Nov 27, 2009

Mark Oglesby's senior government class raised the bar for civic education

Howell High School students from teacher Mark Oglesby's senior government class again won the "We the People" 8th Congressional District Competition over Mason High School to again advance to the state competition in January held in Lansing.

We the People is a nationwide program developed by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Civic Education. The group’s s mission is to foster the development of informed, responsible citizen participation in civic life. The actual program is based on materials developed by the center, and the program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The competition is fairly simple, but the knowledge the students demonstrate is impressive. Students are divided into teams of three to six students, and the teams demonstrate their knowledge of various areas of the U.S. Constitution before three judges made up of community leaders from the community and across the state in a format that resembles a Congressional hearing. They are then graded on a variety of areas, such as knowledge, reasoning, presentation and participation.

The team finished third in the state last year as it has for the past four years. I have been lucky enough to be a judge in the past, and the knowledge these students demonstrate is impressive. I make sure I do some serous studying before I act as a judge.

Just today I happened to tune into WILS and some rightwing tool was talking about a survey and students could not even say how many justices there are on the U.S. Supreme Court. Right-wingers are trying to make the claim that public school - or “government schools” - are “dumbing down” students, and they point to an alleged poll in Oklahoma.

The host claimed - get this - that the government schools are “dumbing down” the students so they will not ask questions. This guy should take in the state competition for We the People if he believes that.

Apparently, a rightwing think tank called the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) recently commissioned a poll of 1,000 Oklahoma high school students. The poll asked 10 relatively basic political knowledge questions that were drawn from the U.S. Citizenship Test.

The claim is that only 2.8 percent of Oklahoma's high school students passed the test. When you see how easy the test is, you will see why people are questioning the results. Apparently, only 23 percent knew George Washington was the first U.S. President.

Clearly, civic education in the U.S. is lacking, but I question the results of that survey.

I would pit Mark Oglesby's senior government class against any school in the country; public or private. Congratulations to the students at HHS, and good luck in January.

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