Friday, May 11, 2018
Nathan Crabbe: Start early with civics education
Nathan Crabbe Gainesville Sun May 11, 2018
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has botched a ballot measure promoting civics education so badly that even Bob Graham is voting against it.
Graham, the former Florida governor and U.S. senator, has long called for better teaching students the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. Yet he recently told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he would be voting against a proposed state constitutional amendment in November that requires the promotion of civic literacy in public education due to other parts of the measure.
“I’m going to end up voting against an amendment that I feel strongly about because it’s surrounded by what I think is bad policy,” Graham said.
That bad policy includes giving the state, rather than local school boards, the power to approve charter schools and setting term limits for school board members. The Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, this time around mashed together several amendments to try to sneak through some terrible ideas.
Floridians should reject the measure, while finding others ways to promote civics in classrooms. Here in Gainesville, the League of Women Voters is teaming with the public school district on a civics challenge — like “Jeopardy,” but with civics.
The competition will be held at Lincoln Middle School on May 24. Teams from Lincoln and Hawthorne Middle School will compete, with the idea of possibly expanding the idea to other schools if it is a success.
Richard Sheets, social studies curriculum specialist for the school district, said civics education is a component of social studies courses in every grade, with greater instruction in two grades. A half-year American government course is required for 12th graders, while seventh graders take a year-long civics course along with an end-of-the-year exam on it.
The latter results from a state law passed in 2010 after the lobbying of people like Graham and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Sheets said the course includes elements such as conducting mock elections and demonstrating voting processes as well as service learning projects, which can mean students volunteering at places such as the local animal shelter and food bank.
The youth activism that has followed the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland shows what politically engaged students can accomplish. At The Sun, we encourage young people to be involved in the discussion of issues affecting them through letters to the editor and columns like the one today from a high school student on bullying and school shootings.
Civic literacy and media literacy go hand in hand. If we want voters to be educated enough to reject boneheaded ballot measures, we need to start teaching them early.
Nathan Crabbe is The Sun’s opinion and engagement editor. He will be speaking May 14 at the Florida Free Speech Forum (http://www.floridafreespeechforum.org).