In recent years, civic education in schools across the country has been on the decline. Just look at the last national civics assessment, in which only 24 percent of high school seniors scored at or above proficient.
That’s why the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation decided to launch the Wisconsin Civics Games, a statewide civics bowl for high school students. The Civics Games feature local, regional and statewide competitions. The inaugural state championship will be held Feb. 23, 2019, at the State Capitol in Madison.
To help students prepare, newspapers will highlight stories that provide real-life, local examples of how the political process works and how it affects them.
“Newspapers are critical to the civic life of a community,” said WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett. “It’s their role to inform the public and encourage a dialogue.
“We hope the Civics Games will build on that important mission,” Bennett added, “by empowering and encouraging young men and women across Wisconsin to become engaged with government on a local and statewide level.”
WNA Foundation board member Eve Galanter of Madison brought the idea to the board after reading about the challenges municipalities face finding candidates for local government positions.
Think we’re exaggerating? No. According to a 2016 survey from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, 56 percent of communities had no more than one candidate for each board or council position in their most recent election. Only five percent of respondents said they typically had two or more candidates per seat.
In recognition of the urgent need for civic education, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law requiring students to pass the U.S. citizenship test to graduate. The requirement, which went into effect last year, lacked a provision providing resources to help school districts prepare students for the test.
Although leadership training through organizations like Rotary, Lions or Optimists can help fill the local civics education void for adults, no such avenue exists for students. The Civics Games aims to help fill that void for students in Wisconsin, Bennett said.
The Civics Games are done in partnership with WisconsinEye, Wisconsin Policy Forum, WisPolitics.com and the Girl Scout Councils of Wisconsin. Sponsors include the Evjue Foundation, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Local Government Institute of Wisconsin, Polco, the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies and the Wisconsin Counties Association.
That’s quite a line-up -- one which even the Brewers, Packers, Bucks or Badgers would be envious. But they’re all lined up to ensure Wisconsin’s future leaders leave school with the civics education they’ll need to navigate their futures.
Civics Games teams include up to four students. Schools interested in registering a team should sign up by Dec. 3 at wisconsincivicsgames.com. Multiple teams from a school are allowed. Each team will be mailed a teacher toolkit to help students prepare.
Additional resources to help students get ready are available at wisconsincivicsgames.com.
We hope teachers will embrace the challenge of making The Civics Games a fun, interesting and important part of their extracurricular offerings.