ST. PAUL – The Minnesota House has approved an omnibus education package which may represent Rep. Dean Urdahl’s best chance yet to restore civics as a priority in schools and mitigate a reported crisis of knowledge on that subject.
The Acton Township Republican and former longtime New London-Spicer social studies teacher has worked the better part of a decade to re-emphasize civics in high school classrooms. Just last year, the House approved a measure of Urdahl’s making civics a credit-bearing subject for Minnesota high school juniors or seniors.
That provision ultimately derailed in the Senate.
The House has once again approved a reiteration of Urdahl’s civics language, amending it Thursday to an omnibus finance package (H.F. 2497) on a voice vote. He said a key difference this time is the companion to his bill (H.F. 358) is authored by a supportive Senate Education Policy Committee Chair, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, D-Eden Prairie.
“We have been on a civics slide to failure for half a century or more and it’s good to see momentum is building to help us fix this problem,” Urdahl said. “We aren’t doing any end zone dances just yet because there’s more work to do.
“The bottom line is civics needs to be emphasized in our children’s education and requiring schools to offer civics for credit helps make that happen. If you don’t require civics, we have learned, any number of schools simply will not make it part of their core curriculum. That does a disservice not only to our students, but threatens our existence as a republic.”
Urdahl also stressed it is crucial for civics to be taught at the right time – to juniors or seniors – as opposed to ninth graders as often is the case.
“Educators across the country agree civics is more readily learned by students when they are transitioning into more advanced roles in society and our government, which applies to juniors and seniors,” Urdahl said. “As they get their driver’s licenses, register to vote, register for the military and take their places in adult society, they are ready to learn. It is most productive to present civics content to students at that point in their lives, when they are eager to learn how our government works in preparation to participate.”
The civics provision wasn’t Urdahl’s only successful offering to the omnibus education package Thursday. Language he authored as an amendment regarding school safety also was included. It stipulates a student who is violent could be removed from a classroom and then returned after a consultation by the school administrator with the teacher, parents and appropriate school support personnel regarding ways to improve the students behavior.
“There are violent episodes where staff and teachers are victims,” Urdahl said. “This must be addressed in some way. My bill is not intrusive or heavy handed and offers some remedy.”
The overarching education finance package is now in the hands of the Senate.