Improving Civics EngagementJune 5, 2023
The House of Representatives passed a key piece of legislation last week on civics education, which was one of my priorities during this legislative session. HB 6762 establishes a task force to study and develop strategies to improve and promote civic engagement and instruction on civics, citizenship, media literacy, and American government.
The Senate has between now and midnight on Wednesday to review and pass the bill as well. Please watch my remarks below to find out why this proposal is important.
|We must address the lack of civility and the need to get back to the mutual respect we display in the CT House.|
You may be wondering why HB 6762 is a big deal. Civics engagement has been a hallmark of American history since the first settlers arrived on these shores. Civics engagement is also the foundational bond that has sustained our institutions and collective values. We learn about civics through education that safeguards and perpetuates those institutions and values through a shared history and common commitment to cultural and constitutional norms.
Unfortunately, we are seeing uninformed beliefs that are spreading at an alarming rate. Some cable news networks and social media posts are encouraging divisive rhetoric using inflammatory or polarizing language. Unfortunately, this movement has incited fear, emphasized our differences, and is in part to blame for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. It’s a reflection of loss of civic education and the obligations we have in understanding what our government does.
HB 6762 is designed to consider and offer non-partisan recommendations on existing state and national civics curricula. More importantly, the bill addresses the need to enhance civics engagement in the community, which means showing respect and courtesy to those who may not agree with you. The goal is to be able to put our differences aside for the greater good not only in Milford and Connecticut, but around the globe.
Please read the Op-ed below that I wrote detailing why Connecticut needs civics education and engagement.
Most of us who campaign for state and local office are familiar with the confusion we sometimes encounter from voters unsure of who we are and what office we hold or seek. “I hope you can straighten out that mess in Washington,” I sometimes hear when campaigning for state representative.
Indeed, we all know the sobering reports that half the persons surveyed in polls are unable to name the three branches of government or the names of their elected leaders and representatives. “I’m not into politics,” is a common explanation like, “I’m not into college basketball,” as if government and elections are merely a shared pastime for those of similar interests.
On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, crowds gathered on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia to learn of the new national government the founders had created. When asked what form this new government would take, Benjamin Franklin famously replied; “a republic … if you can keep it.” Franklin, like his fellow framers, sons of the Enlightenment, knew a democratic republic, unlike a monarchy, could only survive and flourish with the full participation of an informed and engaged electorate.
Civics engagement has been a hallmark of our 234-year experiment in representative democracy and the foundational bond that has sustained our institutions and collective values. Civics engagement is informed by a thorough education program that safeguards and perpetuates those institutions and values through a shared history and common commitment to cultural and constitutional norms.
But today, those shared foundations, what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory,” are increasingly and alarmingly undermined by the fragmentation of the electorate into narrow and intractable ideological centers. This has been aggravated by the rise of opinion-based cable news networks, the internet, social media, and the dissolution of traditional news sources and civic organizations. It has also been attended by the general loss of civility in public discourse that hampers meaningful dialogue, and the opportunity for collaboration and compromise.
The Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly will call a bill, (H6762 Sec: 6-7), “establishing a Connecticut Civics Education and Civics Engagement and Media Literacy Task Force to study and develop strategies to improve and promote civic engagement and instruction on civics, citizenship, media literacy and American government.”
The task force will be a 17-member, non-partisan entity consisting of and considering recommendations from educators, administrators, advocacy groups, government officials, non-governmental organizations and the public. The task force will consider and offer recommendations on existing state and national civics curricula and standards, but largely address the practical application, or enhanced civics engagement in the community. This can include education on forensics and civil debate as well as government operations at all levels. It will also coincide with new and related governmental and non-governmental initiatives including CivXNow and iCivics.
The task force will correspond with and complement a civics engagement program recently introduced by Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, and it will be directed at the businesses and private sector.
We live in a period of political estrangement not seen in our lifetimes. When people are ignorant of or removed from democratic practices and how they work, misinformation and conspiracy theories can quickly displace confidence in our very election process and institutions of government. It is vital that we seek common purpose with those of whom we do not agree through the practice and principles of citizenship and mutual respect. Those principles have always been there to serve and sustain us. This proposal can be an important and meaningful restatement of those principles and our enduring democratic aspirations.