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Why shouldn’t we expect our students to know American civics? | Dom Giordano

Lawmakers seem to want our students to know about civics, but not enough to pass a test on civics.

Some of the recent surprising election results are merely democracy in action.
Some of the recent surprising election results are merely democracy in action.Read moreAssociated Press

Oour legislators in Harrisburg sort of feel that kids graduating from Pennsylvania high schools should know America's history, our government structure, and what it takes to be a good citizen. So now the geniuses have mandated that students must take a civics test some time between seventh and 12 grades that they don't have to pass.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman was one of the people who got the significance of mandating that students study and pass a test.

"What we're saying is [if] to become a citizen of the United States, you have to pass a test showing you know the Constitution, then every student in this commonwealth should pass the same test," he said. "Because that's what is part of being a citizen. A citizen is not just [about] rights, a citizenship is also a responsibility."

This position was attacked by some local school districts and by the Pennsylvania Education Association. They fought mandating the U.S. citizenship as the test for all and got the Legislature to allow local districts to come up with their own version.

Schools will have to report how many students were deemed to have passed the test. I trust this process as much as I'd trust the election results in an election against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The official U.S. citizenship test asks such things as, what the name of the U.S. president is, what are the three branches of government, what is the economic system of the United States, and who is the "father of our country."

Are these so difficult that we can't expect kids graduating high school to know them?

This pretend test is typical of the solutions of the legislators in Harrisburg.

For instance, recently, they started talking about setting up an open primary system in which people could vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries even if they not a registered party member, because a good number of establishment figures lost to insurgent candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Rep. Rudy Vulakovich was defeated in the May primary by a conservative candidate backed by the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, and Democratic Representatives Dom and Paul Costa of the Pittsburg area were defeated by candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

To me, these results are thrilling, not threatening. Any course in civics that schools are considering ought to point to them as examples of democracy in action.

The Harrisburg establishment sees these insurgent candidates as mob rule. I think a huge issue in regenerating any sense of citizenship is to revive the idea that the voices and votes of citizens matter.

In many states, there is a drive to elevate the teaching of civics and testing to ensure that students take it seriously.

Media sources on the left such as The Atlantic and Mother Jones are using the election of President Trump to say that civics classes are needed now more than ever to resist Trump and defeat him in 2020.

I see civics classes as a help in overcoming Philadelphia as a town that votes for Democrats as if on autopilot.

I don't think I have to cite a bunch of surveys to prove that, while increasing numbers of Americans don't have any knowledge of the basics of our system of government, they can recite the cap space that the Eagles have for the 2019 season or can distinguish the various Kardashians and their adventures.

However, a 2016 survey by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center found that just 26 percent of adults over 18 could name the three branches of government, and one-third couldn't name one. The knowledge piece is the first step toward making people want to be considered a good citizen.

My point in this column is that a good number of politicians in Harrisburg are the enemies of developing good citizens.

Many of them have virtually signaled that, by passing legislation that touts the importance of civics but by not demanding that students demonstrate their knowledge of it, they have caved into the educational forces that don't want to take on the difficult task of turning things around.

The legislators said with this bill that they are sounding the alarm. If Paul Revere had sounded an alarm like this, we might not have to worry about teaching American civics.

Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at On Twitter: @DomShow1210