Illinois Students Make the Case for Middle School Civics, Part I

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Chris Johnson, Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor for Henderson, Knox, Mercer, and Warren Counties in West Central Illinois, has taught civics at both the middle and high school levels at ROWVA Junior/Senior High School (pictured below, bottom left). He engaged his students in exploration of the current debate in Springfield over middle school civics, and a couple of them, Kelsey and Kayla, felt passionately about the need for #CivicsInTheMiddle. Both provided narrative statements on behalf of House Bill (HB) 2265, currently awaiting consideration in the Illinois Senate after passing the House last week with a bi-partisan supermajority. Kelsey’s narrative follows and stay tuned for Kayla’s statement on Thursday.

In small town schools, it may be difficult to provide higher level classes for students. Aside from basic social studies courses, civics classes may not be offered; therefore, they are not required. This is a major controversy for today’s generations. If the school systems are not providing civics education for students when they are in a junior high level, they cannot expect these students to be prepared for high school level civics classes.

I took civics the fall semester of my junior year. During this semester, I was taught more about being involved as an Illinois citizen than any other class has taught me. While I have been educated about the roles of the government, civics opened me up to many more opportunities and ideas. Not only did this class expose me to the reality of the real world, but it also allowed me to further understand complex situations that can influence my role as citizen. If I was taught this curriculum at an earlier level, I would have been more prepared for the situations I have had to face.

Including this class into the curriculum for junior high students influences them to be more involved as they begin to face actions like voting. Before I took civics, I was not aware of why I should vote and all of the benefits of voting. While we also focused on the constitutions, court cases, and budgeting techniques, voting stuck out the most to me. While I was not old enough to vote while learning these ideas, it changed my mindset for when I reach the age to vote. This class is a class that every student should experience, so it should be made a requirement. Even though some students may view this class as useless or a hassle, it does teach great lessons.

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