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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Texas limits 'action civics'

Civic activism can't be required in Texas public schools if it requires communicating with federal, state or local officials, reports Asher Lehrer-Small on The 74. High school students must take a semester of government and a semester of economics. But, under a 2021 law, teachers can't follow Generation Citizen's "action civics" model, which calls for students to "pick a local issue, research it and present their findings to officials."

Researchers say projects boost civic knowledge and may improve learning in other areas, such as history and English, he writes.

Critics charge political indoctrination. Conservative Stanley Kurtz, argues that “woke civics” projects “tilt overwhelmingly to the left.”

Civics students in Bastrop, Texas persuaded the city council to create a youth advisory council. Later, students worked with the Cultural Arts Board to put up a mural downtown. Photo: Megan Brandon/Generation Citizen

In 2019, Rep. James Talarico, a former middle-school teacher, proposed that civics classes include a project-based component addressing “an issue that is relevant to the students,” writes Lehrer-Small. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support, but stalled in the Senate. Talarico was “very optimistic” the policy would become law in the next session.

But "the political tides turned," reports Lehrer-Small. Instead of mandating action civics, the legislature limited its scope.

A review by The 74 of pre-2021 action civics projects found "the vast majority dealt with hyperlocal, nonpartisan issues.

Students most often took up causes like bullying, youth vaping, movie nights in the park or bringing back student newspapers. A handful in Austin and nearby Elgin could be considered progressive, including projects dealing with gun control or school admissions prioritizing diversity, topics educators said students selected based on their own interests.
Under the 2021 law, all of those projects now must avoid contact with elected officials. The restrictions have resulted in initiatives more contained to schools themselves like advocacy for less-crowded hallways or longer lunch periods, educators said.

Many civics teachers are not prioritizing teaching civics knowledge, write Rick Hess and R.J. Martin in Time. A recent RAND survey found that more K-12 teachers think civics education is about promoting environmental activism than “knowledge of social, political, and civic institutions.”

"That’s nuts," they write. "For one, this suggests that too many teachers think of civics instruction as a chance to promote a particular policy agenda."

A 2019 RAND survey found social studies teachers are much less likely to say that students must "understand historical periods such as the American Founding" or "concepts like the separation of powers or checks and balances," Hess and Martin write.

Political participation by young people who can’t name the three branches of government doesn't strengthen self-government, they argue. "It doesn’t take great insight to imagine such students feeling entitled to dismiss or shout down those who disagree."

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