ST. PAUL – State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, on Monday successfully amended a House omnibus education package to include language he authored aimed at restoring civics as a priority in Minnesota.
Urdahl’s measure (H.F. 562) makes civics a credit-bearing subject for Minnesota high school juniors or seniors. He said this would raise the relevance of the subject in Minnesota schools and mitigate a growing lack of civics knowledge among younger generations.
“We have been on a civics slide to failure for 50 years,” Urdahl said. “Look at what is going on all around us. The failure of civics is evident. To do nothing about this is to extend 50 years of failure and reward ignorance. What we’re doing today isn’t working and we are failing our children. Reports show we are sending 77 percent of our high school graduates into the world constitutionally illiterate, ill-prepared to carry on our republic.”
Minnesota currently requires 3.5 credits of social studies, encompassing at least United States history, geography, government and citizenship, world history and economics to satisfy the academic standards. Civics, Urdahl said, is supposed to be taught in our schools, but he indicated the lack of assigned credit and lack of proficiency suggest there is room for improvement.
“There are a few things we know,” said Urdahl, who taught social studies and civics in New London-Spicer schools for 35 years. “Most ninth-graders aren’t ready to study civics, civics isn’t credit-bearing in Minnesota as a course and, most importantly, whatever we are doing isn’t working very well. As important as STEM courses are to our children’s education, there are serious consequences for shorting civics, and we need to find a more balanced approach. My proposal provides flexibility to school boards to help make that happen.”
Urdahl said that, while the statewide gap in civics knowledge is clear, it is even more pronounced among minority students. He said many “live in a civics desert, devoid of opportunities” which handicaps their future.
“This might seem like a simple change, but the potential impact is life-changing and this cuts across racial, regional and economic lines,” Urdahl said. “I am grateful for the bipartisan support for my amendment on the House floor because strengthening democracy is an interest we should all share in common.”
The House added Urdahl’s language to a House education package (H.F. 1065) on a voice vote. That omnibus bill likely will be the subject of a conference committee to reconcile differences between House and Senate packages before being considered for final approval in the coming month.
“This gives us our best chance yet to reach the finish line,” Urdahl said. “I am encouraged and optimistic, yet more work remains and I will remain diligent in pursing this until we have the governor’s stamp of approval on this. What we are doing today isn’t working and we are failing our children.”
In addition to his civics efforts, Urdahl also on Monday successfully amended the omnibus education bill to include legislation expanding mentoring for teachers. Urdahl said this is an attempt to stem the high rate of educators leaving the field during their first few years on the job.