By BOB PALMER,
When Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch told a national television audience Sunday American high school students no longer take civics, Jefferson High School administrators and teachers must have thought the same thing, “What?”
“Government is a requirement for graduation in Texas,” Aimee Daniel, who teaches the one-semester class at JHS, said. With Tuesday’s general election capturing the nation’s attention, the importance of the Government class goes beyond multiple choice and fill-in the blank.
JHS Principal Mike Walker said his students were ready. “The kids should have a pretty good idea what is going on,” Walker said. The class helped prepare many of the teens for
their first vote. “Just based on the Principles of Government class,” Walker said, students “should have a pretty good grasp how it operates the history behind it.” Daniel agreed.
“I cover the basics like understanding the Constitution,” Daniel said. “We read through the articles of the Constitution.” The roles and powers of each branch of government are discussed along with political parties and third parties.
“I try to give them a good understanding about the role political parties play in our country,” Daniel said. “I stay away from my personal political beliefs.” Students also learn the requirements to be elected. “My job is to give them that knowledge, so they can make informed political decisions,” Daniel said. “I try to give them information, but not indoctrinate them. Prepare them to think for themselves.”
Daniel also noted Marion County Registrar Karen Jones visited the JHS campus twice to register those students who had turned 18. On the CBS program Sotomayor said, “It’s been well documented that the partisan discord in our country followed very closely on the heels of schools stopping to teach civic education. One must remember why.
It wasn’t for an unimportant reason; there was a change of emphasis in the educational system in the country where they wanted to pay more attention to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).”
“Only about 25% of Americans can name the three branches of government,” said Gorsuch. “A third of them can’t name any branch of government. And 10 percent believe that Judge Judy is one of our colleagues. With no disrespect to Judge Judy, she is not a member of the Supreme Court!”
Sotomayor and Gorsuch are echoing the sentiments of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who led the drive to return civics to the classroom. During a 2012 Senate hearing, O’Connor said, “I well remember having a lot of civics classes, and I got pretty sick and tired of it, to tell you the truth. I thought it was miserable.”
So, she started iCivics.org, a more engaging online curriculum which helps teach civics through video games. The most popular games include “Win the White House,” in which players campaign for the Oval Office; and “Do I Have a Right?,” in which lawyers fight to protect their clients’ rights under the Constitution.
“That’s a tough game!” said Gorsuch of the clients’ rights game.
“Very, very tough!” Sotomayor agreed.
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