Practicing Citizenship

July 26, 1991

Should learning and practicing citizenship skills be part of requirements for each graduating high-school student? This is an issue the state Board of Education is trying to decide as it works to overhaul high-school graduation requirements.

Maryland has long recognized that student altruism must be encouraged. In 1985 it became the first state to require schools ++ to offer elective credit for community service. The proposal under consideration would go further. In another first in the nation, it would require all graduating Maryland students to perform citizenship service in school or out of school.

Some students could earn their credits through tutoring or mentoring other students or senior citizens, others could do their share by participating in repair or repainting jobs. These are just a few examples of what is envisioned as a flexible program that would be implemented by each school system.

When the state Board of Education considered the citizenship practicum at its meeting last month, many members supported the proposal. Others thought it was too vague or raised questions about local school systems' ability to manage it.

While such concerns may be valid, they are problems that can be resolved before the state Board of Education takes up the matter again later this summer. A citizenship practicum is too good an idea to be halted because bureaucracies are incapable of changing their set ways.

The existing citizenship examination in Maryland schools has come under much criticism. The proposed citizenship practicum promises to correct many of the current program's weaknesses by giving students an opportunity to learn by thought and action, not by classroom learning alone. "There is a lot of data that shows that when you learn by doing, you retain 75 percent of what you're learning and doing, opposed to 5 percent when you're being lectured," says Carol Kinsley, an education specialist. "It's a powerful tool."

As public funds have become sparse in recent years, Maryland is increasingly counting on private action to correct social and societal problems. A citizenship practicum could inject much-needed young energy into voluntarism. It would show the next generation of Marylanders that each person's contribution counts.

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