Maggie Stern’s testimony on HB 3979 on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund, Texas

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee,

My name is Maggie Stern and I am here today to testify against HB 3979, in my role as Youth Civic Education & Engagement Coordinator with the Texas office of the Children’s Defense Fund. We are a nonpartisan policy advocacy & child welfare organization that works to uplift the voices of Texas children and youth, and we are asking this committee to instead consider elements of several bills with bipartisan support that promote comprehensive civic education for all Texas students.

Bipartisan stakeholders agree that comprehensive civic education requires not just memorizing facts without context or application.

Civic knowledge is important. Students need a foundation of history that includes writings from the diverse range of civic heroes who have shaped this country. But comprehensive civics education also requires that students learn civic skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

“Civic skills” refers to the abilities that are necessary for lifelong civic participation such as engaging with government institutions, practicing media literacy, and actively participating in civil discourse.

“Civic attitudes” refers to an appreciation for the importance and responsibility of civic participation, including developing civic self-efficacy and understanding differing perspectives.

And “civic behaviors” refers to practicing civic habits including voting, engaging in deliberative discussions, volunteering, and other civic activities.

These definitions have been supported by a bipartisan group of educators and advocates across Texas and are present in other civics bills that have been filed this session. But HB 3979 focuses instead on a restrictive understanding of civic education that does not serve our students, our teachers, or our civic society.

When young people have an opportunity to identify issues, speak with lawmakers, and research solutions, they are practicing problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will serve them in their private and public lives. When young people discuss current events in the classroom, they gain context and media literacy so they can better evaluate discourse and develop their own opinions based on evidence and experience.

And it is concerning that this bill contains so much rhetoric yet so little guarantee that our civic education system recognizes the rich, diverse, and imperfect history of our country full of civic heroes fighting to recognize the promise of a more perfect union.

HB 3979 would censor young Texans just as they are learning what it means to be a civic participant, and we are asking this committee to instead consider elements of several bills with bipartisan support that promote comprehensive civic education for all Texas students. These are hard conversations – for children as well as for adults, which is why we also support investing in teacher training to help our teachers answer questions and facilitate conversation in the classroom.

I’ll close by saying that the young people we work with are not apathetic or unaware of their civic responsibility. In fact,

we strongly believe we can all celebrate that 80% of young people agree that they have a responsibility to be civically engaged. That’s an incredible sign of civic strength from young people, but like any other muscle, students need a chance to exercise it.

We urge you to oppose HB 3979 and take up other civics bills that strengthen both our civic education system and the fabric of our civic society. Thank you.