Oregon lawmakers did something good recently when they approved Senate Bill 513, a measure that requires high school students to complete one semester of civics before they graduate.
The bill goes into effect beginning in the 2025-26 school year.
Lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2017 that strongly encouraged school districts to offers civics instruction, but it was not required.
Senate Bill 513 probably will not garner banner headlines or spark controversy, but is probably one of the most crucial pieces of legislation to come down the pike in decades.
That is because knowledge regarding how our government works is, at times, absent from public discourse. All one must do is look to the recent presidential election or the tenure of several of our past presidents. Former Presidents Donald Trump, Barak Obama and George W. Bush could not simply rule exclusively. That is not how our system of government works. Each president can do a whole lot by themselves — using such edicts as executive orders — but in the end they are beholden not only to the people but to Congress.
A firm, basic knowledge of how our republic functions, how legislation is created and who gets to make the final decision on key issues is crucial for not only our youths but for all voters.
We in the news business sometimes make the error that everyone understands how our government works, and then stand in dismay when people make what appear to be outrageous statements about democracy.
The path to work within our system to make change or to get something done begins with the knowledge of how the machinery of democracy works.
Why is it important? Civic education is critical because if we do not know how the system functions, we cannot act as careful observers of our elected leaders. Our elected leaders — from the local city council all the way up to the president — are not bestowed with unlimited power to do as they choose. They are constrained by a check-and-balance system brilliantly conceived by our Founding Fathers.
Many of the recent problems the nation encountered can be directly traced to an ignorance of how our government works. Many do not know how a legislative bill works. Where it is developed. Others believe a president carries unlimited power and can make “things happen” on a whim.
The first lesson in civics education should be the easiest. That lesson is elected leaders work for the voter. Period.