Trenton – In an effort to ensure students are receiving adequate civics and government education, legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley Turner, Troy Singleton, M. Teresa Ruiz, and Linda Greenstein, requiring civics instruction in middle school, was enacted into law today.
“Government leaders have been sounding the alarm about the civics crisis in this country for years, and I am grateful we are finally taking action,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The crisis reached a breaking point after the November election, which culminated in an insurrection at our U.S. Capitol in January. 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 civic skills, engagement, and participation and the value of a democratic process. The lack of civics knowledge creates a challenge to maintaining a perfect union, establishing justice, and ensuring domestic tranquility. We must learn to work together for the good of all of our communities and begin to bridge the deep political divide that exists in this country.”
The new law, formerly S-854, directs 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 who 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.”
Additionally, the law directs 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.
“This law 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.”
The law 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 a quarter of all Americans can name the three branches of government. It is a sad reality that a large percentage of our country does not understand how their own government works. Everything that has happened since the presidential election last fall has shown us that this lack of understanding is a threat to our democracy,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “In order to have future Americans engaged in our government, we need to ensure they are educated on government matters so we can tackle big issues together. A required civics course in our public schools will assure future generations are educated on how their government works.