We are, unfortunately, in a time in which most Americans would not be able to answer basic questions about their government. According to Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, only about a quarter of Americans can name all three of the branches of government. The state of South Dakota is working to change this for its students.
South Dakota House Bill 1087 proposes new requirements in South Dakota schools.
The bill reads, “Beginning July 1, 2019, any student enrolling as a freshman in a baccalaureate degree program at a public institution of higher education under the control of the Board of Regents shall, as a condition of graduation, demonstrate the successful completion of three credits in the area of United States history and three credits in the area of United States government.”
There are concerns, however, about where funding will come from to fund these changes. The new bill is asking that two of the already required general requirements for graduation become requirements for one U.S. government class, and one U.S. history class, meaning that, instead of adding six more credits required to graduate, the two new required classes would be worked into current graduation requirements.
According to the Bill, these credits may also be completed through the use of advanced placement tests, dual credits or a college level examination program.
Currently, there is no policy or procedure to develop the mechanisms necessary to implement these educational changes and additions. Without providing funding, the state legislature puts the burden on the Board of Regents, universities and their students to fund these additions to educational requirements.
House Bill 1087 also states that, “Beginning July 1, 2019, any student enrolling in a baccalaureate degree program at a public institution of a higher education under the Board of Regents shall, as a condition of graduation, correctly answer at least eighty-five percent of the questions on the civics test.”
While some high school students seem to be upset about the new proposed requirements House Bill 1087 introduces, the motives behind the Bill don’t actually seem like a completely terrible idea.
A survey, released Oct. 3, 2018 by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation with research firm Lincoln Park Strategies, shows that only a little over a third of Americans would have passed a basic multiple choice United States citizenship test, modeled after the one taken by immigrants in the process of naturalization. The survey sampled 1,000 American adults. It showed that only 36 percent actually passed the test.
We require immigrants to pass a test that not even half of us can pass. What is the sense in that? There is no reason that we shouldn’t be able to pass a test like this as well. Otherwise, we are living in a system that we simply don’t understand.
Americans’ lack of knowledge about our own government is more than a little bit concerning. Our nation is suffering from a crisis in civic literacy. While we shouldn’t address these issues through legislation, but rather through school administrations, efforts aimed at addressing this educational deficiency are necessary.
It’s challenging to be an effective citizen if you don’t know how the government works. As long as people have an inadequate understanding of how our political system works, civic engagement will remain poor.
A truly functioning democratic society depends on its citizens to be informed. What we don’t know can hurt us, and continued ignorance will cause snowballing consequences. Whether a legislative bill is the right way to approach this issue is still questionable, it’s important for students and all American citizens to be aware of our history and our government.