OP-ED: We must teach our children democratic values
By Representative Paul J. Donato
We live in the digital age where information is available in an instant. Additionally, cable news is offered twenty-four seven. Yet, in spite of those facts, I find young people, including my own grandchildren, less and less knowledgeable about local, state, and national government including even knowing who some of their elected officials are as well as the responsibilities of the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
I firmly believe that knowledge of government as well as civic engagement is fundamental to our democratic values and we must challenge our young to get involved in the political process. As a young candidate for local elected office, I remember high school students volunteering on my campaign as well as those of my opponents to earn credit for their Civics classes. Credit was also given for attending city council and school committee meetings and then summarizing those meetings in writing and submitting the summary to their teacher. The opportunities gave hands on experiences to see the election process and government in action. Over the subsequent years the curriculum in Massachusetts has turned away from the study of Civics towards World History. While World History is important, I feel we need to refocus on Civic education. As such, I joined my colleagues in the House and the Senate and strongly supported “An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement.”
Highlights of this legislation include:
- Creates a Civics Project Trust Fund to (i) to assist with the implementation of section 2 of chapter 71, including professional development training; (ii) for the development of the history and social science curriculum framework, including civics education; (iii) for the collaboration with institutions of higher education and other stakeholder organizations; and (iv) to establish a competitive evaluation of a student-led civics project, available to all eighth grade students.
- Requires the state secretary, in consultation with the commissioner of elementary and secondary education and the board of elementary and secondary education, to establish a high school voter challenge program. The voter challenge program must provide opportunities for outreach and for all eligible students to register or pre-register to vote on any participating high school campus.
- Updates the current civics statutory requirement in Chapter 71 section 2, to ensure there is comprehensive civic education in the Commonwealth.
- Requires that each public school serving students in the eighth grade and each public high school provide at least 1 student-led civics project.
- Requires the state secretary disseminate information to cities and towns to promote youth membership on municipal boards, committees and commissions as a means to promote civic engagement.
- Establishes reporting requirements relative to the implementation of this act.
I believe that this legislation will ensure that our students have the opportunity to understand the functions of government and to hopefully get involved into the process as well.