Civic Literacy Act Exposed

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The Civic Literacy Act is listed under ALEC's Education Task Force and was included in the 1995 ALEC Sourcebook of American State Legislation. A nearly identical bill is available on, any words removed from the original version are given in strikethrough and additions are given in bold. (Accessed on 10/5/2015).

ALEC Bill Text


Americans take personal pride in the diversity of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. However, as a nation, we possess a singular political heritage based on the principles of life, liberty, justice, and equality of opportunity as defined and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended in The Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson, recognizing the future need to protect America’s political heritage, prescribed a general education for all citizens, “to instruct the mass of our citizens in these their rights, interests, and duties, as men and citizens.” However, today, and for too many years, our students have been denied the basic education required to develop a command of and commitment to the ideals essential to a democratic form of government. The extent of civic illiteracy in America is large and growing. The results of various surveys have confirmed the lack, especially among young Americans, of even a basic knowledge about our Constitution and the structure and function of our government.

At a time in history when Communism and totalitarian rule is diminishing and democracy is flourishing, it is truly ironic that American students lack a fundamental knowledge of our form of self-government. It may be, if civic -illiteracy is unchecked, that each new generation of Americans will understand less than the preceding generation about American principles and institutions, and be less prepared to assume the responsibilities of citizenship and governance. Until recently, relatively little attention was given to “citizenship education.” However, state legislators, the Congress, and other public policy leaders, alarmed about the growing evidence of civic illiteracy, have acted to bring about the emergence of an important policy consensus. In December, 1987, the Congress adopted a concurrent resolution (S. Res. 92), cosponsored by Senators Paul Simon (IL) and Robert Dole (KS), and by Representatives Linda Boggs (LA) and Phil Crane (IL), directing the states to improve primary and secondary school curriculums to ensure that students possess a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers as a requirement for graduation from high school.

In this regard, the many states have enacted legislation to require the teaching of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers during the ,high school years. In addition to these efforts, a number of special academic centers and organizations have been established to promote the teaching of the a founding documents. A leader among the various special academic research centers is the National Center for America’s Founding Documents at Boston University. The National Center provides substantive inservice and preservice training for teachers and offers special seminars, institutes, and instructional materials to assist educators with classroom instruction.

It is important that all citizens, regardless of origin, are made aware of our nation’s political heritage. Indeed, the future of our democratic institutions may be jeopardized if civic illiteracy is permitted to continue unabated. Nevertheless, a reversal of this trend may take place only if legislators enact new laws which provide clear and detailed instructions about (1) curriculum and other related matters, and (2) sanctions and appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

Model Legislation

Section 1. {Title.}

This Act may be cited as The Civic Literacy Act.

Section 2. {Findings.}

The legislature finds and declares that:

(A) The adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the signing of the United States Constitution were principal events in the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence providing the philosophical foundation on which this nation rests and the Constitution of the United States providing its structure of government.

(B) The Federalist Papers embody the most eloquent and forceful argument made in support of the adoption of our republican form of government.

(C) These documents stand as the foundation of our form of democracy providing at the same time the basis of our national identity and the vehicle for orderly growth and change.

(D) Many Americans lack even the most basic knowledge and understanding of the history of our nation and the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution and defended in the Federalist Papers.

(E) The survival of the Republic requires that our nation’s children, the future guardians of its heritage and participants in its governance, have a firm knowledge and understanding of its principles and history.

Section 3. {Purpose.}

The purpose and intent of this Act are:

(A) To require during the high school years the teaching of the nation’s founding and related documents, which shall include the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

(B) To require that before receiving a certificate or diploma of graduation from high school students must have been tested on their knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

Section 4. {Administration.}

The state department of education (insert appropriate state/local agency) shall adopt and promulgate rules and regulations for the administration of this Act; said rules and regulations to:

(A) include among the requirements for secondary school graduation a passing grade on a test of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Federalist Papers;

(B) include in any standard state testing of high school students questions on the contents of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Federalist Papers

(C) specifically provide for curriculum content and teacher training to ensure that the intent of this legislation is satisfied.

Section 5. {Reporting and accountability.}

The state department of education (insert appropriate state/local agency) shall submit an annual report to the governor and the legislature describing the specific rules and regulations issued pursuant to this Act and reporting the effectiveness of these rules and regulations as measured by the passage of these courses involved pursuant to Section 3 of this Act.

Section 6. {Severability clause.}

Section 7. {Repealer clause.}

Section 8. {Effective date.}