Seems like the civic-minded aren't interested in civics education

The recent passage of HB 4025, which mandates a civics education course for all high school students, has helped make civics education a hot topic in some circles.

But not in Buffalo Grove where it’s old news.  Very old news.

As evidenced by the recent civics forum, an annual event for high school students at Buffalo Grove and Stevenson High Schools, civics education is alive and well in the village.

The forum, spearheaded by longtime Village Clerk Janet Sirabian, give students the opportunity to research and present both sides of an issue and present their case to the Village Board.

This year’s topic addressed raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.  Students, as they have during past civics forum, demonstrated excellent research and presentation skills.  Several Village Board members even noted the performance, calling this year’s forum was among the best.

And this is something which is both encouraging and important. That’s because, as Sirabian noted in her opening remarks, the Forum gives students a chance to experience the civic process, which can make a difference.

Despite the uniqueness of the program and the opportunities it gives students from both schools, something was missing.

It was not student energy.

It was not the need.

It was not the dedication of the village, especially Sirabian.

It was overall interest.

Apparently some residents and some area media outlets think the idea of area high school students engaging the civic process is either uninteresting or not on the list of things worth spending time on.  An online search yielded only one media reference to this year’s forum and maybe two for last year’s.

But with reporters getting stretched to the limit and more and more media outlets going regional than local, it’s somewhat understandable.  Not acceptable, mind you, but understandable.

That does not, however explain the pitiful turnout to see the students present the skills needed for an effective civic process. You would think that the Council Chambers would be packed with proud parents.

You would think that would be the case, right?

Think again.

Hardly.  In fact, in checking with some folks who were at the Forum, they said there was only one parent present.

So what does this tell you?

It could tell you that the timing of the Civics Forum is just too inconvenient for parents. Unlikely.

It could tell you that there just isn’t that much “glory” in a civics forum as there may be in, say, a soccer game or football game.

Nearly 20 students participated in the Forum, so for the sake of argument, the potential was there for 40 parents to attend.  Granted, not all parents can attend, but still, only one parent was able to attend the Forum?

Do parents think that the civic responsibility is just something high school students need to learn and not practice?  Too bad if they think that way because without fail, there will be some “pressing issue” that will impact them and they’ll want to storm the Bastille without a clue as to how the profess works.

Granted, student presentations may not as exciting as a dominant defense, award-winning cheerleading formations; but it the challenges facing the student participants in the Civics Forum are no less taxing than those facing a football player, cheerleader, soccer leader, or thespian. That’s not to diminish the efforts of any student in any activity.

But practicing civic responsibility carries with it something more than a lot of other student activities do. First of all, it requires use of cognitive skills. While it’s not quantifiable student achievement, like allegedly found in standardized tests, it’s an excellent demonstration of pedagogy.

Second, the Forum stimulated intergenerational interaction.  In addition to presenting the pros and cons of lowering the age for purchasing tobacco products, they fielded questions from members of the Village Board. This is a challenge for anyone, let alone high school students, most of whom, if not all, were attending their first Village Board meeting. Questions by Board Members were genuine and not gratuitous in an effort to make the students feel important, which is the way it should be because this is how the civics process works.

The students understood that.

Their teachers understood that.

The Village Board and village staff understood that.

But it seems as though most of the parents did not understand that.

Maybe HB4025 came up short.  Maybe it should have done more than mandate a semester-long civics course for high school students.

Maybe it should have mandated an adult education course.

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