(NASHVILLE, TN), May 23, 2012 — Legislation implementing a new emphasis on civics education in Tennessee was among bills signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam this week as the state prepares to observe the Memorial Day weekend. Senate Bill 2066, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), aims to give students the skills they need to be better informed about the workings of their own government by requiring civics education be included in the public school curriculum assessed by Local Educational Agencies (LEAs).
The legislation drew praise from former Chief Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor who wrote Leader Norris last week saying, “This important legislation will help make sure that every Tennessee student receives the civil learning that is so vital to their becoming an informed and engaged citizen.” Norris completed the bill after meeting with O’Connor whose efforts to promote civics education are taking root at middle schools and high schools across the nation. The most recent study of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that students perform worse in civics and U.S. history than in any other subjects. To counteract this trend, O’Conner has become a staunch advocate of civics education.
“I share Justice O’Connor’s deep concern regarding the need for a strong foundation in civics education so students will be fully engaged both as citizens and future leaders,” said Leader Norris. “The Memorial Day holiday is a stark reminder of those who fought and died for our freedom and right to self-govern. It is important that students know the underpinnings of our U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and our democratic framework. It is even more important that they understand how they work together to make life better for those who live under the flag of freedom in this great nation.”
According to Norris, the legislation passed this year is timely as a result of the state’s recent waiver of the No Child Left Behind law. He is concerned that if Tennessee does not test civic knowledge and skills, they could become afterthoughts in education, especially in schools where students are at risk of failing the subjects that are tested. Norris said the project-based assessment put into place under the new law, moves away from testing memorization of facts and puts the focus on the academic skills needed for engaging in social issues and governance.
According to the most recent reports, there are deficiencies in Tennessee’s curriculum, particularly as it effects active, project-based instruction which is the most effective method of learning civics education. Norris’ legislation calls for engaging students in choosing issues of concern to them, followed by investigative research and development of plans for improving their communities.
“Tennessee students will choose issues of concern to them in their own communities, investigate them using rigorous research and develop plans for improving their communities through this approach,” Norris added.
Leader Norris has been engaged in the promotion of stronger civic education in Tennessee public schools since 2006 when the General Assembly established the Commission on Civic Education. He was recently chosen to participate in the National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC) Conference in Chicago in June. The meeting is part of the National Summit on the Role of State Policy in Promoting Civic Knowledge and Civic Engagement in K-12 Schools. He has also been recognized for his efforts by the national Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.
Janis Adams Kyser, Director of the Tennessee Center for Civic Learning and Engagement said, “Our children of Tennessee should learn the general framework of their government; know where they come in contact with the government, where government impacts their lives and where their voice is heard within the government. Senator Mark Norris and the Tennessee Legislature have provided an opportunity for our youth to understand the responsibilities of being an active citizen and the important roles they can play in maintaining our democracy.”
“I agree with President Reagan who warned us in his farewell speech that eradication of this knowledge would lead to the erosion of this country,” he continued. “The last sentence of his farewell speech was – for democracy to work, an educated and engaged citizenry is essential. I admire the work of Justice O’Connor in shining a light on civics and am proud to be a part of this effort in Tennessee.”