As we begin our fourth week of the Ninety-Eighth Missouri General Assembly, I want to let you know about a very important piece of legislation that will be moving forward this Session. It is being sponsored in both the Missouri House and Senate and would require all high school students to pass a civics test before receiving their diploma. This test is similar to the civics portion of the U.S. naturalization test and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service would produce the exam with questions about the U.S. Constitution, the country’s economic system, U.S. geography, and American government and history.The Civics Education Initiative is a nationwide effort to get all graduating high school students equipped with a better understanding of the United States Government in an effort to help them become more educated and informed citizens.
Today, there are many Americans who have little basic knowledge of civics or the idea of how government works or who we are as a nation. Recently, the Pew Research Center did a study that revealed only about one-third of Americans could even name the three branches of government, let alone describe what each one was responsible for. The real result of this lack of basic governmental knowledge is apathy among voters and is probably one of the reasons why many people do not choose to vote—they have a significant lack of knowledge and understanding of our government and the political process. The Civics Education Initiative will help promote active and engaged citizens.
The Initiative has become very popular among state governments nationwide, and last week Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was the first to sign it into law. North Dakota is in line to perhaps be the second state to make it law. Missouri, as well as Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah are considering similar bills. Those who developed the Civics Education Initiative have as their ultimate goal the enactment of this legislation in all fifty states by September 17, 2017, the 230th anniversary of the United States Constitution.
Affiliated with the Joe Foss Institute, the Civics Education Initiative’s purpose is to teach America’s youth the importance of their country’s uniqueness and freedoms and to encourage them to become involved and responsible citizens. It applies to students in public and non-public schools.
The Civics Education Initiative has a national board made up of people like former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Carl Bernstein, all people concerned about our nation’s future. As Mr. Bernstein so succinctly stated: “If we want our political process more open and free, with a truly informed citizenry, our young people need to learn real-time civics and real history.”
Missouri lawmakers predict that this legislation will pass with few, if any, problems because of the truly bipartisan support it has. All high school students—public, private, and homeschooled—will be required to score at least 60% on the test in order to graduate.
The basic civic information being tested is a part of most schools’ curriculum, and though some students do indeed have a good grasp of the knowledge required to pass the test, others do not seem to have gotten a handle on it. For example, a survey conducted in 2009 found that only 24% of U.S. students are proficient in civics, while 92% of immigrants applying for citizenship were able to pass the test on the first try. It is hoped that the test will encourage U.S. students to be more conscientious in learning the principals of our government.
The Civics Education Initiative legislation is the first step in a rebuilding of civics education in the U.S. Creating pride and respect in our form of government, which has led the world for decades, and is one of the major goals of this initiative.
If you are interested in seeing or taking a sample civics test, go to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website to find out how much you know about our country’s governmental workings.