Civic engagement keeps citizens well versed on how our government should work

Civic engagement keeps citizens well versed on how our government should work
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It’s been almost a year since Gov. Charlie Baker put his signature on “Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement,” which requires the state to strengthen civics education requirements by mandating that American history, social sciences and civics be taught in public schools.

The law also specifies that our schools implement student-led civics projects for students in eighth grade and high school, with the intent of encouraging youngsters to work with public officials and learn how their government works.

Subject matter includes information on the state and U.S. constitutions, the Declaration of Independence, local history and government, the branches of government, the United States flag, and disenfranchised voter populations.

Locally, it marked the culmination of one group’s years-long effort to readmit civics to the classroom.

For members of Lowell’s United Teen Equality Center (UTEC), the law rewarded its nine-year campaign of advocating for civics curricula. During that time, UTEC participants organized lobbying days at the State House, spoke at the bill’s hearings, and worked closely with legislators.

Sen. Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat and the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the State House News Service at the time the legislation aims to provide students with knowledge of the basics of government, and encourage them to use what they’ve learned to think critically. She pointed to the media literacy component as an example of those analytical skills.

“When they hear that famous term now, fake news, they’re going to be able to determine what is and what is not fake news,” she said.

Considering the continued national political upheaval that shows no signs of abating, we’d say our state’s civics students have been put to the test.

With claims of Republican- and Democrat-inspired meddling in the 2016 presidential election, accusations of GOP collusion with Russia – judged to be unfounded – and ongoing allegations of President Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice, it’s enough to leave any civic student’s head’s spinning.

And now they may actually witness the impeachment of the country’s commander in chief.  We trust students understand that impeachment doesn’t mean removal from office, but the formal process of detailing the charges against the president.

It would only take a simple majority of House members to approve those articles of impeachment; however, the Senate then would need a two-thirds majority to convict – and remove – the president.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential primary campaign has been jockeying for the public’s attention.

It’s not only a tall order for eighth-graders and high-schoolers. We suspect many average adults — not party zealots — find all these political machinations overwhelming, and perhaps somewhat disturbing.

Sifting through the barrage of misinformation and half-truths spewed by politically skewed — on both sides — cable news networks would tax anyone to distraction.

And it would be perfectly understandable for most people, who have more on their plate than partisan political debate, to simply wash their hands of the whole unseemly process.

That’s exactly what those party operatives want. Apathy paves the way for an energized minority to carry the day.

So, kids, don’t despair. Political dysfunction need not be the norm. Informed citizens, well versed in how our government should work, can still right our floundering Ship of State.

That’s the civics lesson we all need to heed.