How to really test our civics knowledge: Review the week in Kansas politics

February 5, 2021 3:33 am

Rep. Steve Huebert, a Republican from Valley Center, is the sponsor of a bill that would require students to pass an American civics test in order to graduate with a high school diploma. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector)

The message signaled by Rep. Steve Huebert’s tie — a triangle of white stars against a blue background above thick red and white stripes — was unmistakable.

This sartorial salute to America signified Huebert’s passion (a word he repeated a dozen times) for the idea he was championing as chairman of the Kansas House Education Committee on Wednesday.

The Republican from Valley Center wants high school students to pass an American civics test before they can graduate. He proposes a 100-question version of the United States Citizenship test.

Nobody can argue that America doesn’t need some help with this at the moment. Even opponents of Huebert’s bill applauded his intentions, though the Kansas Association of State School Boards gently suggested such legislation would be redundant.

The problem, really, isn’t that high schoolers can’t pass civics tests. It’s that adults are in dangerous disagreement about the practical application of civics in public life.

Wednesday’s hearing was a case study. We heard, for example, from a government teacher in Valley Center who testified about the Madisonian model of government that “allows parties to exist without the annihilation of our liberty, or more specifically, our freedom of speech … through a safeguard of intricate, yet rigid system of checks and balances and separation of powers.”

We also heard from a citizen named Nick Reinecker, who is worried about a socialist takeover of culture, among other things.

“It is no secret that there are enemies against our way of life in America and in Kansas,” he said. “Even now, in this building, we potentially face enemies who are using a ‘mask’ to hide their true intentions. This is a bill that represents another verse in the 2021 chapter of the generational ‘war’ between tyranny and freedom and I am a proponent, thereof.”

While we wait to see whether Huebert’s bill gets any traction, let’s just review what real life has taught us the last few days.

This week in Kansas civics:

A U.S. senator who endangered democracy by remaining silent as a defeated president refused to accept election results, then refused to hold that former president accountable for inciting a deadly riot, on Monday tried to brand himself as a statesman by meeting with the new president to argue for a watered-down COVID-19 relief bill that includes no relief for state and local governments and no minimum wage increase — and then bragged about it on Fox News.

An anesthesiologist from Hutchinson is now a member of the Kansas Senate’s Public Health and Welfare committee after promoting essential oils and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for COVID-19 during a short term on the Reno County Commission, where he claimed he had a “Christian mandate” to bully other commissioners and public health officers about their “garbage” “propaganda” mask orders. This newly elected Republican replaced a moderate who had voted for sensible tax policies after serving as a community college president for 23 years.

Members of a House committee that oversees the state’s K-12 education budget decided it was an excellent idea to give out even more tax credits — causing an indeterminate hit to the state’s general fund — so more kids can attend private religious schools, where they could potentially avoid curricula involving certain aspects of U.S. history and science they’d rather not hear about.

Another U.S. senator who also endangered democracy, this one saying the president wasn’t really elected, deployed the tired political tactic of punching gay people when you’re on the losing side of history. This senator justified his vote against the real president’s gay nominee for transportation secretary because he “has openly talked about using his post as a pulpit for social agenda items,” then later griped to the education secretary nominee about transgender athletes. With these fits, the U.S. senator joined four Kansas Republican representatives who want to make it a crime to provide services to transgender people under 18 because, apparently, beating up on LGBTQ people just makes them feel better.

At the end of a week like that, everyone deserves a drink! But whether Kansans can get a stiff one or a weak one at a bar or just the nearest convenience store now depends on a bill involving special licenses based on the distinction between beer and cereal malt beverages.

The real-life practice of civics is hard. But hell, let’s all refresh our knowledge by taking the test. We don’t need a law to tell us to do that, and it couldn’t hurt.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.