about everyone knows who the president of the country is, even if they didn’t vote. However, it’s surprising how many don’t even know who the vice president is, let alone who their senators and congressional representatives are. Even locally, 20-somethings to 40-somethings often don’t know who is representing them in their state legislature, or who the governor is, or the mayor of their own city, let alone their council members. This is somewhat understandable, given that many families have both parents working, or are single-parent households. With children, there are doctor appointments, babysitters to schedule, laundry, meals, constant housecleaning, and general bill-paying. Then comes school registrations, parent-teacher meetings, sports, holiday shows, birthday parties and other parent-child activities… all while working a full-time job and trying to have some family time. Whew!
So the last year or two of high school (before all that starts) is the best time to teach some life skills that can lead to a better future for the student as he/she becomes an adult. First, we need to acknowledge that History is not the same as Civics, and a class in Government is completely different than either one.
HISTORY is mostly about the names of Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Tribal Chiefs, Sheiks, Dictators and a few famous U. S. patriots and the dates of their birth, death, and times in power. It also focuses on wars and specific battles throughout the years.
CIVICS class is centered around the rights of citizens, mainly in the United States, and sometimes broken down to the state level. The Constitution is usually a part of this curriculum. Some voter information is usually included. It is an important course but it doesn’t teach much about how the government functions.
GOVERNMENT class is the study of how governments run, particularly in the United States. Besides learning about pacts and treaties and how they come to be, this course takes into account how the three branches of our federal government work (and the checks and balances this provides), and describes how policies and laws are made. Ideally, there is some overlap between government class and civics class, but one does not take the place of the other.
Today, civics classes are required as early as 7th grade. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember a single class I had when I was 12. Boys were discovering girls, and girls were discovering that boys were noticing them. Sports were being introduced on a competitive level. I remember that elective classes were added to the curriculum, and most of us chose something that seemed like fun; possibly shop or home economics (back in those days), or music, art, or typing.
The civics classes in school today are usually half-credit classes, paired with some kind of local government class. While this is better than nothing, the message is sent that the workings of government really aren’t very important to the average citizen. The amount of time allotted doesn’t allow for the setting up of a mock government and studying the variety of issues our three main branches face. How can we expect our next generation to be inspired to become involved if they don’t even know how it works? How can they know how to vote if they don’t even know that senators and representatives can write and submit bills, but both the house and the senate must approve them and the president must sign them before they become law? (Yes, the president has a veto power which allows him to keep a bill from becoming law, but the veto can be overwritten if it goes back to congress and passes both the senate and house of representatives by 2/3 majority in each.) Instead, we believe a president can actually change the law at will, without understanding that he can only do that with the help of congress. In fact, most presidential candidates don’t even know the full extent of their limitations until they begin receiving briefings. (Many people also confuse Executive Orders with Laws. Executive Orders can only pertain to laws that are currently in existence.)
And then of course, any new laws (or orders) have to be legal. That is, laws cannot be made that go against the Constitution. Our judicial system is set up to prevent that from happening. There are legal ways to circumvent that, such as adding a constitutional amendment – something that is very difficult and requires a great deal of work in order to reach an agreement which will win the necessary backing of the individual states. First a proposal must be developed and must pass both branches of congress by 2/3 majority of each branch. Then the bill must be sent to the states where their legislatures must agree, by simple majority, to the amendment. Three quarters of all states must approve of the amendment. The president cannot veto any step of this process. ***For more on amendments, see the end of this article.
Did you know all this? More importantly, did you know all this the first dozen or so times that you voted?
Shouldn’t our future voters and leaders know that federal judges are appointed for life – not only the Supreme Court? Shouldn’t our newest voters understand that there is a hierarchy to the court system?
Shouldn’t our schools teach that even the executive branch of the government must meet the standards of the Constitution, and that our congress and judicial systems may be called on to determine if any new law or regulation is constitutional? Wouldn’t all this stick in their minds more, the closer they got to voting age?
Isn’t it up to us to talk to our state legislators, boards of education, and our school districts to try to encourage more involvement for our students so they can go into the world armed with the best information they can get? Wouldn’t we have a better world if the youngest adults were as informed as we’ve become after raising our families and then finally finding the time to actually learn about the amazing way our forefathers set up our democracy?
While researching data, I found that most requirement information is only current through 2013, so some states may have modified their requirements in either direction during the last 4 years. At this website, I noticed some states had actually dropped government from their requirements. Reference for graduation requirements Info: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbprofall?Rep=HS01
According to the referenced website, only 4 states and the District of Columbia show a full credit required for U.S. Government – Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, and Nevada.
Fifteen others show Government at a full credit, but mixed with other subjects such as history or civics.
Nine states show no Government requirement at all – Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The other 22 states require only ½ credit, sometimes mixed in with other subjects such as local government or history, and of these, some offer the classes as early as 7th grade.
In early 2017, several states reviewed and have changed, or are considering changing requirements for graduation. You can look up your local Board of Education to find requirements and other graduation information. If you would like to see the next generation graduate as a better informed and more aware group of young adults, you can begin with your local school board. Let them know what you want!
**** A final consideration might be to require that all students pass a citizenship test prior to graduation. Why do we expect new U.S. citizens to know more about how our government works than the young people that have gone to school here their entire lives?
There are currently many petitions and proposals circulating for a 28th amendment. A few are:
- Citizens United (campaign funding)
- Time limits on congressional and senate votes for appointed positions such as the Supreme Court.
- Social Security and healthcare as a right.
- Term limits for members of the House and Senate.
- More recently, limitations and requirements pertaining directly to the president, such as release of tax forms, medical records, and divestiture of business conflicts are being discussed.