Trenton – In an effort to ensure students are receiving adequate civics and government education, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today advanced legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner, Troy Singleton, M. Teresa Ruiz, and Linda Greenstein, which would require civics instruction in middle school.
“Government leaders have been sounding the alarm about the civics crisis for years,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The crisis has reached a breaking point since the November election, which culminated in a violent insurrection at our U.S. Capitol two weeks ago. Safeguarding our democracy is now more urgent than ever, and one of the best ways we can do that is by teaching our future generations about the importance of civics skills, engagement, and participation and the value of a democratic process. We must learn to work together for the good of all of our communities and begin to bridge the deep political chasm that exists in this country.”
The bill, S-854/237, would direct the Department of Education to require at least one course specifically in civics or United States government as part of the social studies credit requirement for middle school graduation.
“The events that transpired on January 6th represent one of the darkest days in American history. It not only showed the dark underbelly of our nation, but also the vital importance of civics education," said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “We need to properly educate our young people so they can become critical thinkers that are able to discern truth from fiction. They must understand the foundations of our representative democracy, and take a participatory role in it. Through civics, it is our collective hope that these students will not be indoctrinated into any one particular political ideology but rather become informed and educated citizens that will shape our nation for generations to come."
The bill would direct the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers to prepare curriculum guidelines and provide professional development for high school teachers integrating civics, economics and the history of New Jersey into United States history courses.
“The recent attack on our nation's capitol underscores the need for this legislation. It will help to develop critical thinkers with a global understanding of their agency to bring about change, through the channels of government and the power of assembly,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex), Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “These civics courses will not only teach kids how the government works, they will also emphasize the importance of being an engaged citizen and explain how everyone has the ability to impact the future of our country. Youth activists and recent protests have made it clear anyone, at any age, can make their voice heard and influence public policy, so long as they are driven by their desire to make our country better.”
The bill is named for the late Laura Wooten, a great New Jerseyan from Mercer County who passed away in March of 2019 and holds the record as the longest, continuously serving poll worker in the United States. She volunteered at local, primary and general election polls for 79 years.
“According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, only around 26 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government. That means 74 percent of Americans do not understand how their government works, and this is a serious issue,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “If we want future Americans to be engaged in our government and the challenges we are tackling as a nation, we need to ensure they are educated on government matters.”
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 12-0.