PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — Demonstrating civic proficiency will now be a graduation requirement for students in Rhode Island.
On Monday, Gov. Dan McKee held a ceremonial bill-signing at Daniel Waterman Elementary School in Cranston. He said the bill aims to ensure students gain an understanding of the government’s process, along with constitutional rights, political ideologies, and the history and heritage of the country.
“I firmly believe that education is the key to bettering the lives of young people and ensuring their future success,” McKee said. “I hope signing this legislation will increase the engagement in government by young people in the state.”
The bill also establishes a requirement for a student-led project designed to build an understanding of the government’s systems.
Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins, who worked as an educator for 37 years, discussed how he piloted a civics program at Cranston High School East. Then, using what he taught, he would go on to be elected mayor following his retirement.
“Participation in civic life is essential to sustaining our democratic form of government,” Hopkins said.
State Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, who serves as vice chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education, said improving civics education has been a priority for her for more than two decades.
She helped establish the R.I. Permanent Commission on Civic Education back in 2001, but stressed those topics are just as critical to learn in the modern day.
“Civics proficiency has never been more important than it is today in this age of rampant misinformation,” she said.
Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, was the lead sponsor for the bill. He said it was inspired by what he considers the “best civics program in the state of Rhode Island” at North Smithfield High School, and hopes to bring that level of proficiency across all public schools.
“Civics is not to be confused with politics,” he said. “Civics is about the structure of government: how things relate, how things work, how they’re supposed to work, how they don’t work. Learn what makes this country great, learn what makes this government function or not function, and strive to work to correct it — whatever you do.”
Also in attendance was Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. She announced the social studies standards are going to be reviewed for all public schools, with the new civics proficiency being at the center of that review.
Infante-Green warned of the dangers of students not having civic proficiency.
“We’re in an age of misinformation,” she said, echoing Gallo’s remarks.
Standards for the subject have not been updated since 2009, according to Infante-Green, so she said she’s looking to finalize the reviewed standards by next spring.