The Best Civics Lesson
The teaching of civics is a hot education topic in the 2019 Legislative Session. You will not hear educators arguing that teaching more on the subject is a bad thing. We believe students should have every opportunity to learn more about all levels of government and U.S. History. It is good that state leaders want to foster a better citizenry. Many of the concerns expressed by legislators are already addressed in South Dakota’s Content Standards for Social Science, but as educators, we always welcome opportunities for constructive dialog on how we can all do better for students. However, we do not want our leaders to lose sight of the other pressing needs we see in our schools and classrooms, and we also want lawmakers to keep in mind that how we work to meet these challenges can be a civics lesson in and of itself.
First, we need to focus attention to challenges facing schools as they serve Special Education students. This past summer, an interim study committee convened to look at issues with the state’s Extraordinary Cost Fund for special education. Legislators who took on this task quickly discovered the problems facing special education go beyond this fund. Schools are seeing a growing number of students needing services, there is a shortage of special education teachers, and funding from the federal level is falling way short of the promise made by Congress. The interim committee produced three bills for lawmakers to consider that begin to address problems they discovered; and while this legislation is not receiving the same attention as the civics legislation, it is just as important.
Next, educators across the state are sounding the alarm on a growing mental health crisis in our schools. They are seeking more supports for students who are dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that interfere with learning. Educators are asking for more training and help with better strategies that support their students and connect them and their families to community mental health services. Educators are ready and willing to work with all levels of government to take this crisis head on.
Finally, a report by the National School Counselors Association and the National Association for College Admission Counseling, shows that South Dakota’s student to school counselor ratio is 402 to 1. Why does this matter? The State Board of Education Standards recently adopted new high school graduation requirements, which are intended to give students more options as they prepare to be college and career ready. However, these new requirements make access to school counselors even more important. If we want to make sure students are on the right path we must provide schools with the resources to improve that ratio. More school counselors to support our students is a must.
Additional civics classes and citizenship tests are certainly tools schools can use to help students develop a better understanding of our government, but having parents, educators, schools, communities and state leaders all working together to tackle the challenges outlined above might be the ultimate civics lesson—not just for students, but for every citizen of this state. It’s what our students need, and it is what they deserve.