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Idaho 5th in Nation to Pass Civics Education Initiative
posted by: Cindy Omlin | March 31, 2015, 08:32 PM   

Along with Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah, Idaho leads a growing effort across the country to pass legislation to ensure that high school graduates have the basic knowledge to participate as informed, engaged citizens. The bill was sponsored by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute and its Idaho-based partners.  Sponsored by Senator Jim Patrick (R) in the Senate, Rep. Terry Gestrin carried the bill to the House floor for debate.  In addition to Gestrin, Representatives Linden Batemen (R), Ilana Rubel (D), Pete Nielsen (R), and John McCrostie (D) testified in favor of the bill.

Rep. Bateman and Nielsen supported the bill but lamented that the bill did not also include civics knowledge for Idaho as it focused only on knowledge of the country’s federal system of governance.  Rep. Bateman passionately encouraged educators to make social studies and civics come alive with stories that “put flesh on” history as a way to touch the mind and soul rather than relying on dry, rote based curriculum.

ilana rubelRep. Ilana Rubel, who says that “Civics education is a bit of an obsession for me,” poignantly pointed out the value of the bill, namely, that in America’s highly individualistic and pluralistic society, it is shared civic principles that bind Americans together as a community and nation.  She waived off complaints that the test was a burdensome mandate noting that tests serve a good purpose, i.e., “they get people to study.”  Quoted in Idaho Education News, Rep. Rubel remarked, “It’s disastrous when we don’t even understand the sacrifices made to bring us to the place we are at today.  We’re falling apart.”

Rep. Nielsen testified that the test is a good first step that will ensure that students receive accurate information about the republic, information which he cited is necessary to advance the nation's principle of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Rep. Gestrin also noted that members of Northwest Professional Educators supported the bill.  On a member survey, 71% of respondents believed the bill to be a reasonable requirement because it will support greater understanding of and engagement by Idaho citizens in our republican form of government.

Rep. John McCrostie, a teacher in Garden City, ID, noted that the bill will send the message that Idaho wants civic engagement — a message promulgated by Frank Riggs, President and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute: “Every high school student should be able to demonstrate factual knowledge of the democratic principles on which our country is founded, and from which our basic freedoms and rights as Americans flow.  Those freedoms and rights, which our men and women in uniform have defended and preserved since our country’s founding, are what unite us as Americans.  The Joe Foss institute is dedicated to ensuring our students graduate high school ready, willing and able to take on the serious responsibilities of citizenship.”

The Joe Foss Institute was especially grateful for the assistance of Idaho Senator Jim Patrick (R-Twin Falls), Representative Terry Gestrin (R-Donnelly) and Representative Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) for their bipartisan support and leadership.

The Civics Education Initiative has been introduced in 17 other states. The Joe Foss Institute created and launched the Civics Education Initiative in 2014, with a goal of passing legislation in all 50 states by the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 2017.

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