KNOXVILLE –- A politically savvy University of Tennessee student played a key role in crafting a new law establishing a commission that will assess how civic education is being taught in Tennessee schools.
Brad VaughanBrad Vaughan, a Baker Scholar at UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, researched and drafted a resolution to create the Civic Education Commission under the guidance of the Tennessee Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a volunteer group of educators and professionals who advocate for civic education.
Vaughan’s draft formed the basis for Senate Bill 2586, sponsored by state Sen. Jamie Woodson, and House Bill 2808, sponsored by state Rep. Les Winningham. The Legislature approved the bill on June 7. Gov. Phil Bredesen signed the resolution into law on June 20.
The law establishes a 14-person commission that will spend a year researching how civic education is presented at the state and local level, and then recommend improvements to the governor and state education officials.
“Promoting civic education is a primary mission of the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, and it’s been my honor to help review Tennessee’s civic education policies,” said Vaughan, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and starts law school at UT this fall.
“Civic education is about more than memorizing historical dates and branches of government; it is about cultivating an appreciation for public service, civic participation and volunteerism,” Vaughan said.
“I am pleased that Tennessee has joined other students, including Virginia, Louisiana, and Vermont, in creating an expert panel that will recommend new and innovative approaches to civic education.”
Vaughan worked on the resolution at the request of the Tennessee Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which is comprised of the Tennessee Community Legal Foundation, the Baker Center, The Tennessee Association of Middle Schools, the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Education Association, and the Center for Civic Education. The Tennessee Campaign is part of a nationwide effort to enhance civic education for students of all ages.
Nissa Dahlin-Brown, assistant director of the Baker Center, commended Vaughan and the legislators who worked to get the law passed.
“We see the Commission as a chance to help strengthen civic education in Tennessee. Adding to that excitement is the fact that a student drafted the resolution creating the Commission. To watch the progress of this bill through both chambers was an education in itself and we all learned from it. We are very appreciative of Senator Woodson and Representative Winningham because they were key to the successful passage of this bill.”
Woodson, a sponsor of the bill, said, “Civic education should be an important component of our children’s learning experience. The successful passage of this legislation brings Tennessee one important step closer to accomplishing that goal. I am certainly honored that the Baker Center asked me to carry this important piece of legislation.”
Winningham, the House sponsor of the bill, said, “I am appreciative to the members of the General Assembly who were unanimous in their support, to Governor Bredesen and Senator Woodson for their steadfast support. I believe it is imperative that our schools return to the mission of focusing on issues that bind us as a nation where we trust, respect and care for fellow Americans. I believe the commission will bring attention and support to this effort.”
Janis Kyser, Tennessee Community Legal Foundation and facilitator of the Tennessee Campaign said, “Civic learning in schools is the most effective way to prepare Tennessee’s young people for informed and active participation in a healthy representative democracy. The Commission will provide the first step to expand and improve civic learning in our schools, grades K-12.”
The Civic Education Commission will include representatives from the business community, the largest professional association representing educators, Tennessee legal community, the Baker Center, the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Council on Social Studies, the Tennessee Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals and the Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals. It also will include two state representatives, two state senators and a representative of the Secretary of State’s office. To view the text of this bill, visit the Baker Center Web site at http://www.bakercenter.utk.edu
Vaughan’s success in helping to get this bill passed is just one of the ways the Baker Center is promoting civic education. Baker Scholars are offering voter registration at student orientation sessions this summer, and the Baker Center will co-host a U.S. Senate debate on Thursday (June 29) with WATE-TV. The Center also is spearheading UT’s involvement in the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement, a national effort based at Harvard University, to encourage students to vote and get involved in the political process.
The Baker Center Scholars are selected annually via an application and interview process. To qualify, undergraduates must have a 3.5 GPA and graduate students must be in the upper third of their class. An interest in politics, public policy, government and public service is also required. Baker Scholars assist, as needed, in Baker Center programs, educational activities and research. As a benefit, Baker Scholars have behind-the-scenes access to Baker Center speakers and other Center participants and friends, can publish papers on the Center’s Web site and have the chance to interact with local, state, and national political leaders.
Amy Blakely,(865) 974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nissa Dahlin-Brown, (865) 974-0931, Nissa@utk.edu