Proposed Civics Literacy Amendment Showcases Florida’s Ironic Politics

You don’t have to look too deeply to find irony in Florida politics. Let’s look at schools and education for an example. Civics literacy has become the rage. Florida politicians fear that for too long, students have not been properly educated in civics, and they want to correct that situation.
So important is the need to properly educate students in civics, that a special state commission proposed amending the state constitution to mandate civics literacy. Charged by Florida’s constitution to propose changes to the state’s constitution, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) convenes once every 20 years. The CRC made some news in April when they released their proposed amendments which will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The CRC deals with the constitution, which is the foundation of state government. You might think that appointees would be selected on a nonpartisan, impartial basis. However, there is no requirement for minority parties to have representation on the CRC. The political party that controls the legislature and governor’s office gets to pick who sits on the commission. The CRC is composed of 37 commissioners. The governor, the Florida House speaker, and the Senate president appoint 33 commissioners. The attorney general is also a CRC member. The remaining three commissioners are appointed by the nonpartisan Supreme Court chief justice.
You might also believe that the CRC would write its proposed amendments so that each amendment would be clear, concise, and deal with only one topic. However, rather than be straightforward, the CRC chooses to muddy the ballot. One tactic they are using is bundling together vaguely related topics. They bundled 20 topics into 12 amendments, so the voters will have to decide whether they want to take the bad with the good, or reject everything.
For example, Amendment 8, dealing with public schools, not only has the civics literacy proposal but also includes a provision to limit school board members terms. An additional provision removes control of charter schools from local school boards and places that control in a new state-level board. This bundling poses a dilemma for voters. You may want teaching civics in the state constitution, but you may disagree with limiting school board member terms or taking away local control of charter schools. What do you do? It’s all or nothing.
You may be wondering why do these things have to be in the constitution at all. Why doesn’t the legislature do its job and pass laws? As Pat Drago, education chair for the Florida League of Women Voters, wrote in a column for the Orlando Sentinel, “If you really want civics to be taught in school, you do not need a constitutional amendment to do this. This is your first civics lesson. You might also want to get rid of a school board member who has served too long – vote out the board member. This also is also basic civics.”
But the irony gets richer: the roles of student and teacher are being reversed. High school students are acting as the teacher and are conducting real-life lessons in civics literacy. Led by survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas High School massacre, students are holding rallies and marches across the state and the nation to bring attention to gun safety. Students traveled across the state to attend hearings and petition the legislature and governor to make schools safe and ban assault weapons.
The politicians don’t seem to be paying attention. They act like bored school children who are more intent on everything except the teacher standing in front of the class. This was the case when Stoneman-Douglas students traveled from Parkland to Cape Coral to testify at a CRC hearing. You would think that the CRC members, who want to cram civics literacy down the high school students throats, would be pleased to see how well these students have learned their lessons and would listen with rapt attention to what they were saying.
But, rather than listening to the students with full attention, some CRC members were busy playing with their cellphones. Ryan Deitsch, a Stoneman-Douglas student, acting like the teacher, rebuked the misbehaving CRC members and told them to put away their devices and pay attention. “I am 18 years old. This is the first one (CRC hearing) I have ever seen and frankly, I’m not impressed. I have seen several people looking at their smartphones. They might be doing something important, but for something that happens every 20 years you can put it away for a few seconds”, said Deitsch. A high school student is telling adults to put away their cell phone. Needless to say, the CRC didn’t address the gun and school safety reforms the high school students wanted.
Focused and organized like never before, high school students are leading a movement for gun safety that has been stymied for more than 30 years. Having been the victims of a failed political system, these students don’t need civics lessons. What they need, and are demanding is a political system that is responsive to the needs and desires of the public. And they will continue the fight for the reforms they want.

Submitted by: Lenny and Carol Guckenheimer