Stronger civics education will preserve NH tradition

As a young man, I caught the “history bug.” I became fascinated with history and American government and took advantage of opportunities to expand my knowledge in this area.

I vividly remember meeting presidential candidate John F. Kennedy while a student at the University of New Hampshire and the impact that meeting had on my ambitions to become a history and civics teacher. My education in history and civic issues has had a profound impact on my life, and I recognize the importance of passing on this education to the next generation. Indeed, I am filled with so much pride to see former students of mine like our secretary of state, Bill Gardner, go on to do outstanding work for the public good, making a wonderful career from their education in this area.

Giving everyone the equal opportunity to better themselves as informed citizens is an essential premise to civics itself. With our world becoming more connected than it has ever been, it is important to understand the meanings of these connections.

Like most New Hampshirites, I am proud of our state’s informed citizenry and the unique role we play in the nation’s democracy. We show up, listen and take action. This is fundamental to our collective identity and it is incumbent upon us to sustain this tradition.

But in recent years, that proud tradition has begun to wane. People feel less connected to government than in the past. And it’s not just in New Hampshire — there is a growing, nationwide discussion about deficiencies in our civics programs that have led to widespread confusion about how our systems work.

That sense of disconnectedness causes citizens to get frustrated and creates an unwillingness to participate in government. We must take urgent steps to fill that knowledge gap to re-engage people in our democracy. After all, the roles and rights of citizenship are neither inherited nor intuitive, but must be learned.

The nationwide effort to embrace civics education begins here in New Hampshire’s classrooms. I was very proud to sponsor Senate Bill 45 this year to shine a light on the need to improve our state’s civic education requirements. New Hampshire currently requires that students take a half-credit course in United States and New Hampshire government and civics. Our students are not learning the fundamentals and this poses great risk to our democracy.

With the passage of Senate Bill 45, our state will develop a uniform framework for civics courses that includes the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the constitutional basis of government and local government affairs. The bill
ensures that districts, schools and teachers are emphasizing civics in the way that the state standards intend.

By outlining an instructional framework, this bill ensures that our teachers are teaching the fundamentals of democracy, the responsibilities of every citizen, and the tools to engage. At no additional cost to the state, this is a common sense measure for our students and our democracy.

I have been advocating for a more robust civics education for years, and there is no better time to make it a reality than now, as the national conversation around civics education becomes more earnest. With robust civic learning we will inspire the next generation of community leaders and voters to be critical actors in the democratic process and preserve New Hampshire’s deep-seated tradition. New Hampshire has a responsibility to maintain our civic tradition and play a key role in America’s democratic process.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, is a former chair of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Categories: Opinion