Civics - A Great Step In Arizona

Posted: Jan 17, 2015 12:01 AM

It has been reported that David Bradley, a Democratic State Senator from Arizona, commented on his vote against Arizona's new law requiring high school students to pass a U.S. citizenship test on civics before graduation: 

"My point now is tests don't make citizens, citizens are tested by their actions."

We should be hopeful that State Senator Bradley is not asked to vote on written portion of drivers' license tests or just about anything else where a test is required to get a license.

Ignorance may be bliss for individuals on individual issues. Ignorance of civics by what may be a majority of young voters is a disaster. Bless Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona legislature in taking what should not be considered a remotely bold step by insisting that every high school student pass a basic civics test before graduating from high school. Noting that a high school degree is not required to vote, there should be no constitutional issues with such a requirement, only a belief that anyone graduating from a high school in the United States should have a basic knowledge of our governmental structure.

In the same AP piece (reprinted on where Mr. Bradley's quote appeared, Joe Thomas, a high school government teacher said that he was concerned that having students take a 100-question test would take up an entire class period and will not be an effective way of getting students engaged in civics. He said the test is will require rote memorization rather than something that promotes critical thinking. "The interest is promoting civics and we want to see students engaged," Thomas said. "I don't know if a test engages students."

With all due respect to Mr. Thomas, a test which must be passed to graduate from high school will surely engage his students. It is the ultimate carrot and stick. And the goal is to teach civics, not promote civics. This is a distinction with a difference. It will be his job, in his classroom, to insure that his students are taught civics in a manner that keeps them interested. His job is to engage his students in something important, civics. His job is to take this material, teach it to his students and then promote critical thinking about the facts they have learned. It is not that difficult to craft great classes around the issue of what knowledge a citizen should have of his or her own nation.

A major concern among teachers at all levels is that if they have standard tests, they will need to teach to the tests. This is a valid concern until one recognizes that virtually every teacher tests based on what they teach in their classroom. So, the issue is not the standardized test, the issue is that others are determining the learning objectives. It is not an unreasonable concern because all teachers want to control their own classroom. That being said, a basic civics test is just that, a basic civics test. Would it bother me that a student literally learned only the answers to a one hundred question exam on civics? No, it would not. I am hoping that Arizona's teachers will pour their hearts into the subject matter, but if not, the students will still know a bit more about their country than before the exam and that cannot be a bad thing.

Great job Arizona!