We have, in Alabama, students and parents who are upset by the passage of Sen. Arthur Orr’s SB32, which will require Alabama’s high school seniors to pass a civics exam to graduate, starting in the 2018 – 2019 school year. In a state with lagging educational achievement, the addition of any new graduation requirement will produce ill-will in certain sectors of the population. To be frank, I have to wonder whether someone who is upset by an added graduation requirement is someone who isn’t sure his child can meet it.
I have been pleased with Sen. Orr’s bill since it was pre-filed and am even more pleased that it passed and is now law. In Alabama, we need civics education badly, because Alabama needs a massive annual infusion of informed young voters.
As for why high school seniors need this, I have two anecdotes to share. First, shortly after the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, I overheard a student tell her classmates (who were unhappy with Bush) that, if they weren’t going to vote Republican, they shouldn’t bother voting at all, because Alabama was a “red state.” Incensed by the inaccuracy of her statement and by the bad taste involved in dissuading anyone from voting, I questioned her about how “red” our state could be, considering that Democrats had (at that time) controlled our state legislature since the end of Reconstruction. She had no idea that was the case.
The second instance happened more recently: after the passage of SB32, I had a group of students who were decrying the new requirement about taking the civics exam. Their main concern was for themselves; they didn’t want to take the test to graduate. At first, I kept quiet, but I did choose to speak up after a few moments of listening to them. The bill in question was so brief that it would have only taken minutes to read it and find out the truth: they would graduate before the new requirement took effect.
We need civics education in Alabama.
For any ire directed at Alabama’s Republican leaders for our state’s voter ID law, for the driver’s-license office closures, and for the recent redistricting plan that was rejected by a federal court, this bill sponsored by a Republican senator is right on the money. With as many political problems as Alabama has had, Alabamians should be happy about any effort to educate young voters to make good decisions.
Personally, I’d like to see civics education go even further. I would like to see civics coursework became part of our nation’s “correctional” system. I would like to see voter-registration officials make visits to high schools like military recruiters and college reps do. I would also like to see PSAs, like Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill,” to start running during children’s programming again.
For any claim that schools today don’t teach kids what they need to know to function in the real world, Sen. Orr’s SB32 flies in the face of that criticism. While civics may not be a job skill, it is a life skill— one that too many people don’t have.