Altering Minnesota’s public school curriculum has been a hot-button issue in recent months— but one common-sense proposal may bring unity to the education conversation.
The most recently proposed changes involve the addition of critical race theory, lessons on identity and “whiteness,” and lectures about systemic racism. However, one education-related suggestion stands out against the rest: mandating a basic civics education.
Minnesota does not presently have any requirement that its high-school students learn about government. State Rep. Dean Urdahl presented a simple bill (HF 562) which seeks to change this to the Minnesota House Education Policy Committee Monday.
“Civics is in a state of crisis,” Urdahl began. “We can’t guarantee that it is being taught because there is no assigned credit requirement to teach civics in Minnesota.”
“77% of Americans between 18-34 can’t name even one of their U.S. senators,” he continued. “Two-thirds of Americans can name at least one judge on American Idol. 15% can name the chief justice of the Supreme Court.”
Drawing on his 35 years as a social studies teacher, Urdahl estimates that “three out of four high school graduates lack proficiency in civics.” This does not bode well for young Americans’ ability to cast informed votes, he suggested to the committee.
The most recently available quality data shows that about half of Americans can’t name the three branches of government, reports Penn Today. Remarkably, this is a relative improvement. In 2006, only about 30% of the citizenry could identify the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
To further improve these figures, Urdahl’s bill seeks to “include a credit for a course in government and citizenship in either 11th or 12th grade,” before students turn 18 and head to the ballot boxes.
However, despite the magnitude of the problem, the fact that most Americans agree civics needs to be taught, and the simplicity of Urdahl’s solution (his bill only seeks to add about 50 words to existing law), lawmakers have hesitated to act.
“This has been an effort I have been engaged in for four or five years now,” Urdahl told the Education Policy Committee. He blames an overwhelming focus on STEM education for the state’s failure to improve social studies.
“It goes without saying STEM courses are very important to our children’s education,” Urdahl acknowledged. “The unfortunate thing is the focus on STEM has come at the expense of civics and we need to strike a better balance. We owe it to our children to do so.”