Getting students interested, much less involved, in politics and government has always been difficult. But an earnest effort is being waged by the Michigan House Civics Commission (MHCC), a bipartisan commission that encourages students to make proposals that can actually be submitted to the Michigan Legislature.
Since December 2002, the Civics Commission has held monthly public hearings within Michigan’s K-12 schools and students have responded with proposals that have ranged from the prosaic to the partisan.
For example, a hearing at Forest Hills Middle School in Grand Rapids produced House Resolution 28, recently signed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, proclaiming October as “Student Backpack Safety Month.” Students cited scientific evidence from a study by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission showing that more than 3,400 pupils between the ages 5 and 14 sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks and book bags in 1999.
Some student proposals have carried a more partisan tone. Erin Moylan, of Heritage High School in Saginaw, submitted the “Academic Bill of Rights,” a controversial idea first proposed by conservative firebrand David Horowitz of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, Calif.
The idea was modeled after the 1967 American Association of University Professors’ Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, which stated that “Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion.”
While the proposal has caused controversy in academia, Moylan said her motivation for the proposal was much more benign. “I’m a Republican, but the purpose of my idea was just to try to prevent conservative college students from being punished academically for voicing their opinions in class.” Moylan says her friends don’t pay much attention to politics, but said “I hope things like this [the MHCC hearings] will get more young people involved.”
The war in Iraq spurred students from Lake City High School to come up with a proposal that resulted in a budget line item amendment being added to Senate Bill 266, an appropriations bill, in 2003. The proposal encouraged the State Family Program Office to “promote and inform private individuals, businesses and organizations regarding the distribution of prepaid phone cards and other services to National Guard members and military reservists deployed overseas on active duty.”
During an MHCC hearing at Traverse City Central High School, Liz Norton, a freshman at Traverse City East Junior High School, proposed that “yooper,” a dialect spoken in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, be made the “official state dialect.” Norton testified that, “in order to save this endangered dialect, the state must pass a resolution to preserve it.”
“Yooper,” is a unique blend of accents that originated around 1840, during the height of iron and copper mining in the Upper Peninsula. It contains elements of Finnish, Swedish, Cornish, German, French, Irish, Italian, Russian, English, and Native American dialects.
Drew Buchholz, Coordinator of the MHCC, says the response from both politicians and the public to holding hearings in the schools has been overwhelmingly positive. “I have been very pleased with the students’ passion and enthusiasm for being involved in the legislative process,” said Buchholz. “When you consider that the Michigan House Civics Commission has only been in existence for a few months, it is simply amazing to have witnessed the initiative and effort put forth by our students.”
Besides making it possible for students to testify before the commission, the MHCC offers other student resources that can be accessed from its Website, civicscommission.com. These resources include the Capitol Speakers Bureau, Tips for Testifying, and Legislative Updates. Students can also participate in polls on various political issues via the Website.
MichiganVotes.org gives users instant access to concise, plain language and objective descriptions of every single bill, amendment, and vote that takes place in the Michigan legislature. It is searchable by legislator, keyword, and 50 subject categories, so users can create their own custom “voting record guide.”