Apr. 17, 2019

Viewpoint: David Thomason, an assistant professor of political science at St. Edward’s University, and Jamie Carroll, a doctoral student at The University of Texas and Texas Advocacy Fellow at Generation Citizen, encourage the passage of two civics education bills.

Why should high school students care about whether they are learning the tools of citizenship? Let us be brutally honest: Why should we care about whether students are learning the tools of citizenship? School leaders, teachers, politicians, and the Texas Education code refer to preparing students to be “thoughtful, active citizens,” but rarely is civics education viewed as worthwhile.

We suggest Texas civics education is about promoting the values of individualism, a spirit of volunteerism and an understanding of the importance of accountability and transparency in our political system.

In a recent Corpus Christi speech, Governor Greg Abbott said we are working on legislation to put “civics education back in our schools to make sure kids learn what Texas is all about.” The Texas that will be carried on to the next generation should include citizens who are ready to tackle challenges in their community, to understand how to work collaboratively with government, and to hold their elected officials accountable to the needs of their community.

With this in mind, we want Texans to consider two bipartisan bills in the 86th Legislature that promote Texas civics education for our future generations. HB 3008 and HB 3009, drafted by Representatives James Talarico (D-Round Rock) and Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) will build the spirit of individualism, volunteerism, and political accountability and transparency into the curriculum of high schools across Texas. The bills will give schools the option of guiding students on solving real problems in local communities, such as working with local city officials on installing stoplights in front of schools to working with school board members on raising awareness for such issues as suicide, drug addiction, sexual assault and bullying.

Critical to this is that both civics education bills do these things without costing taxpayers additional funds. The bills create a funding source that allows voluntary contributions from individuals, companies, organizations and private sources.

Students are interested in contributing to their communities, but often do not have the opportunity. In Bastrop, high school students realized that most city decisions were made during school hours, when students voices could not be heard. They researched how other areas have dealt with this issue and advocated for a City Youth Advisory Council to ensure students could share their opinions about citywide programming with the city manager and city council.

In other instances, students worked with city and state government to pursue specific causes. Last legislative session, Kealing Middle School students wanted to create more opportunities for domestic violence victims to be able to talk about their abuse in a safe space. They advocated for SB 918, which would require cosmetologists to be trained to recognize signs of domestic violence since beauty parlors can provide a comfortable environment for women. In all these examples, students used their civics training to identify the root cause of an issue and to come up with creative solutions they advocated for at the appropriate level of government. They are, in fact, helping government officials do their job better by providing them with ways to fix community issues.

Texans value our independence, voluntary spirit, and holding those in power accountable and transparent. That is why we should pass civics education bills HB 3008 and HB 3009, which give future generations an introduction to these important values without creating a fiscal impact for taxpayers. The passage of these bills will create memorable civics learning for students and better prepare them to be the engaged citizens we need to lead Texas into the future.

A version of this commentary appeared in the Austin American Statesman.