By: Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – July, 2017
One looming challenge for our country and Massachusetts is a general lack of civic engagement on the part of our young people. The steadily declining voter turnout by our youth is particularly pronounced in both midterm and local elections. Only 20% of 18 to 29 year olds voted in the 2014 national midterm elections, the lowest rate ever recorded.
The local picture is even more bleak as in Haverhill’s last municipal election where only 750 of approximately 11,000 18 to 24 year-olds registered voted, in spite of the fact that one of their own, a very dynamic recent college graduate, sought and won election to the city council.
When asked, only 32% of millennials believe they “have a voice in the political process” which means two thirds of them are disengaged and not participating in our representative democracy.
These most concerning figures about civic engagement by our youth has created momentum for legislation that I have sponsored and worked upon with my colleagues to create a substantive civics education requirement for students in Massachusetts. The requirement ensures that every high school graduate would have to complete two civics-based projects on a local, state or federal government matter that interests them.
When the bill came up for a hearing in June, I was struck by the supporting testimony of teachers and advocates who emphasized the lack of attention that has been paid to civics and social studies over the past two decades since the implementation of MCAS. While Massachusetts schools have demonstrated they are among the best in the world when it comes to teaching our children math and reading, we have fallen behind in civic education in the very cradle of American Liberty.
In addition to my hands-on focus, there was also considerable support for more content and factual based learning. As with all learning, a multifaceted approach works best and should be considered. In both modalities, incentives (such as I have included in my bill) like participation with the Kennedy Library, and awards for those who excel on our national citizenship test should be included.
Many good ideas were brought forth at this hearing and the timing for action is good as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is currently reviewing Social Studies curriculum with the intent to incorporate some new national standards. Massachusetts social studies teachers also strongly advocate for a greater emphasis upon civics and some want civics to be part of MCAS graduation testing requirements.
I hope the energized debate on how to increase civil engagement and participation in our democratic processes results in more, better, and more interesting material being presented to our students as we approach the 230th Anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents 15th Essex which includes the cities of Methuen and Haverhill. She can be reached at 617.722.2380 or Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or email@example.com She currently serves as the Vice Chair on the Committee on Revenue.