By Thomas Quinn
Good Evening Board Members,
I’m a civics teacher at an underfunded Philly school and co-founder of PA Youth Vote. Thank you for discussing a voter education policy today.
I want to briefly answer the good questions that Dr. McColgan and Ms. Danzy asked at last week’s action meeting, namely what expectations we have for civic education at all grades and why we need to add a policy.
We have very few practical civics skills in the curriculum, especially before senior year. There is some content about the importance of voting in the 4th and 5th grade. That’s not to say that many individual teachers don’t teach the importance of civic engagement at multiple grade levels, but they do so without the official sanction of the district. This is too important to be left to the discretion of enlightened teachers willing to take a risk.
There has always been a civics class in 12th grade, but until recently, it was a Prentice Hall textbook version of government devoid of any discussion about the issues that impact our students. I’m working with our Office of Curriculum to develop a new “Action Civics” curriculum that incorporates real life research and advocacy skills to address local issues. Shout out to the great work by the Social Studies Office! They have implemented a “Voter Champion” program with paid staff members to bottom-line practical student voter registration and ballot education before each election.
I am thankful for these fantastic steps forward. They will make a real difference, but only if they are made permanent by official policy that both holds schools and educators responsible for teaching civic skills, and has their back if they are attacked for teaching the truth and empowering our students. I know that adding 8,000 informed Philly public school students to the voting roles each year will make some people nervous, as it should–but I believe this is the job of every school district, in every county.
Philadelphia has the opportunity to lead the state by instituting a strong Voter Education and Registration Policy. Other districts will follow our lead, and alongside the grassroots work of students, educators, and organizations, we’ll grow powerful life-long voters that policy-makers can no longer ignore when making decisions about such issues as equitable school funding.
I’d like to submit our Model Voter Education and Registration Policy and would be glad to discuss it further.