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No Place for Civics in WA Classrooms?

September 13, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Is Washington doing a good enough job raising informed citizens and future voters? As kids go back to school, one thing they are not necessarily learning is how their state and local governments work. Civics is part of some classes, but it's not a required subject - at least, not yet. The legislature has mandated civics instruction, but only if the State Board of Education decides to increase the number of credits needed to graduate.

The League of Women Voters of Washington is concerned that, with school districts' financial struggles, the Board will be unlikely to add more requirements. League education chair Catherine Ahl says this one seems to be needed, however, based on volunteer work that she and other League members have done in the schools.

"You go into a class of seniors, many of whom are eligible to vote. You ask 'em about elections or functions of their state - or particularly about local officials - and they don't have a clue, because they don't have a class where it's taught."

Ahl believes civics often gets pushed aside in pursuit of other subjects - those that students are tested on, to meet graduation requirements.

"There's no test that kids have to pass to graduate saying they know anything at all about their government. That shoves it out of the way, because more time needs to be concentrated on these other subjects."

Ahl says kids learn about the federal government in U.S. History, which is required. They also take Washington State History, but most often it is taught in middle school, and the focus isn't on civics.

When the State Board of Education meets on Wednesday, the half-credit civics requirement will be among the topics to be discussed. The meeting will be held at Puget Sound ESD, 800 Oakesdale Ave., Renton.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA