February 20, 2023
The educators charged with developing the new civics curriculum for Arizona’s public universities have their work cut out for them. The state already requires students to pass a citizenship test to graduate high school, so the college-level offering has to go deeper.
“If you do another course that’s like, ‘how many electors are in the Electoral College?’ students’ eyes just glaze over,” said Suzanne Dovi, a professor at the University of Arizona who is leading the university’s committee on developing the forthcoming American Institutions and Civic Knowledge curriculum.
To keep students engaged, Dovi and her colleagues are seeking to tie civics back to students’ individual interests and goals.
That means general education students at the University of Arizona will each take one broad survey course followed by an additional course of their choosing that goes into depth on a specific topic, such as American capitalism. Dovi said she hopes the more focused courses will allow students to explore how their specific passions intersect with American institutions.
The state’s two other public four-year universities will devise their own way of fulfilling the American Institutions requirement, mandated by the Board of Regents in 2021.
At U of A, the survey course will be piloted this fall, with the full requirement going into effect in fall 2026.
Dovi is scheduled to teach one of the survey courses. While it has to meet several curricular requirements developed by the regents—including studying founding federal documents and landmark Supreme Court cases—she wants to make sure it is not too repetitious of Arizona’s high school curriculum.
To that end, she is focusing the course on the concept of flawed democracies, looking at what American institutions do right and wrong, and giving students the tools to make such assessments themselves. Core assignments will include writing a modernized Declaration of Independence and conducting a “democratic audit” of the United States, she said.
Other courses at U of A that will fulfill the requirement are still in development; some may adapt existing survey courses in the history department, for example, to become American Institutions courses.