Do we really need amendment about teaching civics?


When someone complains the government did something they don’t like, I sometimes engage in a fun little exercise known as “name your lawmaker.”

Sure, everyone knows Donald Trump, and Stormy Daniels is on the way to becoming a household name.

However, the laws that most directly affect our lives are made closer to home. So, I’ll ask someone to name the state representative or senator from their district. Or the county commissioner that represents them. Or who is running for those offices in November from both major parties. Most of the time they can’t.

I’ve had people look at me blankly when I mention outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a conversation. It’s clear they don’t know who he is, or that arguably he has been the most powerful person in the state for the last couple of years.

Usually, the conversation ends with “well, I don’t really care about politics” and that’s the problem.

In about seven months, these same folks are going to be asked to help choose Florida’s next governor, a U.S. senator, and a whole bunch of other important positions that will determine the state’s course for the next several years.

That’s why it’s interesting that the Constitutional Revision Commission is considering a proposal to place an amendment on the ballot in November to ensure public schools continue teaching how the government works. A final decision on that will be made in April.

Yes, sponsor Don Gaetz – a former senate president – noted, there already is a civics requirement in public schools. And his proposal admittedly is short on specifics, and schools already grapple with enough mandates from Tallahassee.

It’s also true that adding another amendment for voters to consider shouldn’t be taken lightly.

But as we have seen, the Legislature (I’m looking at you, Mr. Corcoran) can’t resist messing with public education.

“The Legislature changes its mind,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times. “Especially education issues go in and out of fashion. … The constitution enshrines what we don’t change our minds about.”

That’s a strong point.

How much longer until someone in Tallahassee gets the bright idea that it’s a lot better for their job security to eliminate that messy how-it-works requirement and just add on more math and science, lest future graduates decide to vote them out of office.

Given recent events, I imagine some of them look at the determined and well-informed students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and wish they had never heard of civics.

Without their raised voices, I seriously doubt the gun-control bill would have even been considered, much less passed, by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

It’s normal to complain about the influence of money on politics, but people can and sometimes do make a difference.

Yes, politics can be more than a little tedious and can go deep into the weeds. As the high school students learned on their trip to Tallahassee, not every lawmaker is willing to listen.

I mean, who can forget the rude brushoff state Rep. Elizabeth Porter gave on the House floor when she said lawmakers should ignore students because they lack the “wisdom” to make the laws.

But the point of all this is to learn how things work – and, if need be, work around those who think they have a copyright on “wisdom” and knowledge.

That’s a lesson everyone needs to learn.

Joe Henderson had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune in which he won numerous local, state and national writing awards. His column appears courtesy of


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