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Nebraska education leaders hear critiques of ‘civic readiness’ definition

December 10, 2017 GMT

LINCOLN — Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education heard a hail of criticism Friday of a proposed definition of “civic readiness” for students.

After 45 minutes of testimony, two of the state’s key education officials agreed to continue talking about how to come up with an acceptable definition.

Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and State Sen. Mike Groene, chairman of the Legislature’s education committee, indicated a willingness to work together on the issue.

“This debate we’re having between two different elected bodies is what America’s all about,” Groene said.

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Nine people, including Groene, spoke against the definition. Critics said it doesn’t adequately capture what civic readiness is.

Several said the definition should include more emphasis on founding documents and incorporate state laws, including Nebraska’s Americanism statute, which already direct teachers to instill patriotism, appreciation for America and good character in students.

“Civics is history,” Groene told the board. “That’s why I was so against that definition. It does not start out with a history of who we are. We’re Americans. Americanism is a good word.”

If adopted, the definition would be used by department officials to develop an “action plan” to improve social studies education, according to documents provided to the board. Board members had directed the Nebraska Department of Education to come up with the definition.

Board member Rachel Wise said the board was responding to concerns that the state needed to do more to make sure kids were ready for civic life.

Civic readiness, the draft definition says, “is demonstrated when individuals acquire and demonstrate knowledge, skills, actions and dispositions that citizens in a republic need to fulfill obligatory civic rights and responsibilities within local communities, states, the nation and world.”

The definition says civic skills “encompass thoughtfully speaking, listening, collaborating, community organizing and public advocacy.”

One person spoke in support. Jeff Cole, representing Beyond School Bells, Nebraska’s statewide after-school network, said the definition would help when developing programs outside the formal classroom. He said the definition is not meant to take the place of the Constitution, Bill of Rights or state social studies standards.

“This is a very straight-forward document about the things young people need to know and be able to do, in order to be, in terms of this definition, civic ready,” he said.

The board had been scheduled to vote on adopting it Friday, but a board committee voted Thursday to postpone adoption and send it back to department staff for review.

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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