Letter To The Editor: Are We Getting Civics In Schools?

By VERNON KERR
Los Alamos

The column by Cal Thomas in Wednesday’s April 22 edition of the Journal highlights a growing problem with our citizenry in understanding and living with our form of government.

Civics is no longer a must for public school students. In the 1940’s “Civics” was a semester course in New Mexico.

Somewhere along the line civics as a discrete separate course was dropped and the topic was meshed with social studies where one thirteenth of it was incorporated in each class from kindergarten through 12th grade. (See New Mexico Public Education Department social studies teaching standards.)

Jay Leno’s popular program segment “Jay Walking” interviewed people on the street about government and current affairs. They could not identify civic office holders nor could they define pieces of the Constitution or government process. Similar instances were cited by Cal Thomas in his column.

One wonders why some people go to the polls. I am sure that most people who voted for a recent constitutional amendment did not understand what they were voting for.

In 1935 the American Legion initiated Boys’ State as an effort to counter a socialist/communist program aimed at our youth, The Young Pioneers. The socialist/communist movement was all across our country as people sought an out for the Great Depression. Two Legionnaires from Illinois started Boys’ State to educate our youth (subsequently also Girls’ State).

The principles of a democratically based electorate, a representative government and the separately organized three arms of government. Each held separate powers that were a check on the others. Checks on government were built into parts of each as separately elected offices such as city treasurer, county clerk and attorney general.

How many citizens know the duties of these?

The American Legion has been trying for years to translate the hard work that Boys’ State and Girls’ State produce into high school credit, to no avail. The program does receive three college credit hours from Eastern New Mexico University and it adds points to entrance exams for the military service academies.

The governor has; however, twice vetoed legislation that would achieve this. Other states do grant credit. Thousands of young men and women are awarded certificates that mark them as good citizens, knowing more about our government than their peers, parents or teachers.

The program consists of five days, 10 hours a day (47.5 classroom equivalent hours equal to one semester of high school classroom work). Staff are largely legionnaires, experienced and qualified.

Cal Thomas has a good point to awaken our citizens and the American Legion is trying to put more citizens out on the street to rectify the problem.

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