Bill requires students to complete a civics project and encourages voter registration for eligible high schoolers
BOSTON — The State Senate voted on Wednesday to pass a bill promoting civics education, including a media literacy component that had been championed by Senator Eric P. Lesser.
“In an era of cynicism and frustration with the political process, civics education can energize our young people and show them that they have the power to make a difference in their community,” said Sen. Lesser.
The bill, S. 2631 An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement, makes civics education a required subject in all Massachusetts public schools as part of the U.S. history and social science curriculum. Instruction is to include lessons on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the function of the three branches of government and the critical analysis of written and digital media sources.
In a recent nationwide poll, only a third of adults could name all three branches of government. According to some test results, 45 percent of 12th graders were unable to explain how citizens could change a law.
The bill also requires public schools serving students in eighth grade and high school to provide a student-led civics project, and creates a Civics Project Trust Fund to provide funding for these projects.
Finally, the bill directs the Massachusetts Secretary of State to establish a high school voter challenge program to encourage eligible students to register to vote.
The effort to pass a civics education bill, a long-time priority of Senate President Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), was given added urgency with the influx of so-called “fake news” witnessed during the 2016 presidential election.
“In an era of unprecedented flows of information, from articles to opinions to breaking news and fake news, it is vital that students learn how to think critically and evaluate the information they are receiving at an overwhelming rate,” said Sen. Lesser, who had introduced a bill at the beginning of the session to promote news media literacy as well as civics.
According to research conducted at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, students who recalled memorable civic education experiences were more likely to vote, to form political opinions and to know campaign issues. Researchers also found that civics education does not lead students to favor one party over another.
The bill is a result of negotiations between the House and Senate on their different versions of the bill. The compromise bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.