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

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On Tuesday, we shared a student (Kelsey’s) narrative statement on behalf of House Bill (HB) 2265, legislation to require a semester of civics in Illinois middle schools. Kelsey’s teacher, Chris Johnson, is an Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor for Henderson, Knox, Mercer, and Warren Counties in West Central Illinois, and teaches civics at both the middle and high school levels at ROWVA Junior/Senior High School.

HB 2265 passed the Illinois House last week with a bi-partisan supermajority, and moves next to the Senate with a May 24 deadline for passage. There is no stronger testimony for #CivicsInTheMiddle than the voice of students, and we’re please to offer a powerful statement from a second student of Mr. Johnson’s, Kayla, below.

From one study, out of 165,000 high school students surveyed, 45% of those students feel unprepared for college. We have a solution that could possibly make these students feel more prepared from an earlier age. Starting a civics requirement for middle school students would help provide them with an early knowledge of life, which will make them more prepared in the long run. A semester in their last year of middle school will get them be more prepared for high school, which will then help for beyond that.

Keeping students in touch with the real world is life changing. My civics teacher made our class download the New York Times or Washington Post apps on our phones. Why did he do this? He wanted to make sure we were realizing what was happening outside of school and our commonly used apps on our cellular devices. The importance of this lesson for students is to show them what is real or fake news. Reputable sources like these are a positive thing for people who haven’t been informed on the dangers of fake news. There are more younger people than we know that see fake news on social media and believe it. This can be very dangerous for young people currently forming opinions on the world and politics. I know I learned a lot from Civics and realized that there is a lot more going on in this world than I realized. Also, this is a good time to introduce what a reliable and an opinionated website is. This information will help students in their classes and in life. I know this would have helped me a lot freshman year, when I was writing papers and doing research projects.

Going into high school, we were required to take 2 years of history. But a lot of us had no idea what was going on in these classes. Some of us had no idea what the difference was between a Democrat and a Republican. I now understand these differences and know how to make my decision when voting. I wish I would've known what I know now before taking my history classes, because I know I could have understood things a lot better. Teaching students what the difference between the parties and why they are important, is something that I wish I would've learned in middle school. Touching on the basics of voting and understanding the election process is important. They have to take the constitution test in middle school and in high school, so they spend a little time on these topics, but not a lot. Spending less time on the constitution and focusing more on the real-life situations and what affects us would be much more beneficial. When watching the news, as a sixteen-year-old, it is hard to understand some of the topics sometimes. A civics class would definitely help with this and it would make a lot of people more informed.

Civics opens the idea for students to support their own opinion. You learn to stand up for what you think is right, while also learning how supporting your opinion. I liked this idea because when you have two students fighting for their own opinions or fighting for their case, it opens the audience to two different sides of the story. Having people educated enough to have their own opinions on issues will only help everyone in the long run. A civics class for younger students will make their lives better by making them educated, learning more about important things in life and giving them a step up on the real world.

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