On May 4, Wisconsin state legislators introduced AB 194, a bill that will require students to take a civics test (based on the U.S. Citizenship Test) in order to receive their high school diploma. I have read the bill, and I am against it. What follows is the text of the letter I sent today to the sponsors, my representative, and the chair and co-chair of the Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations. What do you think- should graduating high school seniors be required to take the civics test?
Thanks for reading.
I am writing to you in opposition to AB 194, which “requires a person to correctly answer at least 60 of 100 questions on a civics test, which is identical to the civics test required to be taken by persons seeking U.S. citizenship, as a prerequisite to obtaining a high school diploma or a high school equivalency diploma.” Requiring a civics test will not make a student more patriotic or more of a citizen, nor will it lead to a sound understanding of our government.
Tests such as the one that would be required by this bill require only rote learning. As a high school social studies teacher, I do not want my students to memorize random facts; I aim to have them perform tasks that require higher order thinking. By requiring purely memorization, this bill goes against sound pedagogical standards.
Instead of encouraging students to learn random facts about the United States, we should be encouraging them to be involved and to vote. We should have lengthy discussions on topics like campaign finance, the role of public opinion, and polarization in politics. We should teach them how to conduct research on policies and candidates so that they can make informed decisions at the polls. We should talk about the abysmal voter turnout in the 2014 midterms and why people did not vote. We should be discussing the problems of our current system and their ideas for addressing them. By requiring students to have only rudimentary knowledge of our political system, this bill will not lead to a more informed and engaged electorate.
I am not saying that students should not know the basics of our government. They should know who represents us in Congress, and they should understand the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. They should not, however, be required to take a test to showcase this knowledge. This test will do nothing to help students become active participants in the political process.
Thank you for your time and consideration.