ST. PAUL, Minn. – On Wednesday, the Education Policy Committee heard legislation to require a course in civics for high school students. Education Policy Committee Chair Senator Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie) is chief author of the bipartisan bill (SF 618), which amends high school graduation requirements to include one credit of civics study for Minnesotan high schoolers in 11th or 12th grade. Senator Cwodzinski testified in support of the bill alongside a student from Eden Prairie High School, where Senator Cwodzinski once taught civics; and the Hon. Justice Paul Anderson, who has served as chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“There’s much more required of a citizen than basic knowledge… We need to create the critical thinkers, the engaged and enlightened citizenry that our state and federal constitutions demand,” said Senator Cwodzinski. “If we expect our kids to be elections judges, and write letters to their legislators and their local newspapers, and attend town halls and to go civic meetings, and yes indeed, visit our offices as constituents and lobbyists, we need to teach them how to do that. Those that participate in a civics class are much more likely… when they’re assigned to jury duty, [not to] complain about it. They embrace it, because it’s part of their civic duty.
“The greatest menace to freedom is a disinterested and disengaged citizenry,” Senator Cwodzinski continued. “Political efficacy and civic virtue and civic engagement will become lifetime habits if we instill it in our children at the appropriate grade level. We cannot let our students graduate our students graduate from high school without knowing how this wonderful, wonderful nation and democracy works; and, more importantly than how it works, the role that they must play in making this democracy work.”
“Taking government and civics has shaped my viewpoint not only on the politics of this country but on the country as a whole,” said Aadi Awasthi, an Eden Prairie High School student who has studied civics in an AP U.S. Government class. “I was able to understand the depth of the political world and what it really means to trust the government and have a belief that I have a say in the government… Me and my peers now have the confidence to advocate for our beliefs, which is something a lot of us wouldn’t have had without this class.”
“There’s a mandate laid down by our founders about what it is that will make our democracy, and that is an educated population,” said the Hon. Justice Anderson. “Civics is about citizenship, it’s about government, and it’s about informed citizenship dealing with external factors that always put it under threat… We need to educate our young people about what it is to preserve that freedom that we have.”
Only 10 states do not require any civics education for high school students. Every other state requires at least half a year of civics study to graduate. In an informal survey by the House of Representatives at the 2022 Minnesota State Fair, over 90% of over 7,000 respondents approved of the addition of a civics course to high school graduation requirements.
The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in an education omnibus bill. ###