Editorial: Drop the class

As we enter the 2016 election cycle, we can expect to be bombarded by attack ads and 24/7 media coverage of all major candidates. How can a relatively uninformed teenager sort through the political maneuvering, learn about politics and government, and decide whom to support?


Illinois lawmakers are trying to answer this question by creating a new class, one that would be required to graduate, about civics. The state legislature approved the class in late summer, and Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law on Aug. 24, 2015. The new law requires all students graduating public high schools to take a civics course concerning the operation of government works and discussing controversial issues. Democrats and Republicans alike applauded Rauner, and many journalists praised the new course.

While the intent of this law is laudable, the initiative is misguided. As mandated, the course should be revised or removed. Changes must be made.

At the outset, the law leaves uncertainty on exactly when course completion would become a graduation requirement. Would it be required for the class of 2016? 2017? 2020? We don’t know. Do current seniors need this class for graduation? It all depends upon interpretation. Paul Houston, the Global Studies division chair, said that the law currently states that it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016, which means it would force current seniors to drop a class to take civics. According to Houston, lawmakers have proposed an amendment that would grandfather out all current students, making the class mandatory for the class of 2020 and beyond.

“I’m not sure how much, if at all, educators were involved with this process,” Houston said. “It may be a bad idea to pass a law that will immediately need amendments right away.”

Further issues come up with teacher training. Training for the entirely new class is funded by donations from outside donors for only three years, and then the cash-strapped state will have another expense to pay, according to the Chicago Tribune. While schools are able to fund the course with private donations, the majority of the money is almost guaranteed to come from our already sky-high property taxes.

Another worry is that teachers will push their political views on such controversial topics such as abortion, capital punishment, immigration, taxation and welfare on their students, politicizing the classroom. (For more on this, see page 7.) This would be completely unacceptable. It would be very difficult for many teachers to present a fair, unbiased and objective lesson on topics on which they have strong beliefs. By way of example, how many teachers could present an unbiased view on cuts to public education pensions, benefits or salaries? We must make sure that students are allowed to form their own ideas, not just adopt those of their teachers.

Finally, adding another class required for graduation will only further reduce student choices. Currently, LT requires a one-semester Social Studies elective in addition to the required courses. Unless the requirements are modified, this civics course would remove an incentive for students to take other Social Studies electives.

“Decisions need to be made by the state and school district about the class requirements,” Houston said.

Without question, civics and the operation of our government are important topics, and high school students need to learn about controversial topics in order to develop informed opinions. But while we cannot afford to have a generation of uneducated voters, we cannot afford this legislative requirement in its current form.