by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum at Cantigny Park
In February, President Obama requested authority from Congress to intensify U.S. military operations against ISIS, the current focal point of a virulent Islamic Jihadist movement that foments worldwide terror, instability and violence. In addition, U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and have been re-deployed into Iraq; President Vladimir Putin is using the Russian military to threaten the integrity and independence of Ukraine, suggesting in some quarters a neo-Cold War; and North Korea tests yet another missile. Today’s headlines underscore that the United States and its allies, interests, citizens and values remain subject to significant military and para-military threats.
Americans should be informed and engaged about matters of our common defense, but we are largely disengaged on these issues. Our small, all-volunteer military and the relative absence of military experience among our elected officials are but two indicators. Another is the absence of military history education in colleges and universities. Recently, the Society for Military History released a white paper, The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy. It asserts the importance of studying and understanding war, not to promote war, but to hone our judgment on war, peace and military matters. Such education is important to our democracy and our security. We commend the White Paper to our readers’ attention.”
Last Friday, Rep. Deb Conroy introduced two new bills to strengthen civic education in Illinois. The first, House Bill 4025, aims to promote greater civic learning through a required civics course for all Illinois high school students. Rep. Conroy also introduced House Bill 4024 to support teacher training, the greatest area of need for implementation of a new course. This new measure ensures that professional development activities align with best practices in civics education. I invite you to review Rep. Conroy’s press release announcing House Bills 4025 and 4024 distributed on Monday.
These proposals are based on the recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education which was established by the legislature to study the status of civic education in Illinois and make recommendations on how to improve it. The Task Force, which I had the honor to chair, was comprised of legislators, educators, school administrators, and community leaders from across the state.
The findings of the Task Force showed a strong need to strengthen civic education in our state. Illinois is one of only ten states in the country that does not require a civics or government course to graduate from high school. As Rep. Conroy stated in introducing the legislation, “Many students graduate without even basic knowledge of current events and how to become active members of their communities.” The new legislative proposals, embodying the key Task Force recommendations, will help bring civics back into our schools and restore the historic missions of schools to prepare our next generation of citizens.
The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and other civic leaders have been working vigorously to support the recommendations of the Task Force. The Coalition will be convening in Chicago on March 12-13 and will meet with Rep. Conroy to consider how best to support the new legislative proposals.
Visit the McCormick Foundation’s blog for updates on the progress of this legislation. We hope we can count on your support as we raise our voices state-wide in the upcoming months. The future of our state and country depends on educated and engaged citizens. We need to bring civics back to our schools.