Legislation implementing a new emphasis on civics education in Tennessee was among bills signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam this week as the state prepares to observe the Memorial Day weekend.
House Bill 2114, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brooks (R—Cleveland), aims to give students the skills they need to be better informed about the workings of their own government. The law requires civics education to be included in the public school curriculum assessed by Local Educational Agencies.
The legislation drew praise from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor who wrote the sponsors of the law last week saying, “This important legislation will help make sure that every Tennessee student receives the civil learning that is so vital to their becoming an informed and engaged citizen.” The most recent study of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that students perform worse in civics and U.S. history than in any other subjects. To counteract this trend, O’Connor has become a staunch advocate of civics education.
Rep. Brooks stated, “With Memorial Day upon us, it is a special time of remembrance for Americans. It’s a day that sets our nation apart from her peers. It is a time when all of us reflect on the sacrifice made by our service men and women whose selfless courage ensures America is the standard of freedom for the world.”
He added, “With this law, I feel confident more Tennessee students will really understand the unique standing our Creator has given America, the special heritage of our nation, and what it has taken to make our country so great.”
“I share Justice O’Connor’s deep concern regarding the need for a strong foundation in civics education so students will be fully engaged both as citizens and future leaders,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R—Collierville), who sponsored the Senate version of the law. “The Memorial Day holiday is a stark reminder of those who fought and died for our freedom and right to self-govern. It is important that students know the underpinnings of our U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and our democratic framework. It is even more important that they understand how they work together to make life better for those who live under the flag of freedom in this great nation.”
The legislation passed this year is timely as a result of the state’s recent waiver of the No Child Left Behind law. Both Reps. Brooks and Norris are concerned that if Tennessee does not test civic knowledge and skills, they could become afterthoughts in education, especially in schools where students are at risk of failing the subjects that are tested. The legislative duo say the project-based assessment put into place under the new law, moves away from testing memorization of facts and puts the focus on the academic skills needed for engaging in social issues and governance.
According to the most recent reports, there are deficiencies in Tennessee’s curriculum, particularly as it effects active, project-based instruction which is the most effective method of learning civics education. This new law calls for engaging students in choosing issues of concern to them, followed by investigative research and development of plans for improving their communities.