New state law enforces civics requirement for high schoolers

By The Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 8, 2015 at 3:21 p.m.

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CHICAGO (AP) — A state law signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has elevated civics to required course for high school graduation, marking the first time the state has enforced such a requirement in a decade.

Under the new law, public schools are now required to offer two years of social studies, including at least one year of U.S. history or a combination of U.S. history and American government. Public schools also must teach American patriotism and principles of representative government, as well as proper use of the American flag.

Many school districts across Illinois will need to prepare to offer the kind of civics instruction required in the state new law, which calls for civics course content focusing on "government institutions, the discussion of current and controversial issues, service learning, and stimulations of the democratic process," the Chicago Tribune ( ) reported.

Those activities go beyond teaching the three branches of government or the Bill of Rights, and civics instruction likely will be aimed at juniors and seniors because they are more mature than younger high school students, according to educators.

"We're talking about controversial issues all the time ... there's always the biggies: gun control, racial profiling, abortion ... the big things that are news," said Lisa Willuweit, the humanities division head who oversees social studies at West Chicago's Community High School.

About 60 percent of the state's high schools already required a civics or government course, but it's unclear how many of them offer courses including elements of the new law, said Shawn Healy, a civics scholar at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, who chaired a state-appointed task force on civics education.

The Illinois Board of Education is working with school districts to help them determine whether they must offer a separate civics course or they can incorporate civics into existing social studies courses.


Information from: Chicago Tribune,

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