In 2018, 13 students from Providence, Rhode Island, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court over the quality of their education – specifically demanding that schools provide them a strong foundation in civics, or the study of how contemporary society and government function.
“Our school system is inherently failing so many students by not giving them the information they need to contribute productively to making changes in this country,” said Ahmed Sesay, one of the 2018 plaintiffs. “When you don’t teach civics, students simply feel left behind or apathetic.”
In October 2020, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith dismissed the suit, but wrote a letter commending the students for bringing it forth saying that they had highlighted “a deep flaw in our national education priorities and policies. The Court cannot provide the remedy Plaintiffs seek, but in denying that relief, the Court adds its voice to Plaintiffs’ in calling attention to their plea. Hopefully, others who have the power to address this need will respond appropriately.”
A bill put before the Rhode Island House of Representatives on February 3, 2021 may be that response. A coalition of Republican and Democratic Representatives wrote a bill that would make civics education mandatory.
The bill would require one civics course, to be taken between 8th and 12th grade, with a hands-on, project-based approach meant to illustrate the function of government. Required activities for students would include conducting analytical research on a local community matter and engaging an institution of local or state government in address of the issue.
The original plaintiffs and other students applaud this bill as being a step in the right direction, but not a solution. What they wanted was a more embedded approach, with civics and social studies being more included into the curriculums of history, current events, economics, and health courses.
“We have to take math and English for 12 years,” said Precious Lopez, another member of the student union which brought the first suit. “Why not civics education?”
Photo: The Rhode Island State House in Providence, R.I. Credit: Shutterstock