Some Americans are abysmally uninformed about their government and how it works. That lack of knowledge spurred state Rep. Paul Evans, D-Salem, to sponsor House Bill 2691, which would require high schoolers to demonstrate proficiency in civics before graduation.
While the idea sounds good, it’s not the sort of thing that should be added to the state’s graduation requirements. Those requirements already provide for plenty of civics education, as do state education standards from kindergarten through grade 12.
It’s true, however, that some Americans are uninformed about the nation in which we live. According to a survey done for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and released in September 2016, about a third of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, much less all three (judicial, legislative and executive). And while 77 percent said Congress cannot establish an official religion, nearly 10 percent thought Congress could outlaw atheism (it can’t). Only about a third of those polled knew what happens to a case when the Supreme Court ties on it (the opinion of the lower court stands).
Here in Oregon, students are taught civics throughout their lives in public school. It begins in kindergarten, when children learn about the value of rules, among other things, and extends through high school, when they’re taught about the “functions and process of the United States government,” learn the responsibilities of voters and study documents including the constitution and Federalist Papers, among others.
HB 2691 wouldn’t change that. Rather, it would require, in addition to classroom work, a proficiency “measure” before a student could graduate. The bill leaves it up to individual districts to decide just how that measurement should be made.
An understanding of government is important, to be sure, but requiring a civics test for graduation is not.