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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Dean Urdahl (R)

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Update on civics bill

Friday, April 1, 2016

Dear Neighbor,

I spent decades teaching government in the classroom and there is what I view to be a crisis of civics knowledge in Minnesota. A bill I have authored in the House is designed to increase awareness of who we are as a nation and how we got where we are today.

The bill I authored requires students in Minnesota's public schools to pass a citizenship test prior to high school graduation. It is the same test immigrants take on their path to becoming United States citizens, covering everything from principles of democracy to rights and responsibilities and recent American history.

Knowledge in our state and country regarding our republic is eroding with an increased emphasis on other subject areas. Now, far too many students with limited knowledge of government are graduating from our high schools and entering the voting ranks ill-prepared to make important decisions.

My goal with this bill is to elevate civics education to another level. I believe that will lead to greater, better-informed participation in democracy.

This legislation provides flexibility in how this test is administered and does not need to be a new exam; it could be incorporated into existing tests. For example, local school districts could decide to break it up into a multi-part exam conducted over a number of years. The question isn't whether we are testing too much, rather whether we are testing the right things.

The citizenship test can be one step toward building the knowledge base necessary to bring understanding and civic participation to future generations. Civics education can and will be elevated in the capable hands of Minnesota's teachers.

We should hope Minnesota's graduating students can list more presidents than Kardashians. This bill would help in that regard.