Legislators took a deeper look at the standards and quality of Oklahoma’s civics education during an interim study on Thursday.
IS21-052, heard before the House Higher Education and Career Tech Committee, was requested and led by Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton.
“It’s important that Americans understand the fundamental concepts of our government, whether it’s the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, separation of powers, federalism, voting procedures, or contacting one’s representative,” Pae said in an opening statement.
Brenda Beymer-Chapman, director of social studies education and personal financial literacy at SDE, started the study by outlining the current standards and legislative requirements for civics education.
Beymer-Chapman said current state statute requires an emphasis on civics during classes for history, social studies and U.S. Government. Additionally, subject matter standards are reviewed by the State Board every six years.
Beymer-Chapman said the Fordham Institute recently ranked Oklahoma in the top 10 for civics and U.S. history standards among all states.
This spring, the Legislature approved House Bill 2030 to require high school students to pass the U.S. Civics Test, which is part of the naturalization process, in order to graduate beginning in the 2022-23 school year. This is the same test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that is required of anyone desiring to become a U.S. citizen.
University of Oklahoma Professor Emeritus Dr. Allen Hertzke spoke to the committee on the current role of higher education in preparing students to be engaged citizens. Hertzke taught political science courses at OU for over 30 years.
“We as a society, not just Oklahoma but nationally, lost our way on civic preparation,” Hertzke said. “It became deemphasized in secondary schools.”
Hertzke told the committee he’s seen how students learn best when they get engaged in the material.
“I think our focus as a state should be on building citizens, and obviously that means critical knowledge, but I think even more it means learning by doing,” Hertzke said.
Hertzke suggested that a year-long commitment to civics engagement would help bridge the gap. He also recommended enhanced teacher preparation, including better equipping current teachers and recruiting teachers especially knowledgeable in history and political science.
Dr. S.G. Grant, a professor at Binghamton University, spoke regarding the value of evidence-based arguments in teaching civics.
Grant said good teaching is more than the textbook, discussion, technology, or homework.
“Kids need to use more than the textbook for the ideas and experiences that they’re going to have, and we’re fortunate nowadays to be able to put incredibly smart and good and helpful resources in front of kids,” Grant said. “Textbooks are not the worst thing in the world, but they’re not the only thing in the world.”
Pae thanked the speakers for their time and said empowering young people through civics education was of great importance to the future of the state and country.
“While Republicans and Democrats have philosophical differences on policy matters, when it comes to all Americans understanding civics and how to be engaged citizens, this is something that we can all agree upon,” Pae said.