A Welcomed Update on Local Civics Education
Every now and then I have an opportunity to back up and regroup on an issue of which I have opined on this page. Today, it’s a pleasure to recount a visit to Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver’s seventh grade American studies classes at Greenacres Middle School.
A year ago I was lamenting the state of civics education in American schools, but it did not take long for Oliver’s second and third period students to convince me that civics study is seriously addressed in our schools – and particularly in her classroom. American studies, she explained, explores the rights and duties of citizenship and how government works, and the US Constitution is focus in seventh grade.
And there was little question that these second period students had read the Constitution. As they responded to a question of the present Supreme Court vacancy, Megan noted the role of the President with respect to Article 2, Mousa pointed out that some in Congress want to wait for the election of a new president for nomination of a new Justice, and Jaden said “he (President Obama) can’t wait,” and suggested a delay would be because of politics.
Jyrrell showed me his 125-question American Studies Civics Question review; Sawyer shared his Constitution Test Study Guide. Oliver’s third period class started with the topic for the daily “On This Day in History” class opener, which was that in 1801, the U.S. House of Representatives broke the electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jefferson was elected President, while Burr became Vice-President.
Mrs. Oliver invited discussion starting with a question of the function of the Electoral College – which her students were quick to answer – and voluntarily elaborate on. They’re very good in question-answer activities as demonstrated by a drill on “Constitutional Questions.”
Perhaps some of our BPT readers can answer these questions as quickly and accurately as the majority of Oliver’s students:
What’s the Mayflower Compact?
Who wrote “Common Sense”?
What is a direct democracy?
What was our first constitution?
What is the rule of law – and where does it originate?
But Oliver’s students can do more than answer questions. They have opinions.
As it concerns the presidential race, Abby doesn’t think Trump is the best candidate; Eric agreed saying Trump says things that undermine the Constitution. T.J. thought Hillary would be a good president because her husband was a president and she was the Secretary of State.
Trenton and Ashlynn discussed impeachment, noting that while a president can be accused, there actually has to be a conviction for “treason, bribery and other high crimes.” Students recalled that two presidents had been impeached, but not removed from office and Donovan knew the last to be Bill Clinton.
Eric pointed out that, “… on average 20-30 percent of voters vote for president,” a dismal statistic that generated a new conversation with Oliver asking her students what was the one thing they could do wrong on election day, and getting a resounding “not vote” response.
Which got this little gem from Ashlynn: “Thousands of people fought for our freedom so that we can vote freely. People (who don’t vote) get mad at us for the way we vote – they should just go vote (for what they want).”
According to Arthur James, Greenacres Principal, Bossier Parish students are well grounded in social studies, civics, Louisiana History, American History, and Free Enterprise/Civics, starting in sixth grade and continuing through the first couple of high school years.
Many thanks to Oliver for inviting me to discover that our students are being provided and benefiting from a rich civics education, and the rights and duties of citizenship and not only how our government works – but in the long run how to maintain it. We can only hope that this same circumstance is occurring nationally.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org