The Michigan Senate passed a pair of bills (SB 209 and SB 211) this week that promote teaching of civics principles from the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Michigan Constitution for all public school students.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, is intended to fill holes in civics education that Colbeck says leave many Americans unable to demonstrate basic knowledge about how government works.
One of the bills specifies, but does not limit, instruction to a set of required elements, including the First Amendment's right to freedom of religion and the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. The bills would require the state's model core curriculum to include lessons covering those required elements by May 1, 2016.
The existing state assessment would then be required to incorporate those same elements, Colbeck says.
"When you look at surveys that have been put out in the American public, you find out that only 38% of Americans can name all three branches of government, and of even more concern is that about a third of Americans can't even name a single branch of government," says Colbeck. "And it's my hope that we can encourage a better understanding of our specific rights that we're guaranteed under the constitution so that we're better able to defend them."
Critics say the bill conspicuously omits some important parts of the documents, such as the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against illegal search and seizure.
Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, sponsored an amendment to strike references to specific concepts.
SB 209 passed on a 27-11 party-line vote.