Civics: the lost art of discourse

If you watch enough national news, it’s easy to think that Democrats and Republicans rarely speak, always argue, refuse to compromise and have nothing in common.

Fortunately, in Colorado at least, that is not always true.

I am sponsoring a bill with bipartisan support to strengthen civics instruction in our public schools. Though civics is already a required course, the Legislature has never really addressed whether students are learning about the intricacies of civil government, then practicing what they have learned.

For the last several years, Sen. Don Coram, a Republican, has been working with Sen. Lois Court, a Democrat, to address this issue. We’ve seen bills filter through the system, but nothing has stuck.

Court left office for medical reasons, so her replacement, Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat, joined Coram to put civics in the limelight again. I signed on to sponsor the bill from the House of Representatives along with Rep. Terri Carver, a Republican.

And SB 21-067, now amended to be the “Senator Lois Court Civics Act of 2021,” is soon headed to the Governor’s office to become law.

The bill asks the State Board of Education to review the state civics standards and update the content when they come up for review in 2021-22. 

Civics is a social science dealing with the rights and duties of citizens and those they elect. Elected officials everywhere see the need for this. Many people have no idea who we represent and what we do. Here are some examples of what my constituents want me to accomplish:

• “Please oppose David Chipman (for a presidential cabinet post).”

• “Run in the next Republican primary against our Congressional representative.”

• “Stop censoring Facebook; don’t you believe in free speech?”

• “Please pass a bill doing something about the potholes in Durango.”

• “Reject the results of Arizona’s election.”

• “Change the results of Georgia’s election.”

• “Don’t ratify the results of the Electoral College.”

• “Why did you vote for the President’s impeachment?”

• “Why didn’t you vote for the President’s impeachment?”

And the list goes on.

We have all seen from discussions, the news and our social media, that many people do not understand the Constitution or the mechanisms of local, state or federal government. Constitutional Amendments, voting rights and ballot issues can be confusing. Studies show few can name the three branches of government. 

With the advent of standardized tests focusing on math, English and science, civics has received a short shrift, and current events are showing the importance of bringing this topic back to the forefront. 

This legislation will have schools focus on the instruction and discussion of the fundamentals of American democracy at the federal, state and local levels into classrooms, and include classroom activities where students model democratic processes. We also encourage service learning and experiential project-based learning for students by participating civically in their communities. 

The bill also recommends teaching the history and civil government of the United States and Colorado, including the history, culture and social contributions of minorities, such as Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and LGBTQ individuals, as well as the contributions and persecution of religious minorities.

This is a teachable moment in our country. Encouraging the next generation to participate in government by watching, critiquing and participating will help them see what goes into civil discourse, making law and addressing the challenges and issues of society. 

I contacted my eighth-grade civics teacher this week, Mr. Vuxinic. Who knew teachers had first names? His is Matt. His lessons encouraged me to learn about government and politics, to be an active participant, to vote and to become a good community citizen. What a treat to hear his voice again. I thanked him for being that inspirational teacher, and I am proud to bring civics to the forefront of education again.

When Democrats and Republicans work together, we get things done.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango