A Wedge for Action Civics -- Florida's SB 146 Bill

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Well-intentioned state legislators in Florida have unanimously passed a civics bill through the upper chamber that is likely to have the very opposite effect as the one intended. The bill, SB 146, authorizes the creation of a civics “practicum” for high school and provides for the designation of certain schools focused on participatory civics as “freedom schools.” Unfortunately, although few of those who supported it will have intended this, the bill is likely to bring leftist “action civics” to Florida.

Action civics inappropriately politicizes schooling by authorizing student political protests and lobbying for course credit. That is wrong in principle. Also, through a combination of teacher bias, peer pressure, and the influence of politically biased non-profits, the action-civics “projects” in question almost invariably support the political Left.

It’s easy to see how Florida legislators might have looked favorably on a bill to promote “civic engagement.” Over the years, Florida has had a number of fine programs that encourage youth to intern (unpaid) in government agencies, or participate in speech contests and debate tournaments. Unfortunately, SB 146 as written could easily be used to authorize student political protests and lobbying expeditions, the very stuff of “action civics.” The bill would then create an opening for leftist non-profits like Generation Citizen to descend on Florida and impose leftist activism and indoctrination masquerading as “civics” on Florida’s students.

SB 146 requires that in fulfilling a civics practicum, a student must “identify a civic issue that impacts his or her community” and “develop a plan for his or her personal involvement in addressing the issue.” That language clearly goes beyond government internships or speech tournaments and opens the door to political protests or lobbying for course credit, i.e. “action civics.” Even if the Florida Department of Education doesn’t want this to become an action-civics practicum, the language is clearly tailor-made for action civics, and could easily be turned in that direction once this law is on the books.

The action-civics community has built up a cohort of academics and advocates who claim that their ideologically tinged approach represents “best practices” in civics. This is highly questionable, to say the least. (For more, see this excellent critique of action civics by Tom Lindsay and Lucy Meckler of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.) Nevertheless, the provision in SB 146 that would allow state education bureaucrats to designate “freedom schools” based on their adoption of “best educational practices” also plays into the hand of action-civics advocates.

Between several other civics bills and a new civics initiative by Governor DeSantis, the Florida legislature has plenty of other ways to strengthen civics education in the state. Well-intentioned though it may be, SB 146 should not be approved when it comes before the Florida House in the coming days.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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