Students form bipartisan front in push for civics bill

Katie Lannan/SHNSMike Brodo, left, chair of the Massachusetts Teenage Republicans, and Zev Dickstein, vice chair of the Massachusetts High School Democrats, said Tuesday that civics education is a bipartisan issue and can help prepare students to participate in government.

BOSTON – With a Republican governor and Democrats in control of the Legislature, policymakers on Beacon Hill regularly tout their bipartisan credentials.

That same mantra came from a pair of younger voices on Tuesday as representatives from the Massachusetts Teenage Republicans and the Massachusetts High School Democrats teamed up to push for House passage of a civics education bill.

Mike Brodo, a senior at Xaverian Brothers High School who chairs the teen Republican group, said enhancing the state’s civics curriculum requirements would not only teach the next generation about government, it would also help them become excited about issues that affect them.

“I think that the political environment being highly polarized contributes to this indifference and ignorance of politics you see in the media, and there’s always two sides going at it and no one talking about the state issues, local issues, how do we collaborate and work together face to face,” he said. “It’s always just divisiveness and tweets, and none of that’s going to get anyone interested.”

Standing alongside Brodo as he spoke to high school students, lawmakers and legislative staff about the bill was Zev Dickstein, the vice chair of the high school Democrats, who said it was noteworthy the two could unite behind an issue.

“Civics education will allow students to decide whether they want to get involved in politics and be active,” Dickstein said. “I’m not saying that everyone has to be involved but everybody needs to know enough about politics so that they can decide if they’d like to get involved. This bill will ensure that all students in public school districts will have the support they need to develop civic skills and knowledge necessary to be informed and voting citizens of the commonwealth and the country.”

The bill (S 2375) cleared the Senate on a 32-4 vote March 22, and its supporters are now turning their attention to the House, where Speaker Robert DeLeo tapped civics education as a priority in a speech to his colleagues in January.

“I need you to tell your story about why you’re here today,” Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, the bill’s House sponsor, told its backers. “And I need you also to mention that Speaker DeLeo in his annual address to the House mentioned a couple of items — only a couple, my friends — and one of them was civics. Andy Vargas and I, we were like dancing in the aisle. We’re fired up.”

Rep. Vargas, a Haverhill Democrat elected last year, lobbied for civics education as a high school student eight years ago.

Campbell encouraged the students lobbying Tuesday to “do a really hard sell on the projects component of this legislation,” which would make completion of a student-led civics project a graduation requirement.

“This is what’s going to make it real,” the Methuen Democrat said. “When we talk to lower-income districts in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, this is what the teachers told us: ‘Make it real. It’s real for us now, we have issues that we’re concerned about now. Allow us to get that experience, hands-on experience, as to how to make politics work for us.’”

Rep. Jay Kaufman, who co-chairs the Revenue Committee, said he has “every reason to think” the House will pass the bill. “But with your insistence, we definitely will,” he told the students.

Kaufman and Senate President Harriette Chandler, who has filed civics education bills for years, both pointed to the recent student-led March For Our Lives gun control rallies across the country, including one held on Boston Common.

“I was just very taken a couple weeks ago in the wake of Parkland, to see a generation awoken,” Kaufman said. “And in the same way, after the election in 2016, a lot of women woke up and noticed, there are some things fundamentally wrong with business as usual in this country. I don’t need to tell you that, the fact that you’re in this room tells me that you already know that, and if your entire generation were following in your footsteps, we wouldn’t need a civics education bill.”

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