Governor Kristi Noem wants to force kids to take a civics test to get their high school diplomas. Representative Fred Deutsch just wants to give them stickers.
House Bill 1051 would establish a voluntary “state seal of civics literacy program” in the 2020–2021 school year. For demonstrating a “high level of proficiency in civics,” high school graduates will get a sticker—a reproduction of the state seal of South Dakota—on their diplomas and a note about that seal in their grade transcripts.
The state Board of Education Standards would establish the specific requirements, but HB 1051 lays out these minimum general criteria for “a high level of proficiency in civics”:
- An understanding of the basic principles of American democracy and how those principles are applied in a republican form of government;
- An understanding of the Constitutions of the United States and of this state;
- Knowledge of the founding documents and how those documents shape the nature and function of the government; and
- An understanding of landmark United States Supreme Court cases and the impact of those cases on law and society [HB 1051, posted 2019.01.15].
There’s nothing wrong with recognizing students for academic achievement. After eight years of the previous Governor dissing achievement in the liberal arts, it’s nice to hear a Legislature and a Governor talking so much about the need to refocus on the deep cultural knowledge we’ve crowded out of our curricula with job prep and test prep (test prep—think about that, Kristi).
But why just a sticker for civics, a course that, as defined by the criteria of HB 1051, is assigned only a half-credit out of the 22 we require for graduation? Why not a state seal of approval for proficiency in the half-credits of personal finance or economics and physical education we require? Why not an even bigger sticker for the full credit of fine arts? Why not comparable stickers for high levels of proficiency in French, shop, psychology, physics, calculus, speech, and literature?
HB 1051 is nice but absurd. Instead of these show bills, legislators should talk nuts and bolts: is civics education failing? If so, why? What resources can we provide to improve it? I suspect lack of stickers on diplomas is not among the answers to any of those questions.