By Bob Katzen
The House 151-0, Senate 37-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill that makes changes in the current law that all public schools must provide instruction in American history and civics.
Current law requires that the instruction include the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence; the Bill of Rights; the state Constitution; local history and government; a program on the correct use and display of the U.S. flag and the importance of participation in the electoral process.
The bill adds several topics that are required to be in the instruction including the function and composition of the branches of local, state and federal government; the roles and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy; the development of skills to access, analyze and evaluate written and digital media as it relates to history and civics; community diversity and historical trends in voter registration; civic participation relative to disenfranchised voter populations; opportunities to identify and debate issues relative to power, economic status and the common good in democracy.
Other provisions include requiring each public school serving grades eight to 12 to provide at least one student-led civics project for each student; creation of a Civics Project Trust Fund to help further civics education; and requiring the state to provide information to cities and promote youth membership on municipal boards, committees and commissions.
The bill does not include language that the Senate had approved making it mandatory beginning in 2021 that all students complete one student-led civics project after 8th grade in order to graduate.
Education Committee House chair Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) said the bill incentivizes the robust implementation of the new civics, history and social science curriculum framework. “It also creates a Civics Project Trust Fund to assist with professional development, collaboration with institutions of higher education and other stakeholder organizations and the creation of a competitive evaluation of student-led civics project for all eighth graders,” Peisch concluded.
Gov. Baker proposed amendments that he said would improve the bill.
“We must be thoughtful as to how we approach the instruction of civics, always ensuring in our classrooms that differing points of view are afforded impartial consideration,” said Baker. “When opposing positions are raised, our students should be expected to engage in a civil discourse that is both appropriate and respectful.”
Baker continued, “While we want to encourage the development of critical reasoning skills, we would never want students to feel forced to engage in student-led civic projects in the public sphere that advance positions contrary to their personal convictions. Schools, therefore, must make alternative opportunities readily available.”