Just because a concept is valuable or important doesn’t mean the Kansas Legislature has to pass a law about it.
Such is the case with civics education. No one should dispute the value of learning about the United States system of government, institutions and laws. No one should dispute the value of learning how and why this country was created, along with the various ways in which it has matched and occasionally fallen short of its promise over the past 200 years.
But just because all of that is true doesn’t mean that legislators should require graduating high school students to take a civics test. The proposal in question, House Bill 2573, would require students to pass a test similar to the U.S. citizenship test before graduating from high school.
If anyone remembers what the senior year of high school is like, it’s an insanely busy time of standardized tests, increasingly demanding classwork, planning for the future, and making sure that one’s ducks are in a row for the all-important graduation day.
Adding such a requirement, even if the test can be taken multiple times, simply serves to make students’ lives in that last crucial year of public schooling more crowded. However well-intentioned, the Legislature should not be in the business of developing high school requirements or curriculums.
Indeed, Kansas-National Education Association lobbyist Mark Desetti made a pertinent point during the hearing on the bill last week, asking why such a test wasn’t required of lawmakers or law-enforcement officers. That’s not a bad question.
We all could stand to know more about civics. Our system of government is a valuable gift from our forebears and carries with the potential for transformative change through nonviolent, democratic means. We have gained immense power and wealth through the system and serve as an example to the world.
But the system is only as good as the memories of its citizens. When we have crowds cheer at the mention of unconstitutional actions or when the justice system is attacked, it is indeed worth wondering how much people know about our government.
By and large, these are not issues caused by high school students. These are issues created by their parents and grandparents. We do need civics education.
But perhaps high school isn’t the place to start.