2018 gave rise to several important social justice movements and, along with them, a cohort of determined young activists eager to make change. Young people have already had a significant influence on the trajectory of gun control legislation and leading conversations around immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and environmental movements.
Generation Z is predicted to be the most diverse, educated and technologically-fluent generation of Americans yet and, if the high voter turnout for 18-29 year olds in the 2018 midterms is any indication, they might just be the most civically-active as well.
However, without a solid foundation of civic knowledge or opportunities to discuss current events, young people are left without a paddle to navigate the murky waters of political and social unrest in the U.S. According to a survey published by Education Week Research Center, fewer than 1 in 3 schools offer stand-alone civics courses.
This raises the question: if students are already taking the initiative to incite historical change, what could be done if they had more opportunities, resources and support from their schools in nurturing this civic participation? In Massachusetts, steps are being taken to address this issue.
In November 2018 Governor Charlie Baker signed into a law, “An act to promote and enhance civic engagement,” a piece of bipartisan legislation that updates requirements for civic and social studies curricula and introduces new ways to strengthen civics education in Massachusetts public schools.
The bill makes it a requirement for all public high schools and school districts serving 8th graders to provide a student-led civic engagement project and establish a high school voter challenge program. The bill also creates a Civics Trust Fund, which will assist in the implementation of the new requirements.
The passage of this bill is significant for Massachusetts, proving that lawmakers realize that civics education is a critical subject matter for our students, and that young Americans must be taken seriously as key players in reinvigorating our democracy.
Below are a few ways the new law will open doors for students in Massachusetts:
- Keeping the education non-partisan, but not non-passionate.
This non-partisan stipulation was supported by student leaders across the state. Teachers will have the creative freedom to tailor their citizenship lessons to their individual students and incorporate student-led civics projects into a hands-on curriculum.
- Developing skills to navigate a turbulent landscape of fact presentation.
Under this legislation, students will develop valuable skills in how to find, assess and evaluate the validity of the news they find on both traditional and digital media. This update reflects the complexities students face while they explore their roles in society and develop their individual policy agendas.
- Breaking down registration barriers for our newest voters
The high school voter challenge program will make voter registration easily accessible for first-time voters. This could help curtail the historical trends in low voter turnout among 18-29 year-olds and offer equal opportunity to eligible student voters across Massachusetts.
We look forward to seeing how this initiative rolls out, and more importantly, how an updated civics education program can inspire lifelong civic engagement.