In December 2012, the District of Columbia State Board of Education (DCSBOE) released a final draft of proposed revisions to high school graduation requirements in Washington, D.C. If DCSBOE approves the revisions in March 2013, then D.C.’s high schools would no longer require students to take a class on U.S. government.
This development is surprising because D.C. is the nation’s capital and home of the federal government. News outlets such as the Washington Post and Huffington Post have noted this development’s irony.
The proposed revisions require students to take two years of the same foreign language, more music and arts classes, more gym classes, and a thesis project. Implementing these revisions will be challenging because other school systems usually cut such classes first. Also government classes are a vital part of other schools systems’ core subjects, along with English, math, science, and others. D.C.’s shift in graduation requirements would mean that only students who take an optional course in U.S. government will learn about the U.S. government. D.C. students could become less knowledgeable of U.S. government and related subjects than these students:
If students don’t learn U.S. government in high school, most students will learn little about U.S. government in college. For instance, the American History Literacy Survey 2012 reported that only 20% of college graduates correctly identified James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution.” Also, only 38% knew the length of congressional terms.
To maintain some civic literacy, DCSBOE shouldn’t remove U.S. government classes from D.C. high schools’ graduation requirements. Instead, DCSBOE should encourage students to take free tours of the U.S. Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and other DC sites. DCSBOE should also encourage public teachers to use the many free resources available for teaching U.S. government. For example, the non-partisan Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) suggests lesson plans and ways to involve students with such educational activities as Mock Election, E-Congress, and Democracy Corps.
In a country that requires children to attend school, children should at least be knowledgeable of their government.