Rep. Urdahl’s civics concern, Part I

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Dean Urdahl’s op-ed is must-reading for every Minnesota parent, in my estimation. In his opening paragraph, Rep. Urdahl writes “Our Republic faces crisis after crisis: Our government is crippled by polarization, Congress can’t seem to get anything done, Supreme Court appointments have become a three-ring circus, no agreement can be reached on immigration and our borders, health care solutions can’t be reached, our infrastructure is decaying and the national debt is out of control.”

Then he highlights what he sees as the underlying problem, writing “It’s easy to identify the problems. Digging deeper shows that these are the results of a more pervasive root cause: the diminishing of civic education nationally and in Minnesota. The foundation of our understanding of how our government works is withering. The outcomes include confusion, misunderstanding and decay in our system. A district court judge has told me that every day he sees the repercussions of citizens not understanding how our system works.”

Junior high schools and high schools that don’t teach in-depth history lessons about the writing of the Constitution, including principles like federalism, the Bill of Rights, separation of powers, the 3 branches of government, due process and the presumption of innocence, are cheating students. How many schools teach in-depth lessons on the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, where the Jim Crow laws came from and who started the Civil Rights Movement? Apparently, our schools are failing on these fronts. Badly:

The failure is measurable. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the highly respected “Nation’s Report Card,” reports that 75% of our graduates leave high school not proficient in civics. They are failing. A nationwide poll found that two-thirds of Americans can name an American Idol judge, but only 15% can name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. One-third of our graduates can’t name a single branch of our government. The Annenberg Study revealed that 37% cannot name one right guaranteed in the First Amendment. There are students who think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.

Fortunately, Rep. Urdahl isn’t one to just complain about a problem. He’s willing to fight to fix the problems he’s highlighted:

A study by the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation found that only 36% of Americans could pass a test that immigrants pass at a 97.5% rate. Last session, I tried to pass a bill that required a course be offered for credit to juniors or seniors in high school. Facing stiff opposition to that from the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA), I compromised to change the requirement to “encourage.”

In its recent wrap-up of the legislative session, MSBA touted its success in weakening my bill by claiming that it would reduce the number of electives and reduce local control. These claims mystify me. I compromised and amended the bill to allow for more electives. Honors programs, PSEO and other accelerated options were exempted. Frankly, it comes down to teaching what is wanted versus what is needed.

It’s shameful that a lobbying organization would attempt to water down students’ curriculum. And yes, it’s indisputable that MSBA is a lobbying organization:

MSBA represents every school board member in the state along with more than 837,000 public school students. MSBA is the leading advocate for public education by supporting, promoting and strengthening the work of public school boards.

Here’s what MSBA believes:

  1. An investment in a student is a smart investment in our state’s future.
  2. Providing school districts maximum flexibility and control provides benefits to students.
  3. State policies should ensure every student has the opportunity to graduate prepared to be successful in the postsecondary path of their choice.

That middle bullet point sounds great until you think of who’s running the schools. Parents, have you heard that students have been trained to be activists? Why weren’t they being taught important things like the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, how the federal government was formed or why the Founders decided that the Electoral College was best system for electing presidents?