In general, politics and teenagers don’t mix well. The stereotype of the ignorant, uninformed teen exists for the simple reason that it’s often true.
At least in Holliston’s case, school curriculum isn’t helping to change that. The only kind of civics course offered by Holliston High is an optional government class that lasts for a mere one term (or two for the few students in Advanced Placement).
Seeing as the lower schools barely even graze American history, let alone American government, it’s entirely possible for a Holliston kid to go through thirteen years of public schooling without hearing a word about how our government fuctions.
This absence of civics material can become conspicuous and almost comical, whether it’s an 8th grader on the Washington D.C. trip who has never heard of the Constitution or an 18 year old senior who doesn’t know what the two major parties are.
However, there’s an easy fix to this: make the already extant government class a core High School social studies course instead of an optional elective.
As it is now, the class is wonderful. Despite the limited time frame, students are able learn not only about the workings of our government, but also current events and political happenings.
In my class, kids who couldn’t name the three branches of government in February were holding discussions about primary results and foreign policy by March. This was all tied together by a mock Presidential race, a two-week long simulation where three students played the part of candidates, complete with their own campaign managers and several debates on the issues.
The only problem with this is that it’s not required learning. Students can and often do go through High School without this experience, instead opting to round out their social studies credits with less challenging classes.
History and other social studies have been taking hits in recent years, in part because they’re not featured as heavily on standardized tests. However, trimming these subjects has a cost, even if they aren’t always as immediately applicable to the real world as math or science.
It’s pretty easy to understand why it’s good for graduating students to have a solid foundation in civics. Educating students on the basic principles behind the government of their country shouldn’t be a goal; it should be a starting point.
Holliston High already has a class in place that accomplishes this in one short term. It should be made mandatory.