Civics and Oral History
In addition to preparing students for the workforce or continued education, high schools should equip students with a strong foundation of civic knowledge and a sense of civic duty. The future of our democracy depends on society’s reverence for our nation’s history, awareness of governance today, and understanding of individual responsibilities. Civics education cannot continue to be a secondary priority. Our classrooms can do much more to promote an appreciation for the freedoms provided by our democracy and to instill civic leadership in each generation.
However, we have allowed civics education to fall far behind. Recent national studies reveal that students lack a basic understanding of the structures and functions of government. The 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress indicated that only 24 percent of 12th grade students were at or above proficiency in civics knowledge. The average civics survey score was 60 percent correct, which equates to a D letter grade.
Another study from 2012 confirmed that our nation is deficient in civics knowledge. It found that one in three native-born citizens fails the civics portion of the naturalization test. However, the pass rate for immigrants taking the naturalization test is 97.5 percent.
The unacceptable national statistics are mirrored at the California level. California students are not knowledgeable about their government or about current political issues. Civics and history instruction have been eliminated in many elementary schools and California public high school students receive only one semester of government.
Instruction should be expanded, and oral histories should be included in curriculum to help students learn about past conflicts. Listening to a story recounted by someone who experienced a specific historical event or conflict can be effective in educating students about the impact events have on individuals, communities, and countries. Oral histories provide contextual understanding.
With a greater emphasis on civics and oral history education, our schools can work to prevent the destructive disconnect between citizens, their government, and their nation’s history.
Below are Oral History and Civics related legislation that I have introduced to encourage a greater emphasis of both in school curriculum:
AB 1537 (2003-04) - Encourages the instruction of Korean and Vietnam Wars to include primary sources, such as oral and written testimony.
SB 637 (2007-08) - Requires the creation of a US History and Government test for the high school exit exam and requires passage to obtain diploma.
SB 234 (2009-10) - Requires the incorporation of oral history of genocides into the new adoption of history-social science education frameworks.
SB 1278 (2009-10) - Restarts the curriculum framework process for history-social studies.
AB 2709 (2001-02) - Requires social science instruction to cover World War II and American role in WWII, and encourages inclusion of personal testimony of WWII veterans.