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LA should pursue beneifts of increased civic literacy

As the amount of rhetoric increases concerning policy responsiveness by government, Louisiana would do well to embrace a growing sentiment that emphasizes civic literacy to address this.

Several other states are considering either increasing secondary and/or college requirements regarding basic knowledge about American government or requiring high school students for their diploma to pass tests based upon the citizenship test for naturalized citizens, or both. Interestingly, education in civics has declined in the past decade because of the implementation of No Child Left Behind education standards that emphasized science and language content. Testing of high school and college graduates on the subject of how their government formed, works, and basic facts about it and the political figures part of it often show discouraging levels of knowledge overall.

By increasing this knowledge, even if it’s just elementary facts based upon historical and current events, it’s argued that this increases awareness about the political world that spurs participation and reasoned deliberation in it. Political scientists long have noted that the more familiar that people are with the political world, the less intimidated they feel in trying to understand and participate in it; people shy away from engaging in an activity if they do not understand it and/or do not feel competence in trying to interact with it. Presumably increased efficacy on these attitudes would spur more people into voting, spending more time considering their vote, become more active through other modes in political participation, and might trigger discussion of politics more with others, perhaps encouraging them to increase their attentiveness to and participation in politics as well.

Among the states, in the aggregate presently Louisiana in terms of what it requires in elementary and secondary education pretty much is typical. At this level, to graduate with a regular diploma a student must complete a half-year of civics; if wishing to qualify for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students Award, an additional half of a year in that or in a free enterprise class must be completed. At the college level, the general educational requirement (the outline mandated by the state but left up to individual institutions to define) that all students wishing to be conferred a degree must fulfill has as an option taking American Government for all schools that teach it, but none of these schools requires that course, and such are the options available that no students get forced into having that class.

Some states go much further. For example, nine states and the District of Columbia require a graduate exit exam over civics; Louisiana does not (although it can fold some of those kinds of questions into other areas). The California State University System, in which Louisiana State University System President and Chancellor F. King Alexander served previously to his current job, requires a government course of all of its graduates.

In recent years, the Legislature has seen no significant attempt made to enlarge instructional requirements in this way. The state does have a Commission on Civic Education, which collaborates with a Louisiana State Bar Association auxiliary the Louisiana Center for Law and Civics Education that does provide some opportunities outside the formal education process for increasing interest in the workings of government, but no real study nor effort has been made by this state agency to ponder this issue.

Perhaps the time has come for an investigation of this nature, by any or all of this body, the Legislature, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and/or the Board of Regents. At the very least, Louisiana could emulate the other few states that require passing an exit exam specifically in this area to encourage greater civic literacy, and investigations could be made about the cost of increasing the levels of instruction at both this level and the college, as this would require reallocating resources to cover the additional coursework.

After this past election season, media outlets typically bemoaned this latest round of choosing leaders, concerned about its relatively low voting turnout, particularly among the younger, and, to a lesser degree, the simplistic quality of candidate advertising, designed to appeal to a lowest common denominator of political literacy. This kind of civic education represents one way to turn these set of complaints into action.

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