Why are some pols afraid of teaching civics?

Patriotism. We’re all for it, aren’t we?

Some New Hampshire legislators think if the state forces all students to just recite the Pledge of Allegiance (with its not uncommon recitations of “for Richard Stands, invisible…”) an obedient army of patriots will result.

Other legislators have sought to require the teaching of civics in our high schools, in hopes of fostering real patriotism in the hearts of young people. Of course those efforts failed.

On the face of it, the opposition to requiring civics education is baffling. One would think it obvious that patriotism would flourish if students actually knew what the words of the Pledge meant.

I’ve attended a number of naturalization ceremonies. There you see people deeply committed, excited to become Americans. They have all been required to take civics courses. Ask these new flag-waving Americans what it means to be a citizen. Then ask an average high school kid in New Hampshire. I dare you. Lacking good old civics instruction, many are disengaged from civic life and know little about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

This is a problem, and the Legislature should address it. In 2002, the Legislature created a study commission to examine and assess the status of civic education in New Hampshire. It recommended that yes, civics should be made a part of social studies education. Yet in 2003 and again in 2005, the Republican majority disregarded the study’s recommendation and said no to requiring civics education.

What confuses and concerns me is why it’s never Republicans who sponsor civics education bills. And even more baffling is why it’s always the Republicans who actively work to defeat such initiatives.

At this year’s public hearing on Senate Bill 82, aimed at requiring a half-year course in civics for high school graduation, no one spoke in opposition. But when it hit the Senate floor, all eight Democrats were there, but not the majority party.

Since when has teaching civics become partisan? Why, someone tell me, are Republicans so against what’s in the bill: “In all public and private schools in the state there shall be given regular courses of instruction in the history, government, and constitutions of the United States and New Hampshire, including the organization and operation of such governments”?

The bill concludes: “The civics course may be locally developed … provided, at a minimum the course covers the following areas; a) Duties and responsibilities of a citizen, (b) Opportunities of citizen participation and involvement in the governmental process, (c) the structure and operation of government, (d) the constitutional basis of our government, and (e) the interaction between local, state, and federal governments.”

That’s it. The New Hampshire Senate Republicans squashed it like a bug.

What’s next, motherhood and apple pie? Patriotism requires citizens governing themselves. It is clearly in our patriotic interest to re-engage the young generations. We’re in deep trouble if we don’t.

Thomas Jefferson knew an informed citizenry was key to the survival of our republic. It is ironic that the “Republican” Party of the 21st century is so dedicated to making darn sure citizens believe they are powerless. Twentieth century Republicans would be appalled.

Patriots should be concerned.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, now hosts a Portsmouth radio talk show.

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