HURON — Seniors nearing graduation in Huron have learned what it means to be a United States citizen through a myriad of classes they take beginning in middle school, a high school government and history teacher said Monday.
“It gets taught over the years and in a number of different classes,” Kelly Hennrich said. “So the stuff that is on the citizenship exam is covered over a period of years.
“With the courses that we’re teaching, they’re getting the background of the information,” he said. “With that test they would only have to go online and memorize 100 questions, with no background to any of that information. With the courses that we’re teaching they’re getting the background of the information.”
In her State of the State address in January, Gov. Kristi Noem proposed that South Dakota high school students be required to pass a civics test in order to graduate. The House approved the bill, but it died in the Senate.
Hennrich agrees that kids need to know what’s asked on such a test so they can apply it to today’s world. “We’ve got to learn from our mistakes,” he said at the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon.
Asked how the state should implement a civics program, he said Huron already has it in place through the various classes students must take. He teaches United States and world history, government, street law and contemporary affairs.
“I don’t think that the 10-question test would prove anything,” he said. “I don’t know that that would prove proficiency in any of those areas.”
If an exam was required, it should be taken at the end of one’s senior year in high school, he said. That would be after the students have taken required classes in government and history, and electives in social studies.
Hennrich asks his students to know two dates in history — July 4, 1776, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Sept. 17, 1787, the birth of the Constitution.
“I tell my kids to remember it,” he said of the second date, “because it’s got all the S’s in it.”
One of the classes he teaches juniors and seniors is contemporary affairs, or current events, dealing with what’s happening in the world.
“It’s really a fun class and it’s actually one of the easier ones I teach because kids get to read about and talk about what they want,” Hennrich said.
In his street law class, the former police officer teaches the kids their rights, especially as they deal with the government. He also teaches driver’s education. “I have a bit of authority in that area; it works out pretty nice.”
Also, the kids learn about the amendments to the Constitution involving search and seizure, double jeopardy, due process, protection against self-incrimination, the right to a jury and one’s responsibility to serve on a jury when asked.
Other topics include cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines and bail. “We go into the criminal justice system after they’re sentenced and how that applies. They talk about case law and its impact on the criminal law world, the Miranda warning, school searches and the death penalty.
“The kids find all that interesting,” Hennrich said.
Students also learn the differences between liberals and conservatives.
“The kids do a lot of research and we do a lot of class discussion in that one,” he said. There are political quizzes done online, and they can get an idea where they fall in terms of their own political beliefs.
“The biggest thing I get out of that is kids say, ‘I didn’t know where I was at in my beliefs,’” he said. “So I think they really enjoy that and at the end of that unit we always register them to vote. I register probably 140 to 200 seniors a year to vote.”