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Nebraska education officials create ‘civic readiness’ draft

November 9, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Education Department has formulated a draft definition of “civic readiness” to help social studies teachers prepare students for civic life after high school.

Education officials want to define what students should learn to be engaged citizens who vote, volunteer and understand civil discourse when they graduate. The definition is expected to help educators know what students should learn and be better able to measure whether they’re learning it.

“We didn’t have a definition of what it is,” said Cory Epler, chief academic officer for the Education Department. “So it’s hard to measure civic readiness if we hadn’t clearly identified what do we mean by civic readiness.”

The draft defines readiness as understanding history and how government works, while also demonstrating “the dispositions that citizens need in a republic.” Such dispositions include respect for the law, concern for the constitutional rights and freedoms of others, and “recognition of the need for public welfare, safety and fairness.”

Civic skills “require the ability to gather and process information, including opposing viewpoints, in order to demonstrate a substantial understanding of why that view is held,” according to the definition.

Epler said the need to learn how to have a discussion where everyone’s views are respected is particularly important in today’s polarized political climate.

“The timing is right,” he said.

It’s unclear how the definition would be implemented in schools, or whether schools would be required to adopt it. The state’s social studies standards already include civics education, but the definition being considered would promote experiences that inspire civic-mindedness rather than specific standards.

“Getting a 70 percent on a test as a senior in high school doesn’t necessarily mean as a 40-year-old you’ll be an engaged citizen,” Epler said.

The Board of Education was briefed on the draft Wednesday. The board is expected to vote on the definition next month.

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