Utah requires character and civics ed in an integrated curriculum – do our schools comply?

May 14, 2021

Did you know that Utah law requires public school to teach character and civics education through an “integrated curriculum”?

While the law (Utah Code 53G-10-204) requiring an integrated curriculum was passed in 2004, data since that time suggests that Utahns know very little about history and government.

Further, new Sutherland Institute data shows that the majority of Utah educators and parents feel like civics and history are “overlooked” or seen as an “afterthought.”

This seems like a far cry from what is required by Utah law.

Here’s what the law says. How well is your school doing?

The state views public education as having major role in character and civic education

“The Legislature recognizes that civics and character education are fundamental elements of the constitutional responsibility of public education and shall be a continuing emphasis and focus in public schools” and that “public schools fulfill a vital purpose in the preparation of succeeding generations of informed and responsible citizens who are deeply attached to essential democratic values and institutions.”

Parents may find it worth asking their local school what it defines as its mission or vision and whether it corresponds with the state vision for public education.

Integrated curriculum should teach integrity, morality, civility and more

The law explains that integrated curriculum ought to teach “honesty, integrity, morality, civility, duty, honor, service, and obedience to law; respect for and an understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the constitutions of the United States and of the state of Utah; Utah history, including territorial and preterritorial development to the present; the essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system; respect for parents, home and family; the dignity and necessity of honest labor; and other skills, habits, and quality of character which will promote an upright and desirable citizenry and better prepare students to recognize and accept responsibility for preserving and defending the blessing of liberty inherited from prior generations and secured by the constitution.”

Certainly, many of the items listed in this section are things that ought to be taught at home first, but both parents and educators may find it a helpful exercise to determine how well school is teaching these topics.

Integrated curriculum means civic and character education not to be separated out

Furthermore, the law suggests the true meaning of “integrated” when it says that “civic and character education in public schools are not intended to be separate programs in need of special funding or added specialists to be accomplished.”

Consider whether or how social studies and civics are taught at your school. Are they taught in a separate class, or is character and civic education reinforced in multiple courses?

Local school boards and leadership can provide training to support these goals

“Local school boards and school administrators may provide training, direction, and encouragement, as needed, to accomplish the intent and requirements of this section and to effectively emphasize civic and character education in the course of regular instruction in the public schools.”

Educators especially may want to request additional training in character and civics education since they are being required to teach it. Educators deserve support in this area.

Good civics education policy already exists in the law. It’s not necessary that improvements to civics education start with the Legislature. Instead, let’s look locally to determine how well our schools are teaching what is required of them by law.

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