Students, teachers see positive impact with update to civic education

An update to civic education is teaching kids not only the ins and outs of our country, but...
An update to civic education is teaching kids not only the ins and outs of our country, but also how to apply what they're learning to every day life. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)(KSNB)
Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 7:23 PM CST
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An update to civic education is teaching kids not only the ins and outs of our country, but also how to apply what they're learning to every day life.

LB399 updated the civic education standard across Nebraska's public school systems. It went into effect at the beginning of the school year.

The bill outlines new requirements for school districts when teaching civics, which includes history, geography, economics and government.

It gives three options for districts to require: Students can take the civics portion of the naturalization test, used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; attend a government meeting and complete a project or paper on what they learned; or do a class presentation on a historic person or event, like Veterans Day or George Washington's birthday.

Hastings Public Schools was already doing most of these things. They administered part of the civics portion of the naturalization test to students before 8th grade and 11th grade to see where students stood. Teachers then took about 40 of those questions, and use them in units throughout the year as they apply to the subject matter.

Students also participated in the National History Day competition every year, where they had to research something in history that pertains to a certain theme.

Roger Sunderman, a social science teacher at Hastings Senior High, said the new bill encourages more discussion.

"There's been some questions from students, "well what does that mean? What is the impeachment? How does that happen?" So there's a civic lesson about the process of the impeachment," Sunderman said.

Some people initially opposed the bill, saying the naturalization test "white-washed" history.

Sunderman said that all depends on how the teacher presents the material.

"History is written from a white man's point of view, but it's up to the history teacher to bring that perspective into it. Not from what the textbook is saying, but to bring multicultural events into history," Sunderman said.

In his opinion, Sunderman said the update is really meant to encourage students to get more involved in everyday civic action. He said they need to know not just what it takes to be a citizen, but how to be a good citizen.

"I definitely think this is a really good step in the right direction for education," said Haylee Brandenburg, a senior at Hastings Senior High School.

Brandenburg is a history buff. She's taken almost every social science course, including some honors courses.

Her senior research project will be on the black rights movement, which she said is something that really moves her.

She said more discussions and more research into different civics-related topics allow students to understand and respect one another.

"I really do think that history is super important, and learning how to empathize with other people at any level is very important to me," Brandenburg said.

The bill also includes that all grades below 6th grade devote one hour per week learning about American history or deeds by outstanding individuals; the historical background, memorization and singing of patriotic songs; the history and development of respect for the American flag; and instruction as to proper conduct on how to present the American flag.

Students in high school should be taught The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Nebraska; the structure and function of local government; the dangers of antidemocratic ideals, like Nazism and Communism; the duties of citizenship; and the application of knowledge in civics, history, economic in order to address meaningful issues within our society.

Sunderman said nailing down a "standard" for civic education can be tough. Everyone has different opinions on what should be taught, and how they should teach it. But he said it's a good idea to get youth interested in civics at a young age.