For The Children Weekly Column: Civics Education Necessary for a Brighter Future

by Joe Dorman

Our public schools provide an array of opportunities for students to become good citizens, from student government to civics education. In fact, America recently celebrated “Civics Education Week,” noting the importance of the subject for both students and society.

Student government teaches public service. Good government requires young people to become active voters once they reach the age of 18 and beyond. That understanding led OICA to offer a program called Kid Governor® to elementary schools.

Kid Governor® provides curriculum to 5th grade classroom teachers developed with lessons about state government, voting, and elections. OICA additionally created an educational comic book showing how the process works in our State Capitol and ends with games to teach about definitions tied in with government lessons. All of this is free for schools and covered by the funds we raise.

In Kid Governor®, participating classrooms hold elections among the students, naming winners who become nominees. In the state race, the nominees submit two-minute videos outlining positive ideas they would like to see become law. A committee selects the top seven finalists, and their videos are sent to the classrooms for the students to watch, along with a ballot like ones used in Oklahoma state elections. The student receiving the most votes is elected Oklahoma’s Kid Governor®. This teaches the importance of civic engagement.

In 2022, Mila O’Brien of Enid was selected to be the state’s Kid Governor®; she has done a phenomenal job promoting youth mental health issues statewide, speaking to civic organizations and classrooms, and lawmakers like Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, who authored Maria’s Law to enhance youth mental health.

We started with great interest for this school year. More than two dozen classrooms enrolled early in Kid Governor®; but by the time the program was to begin in October, each classroom had backed out. The reasons were disheartening, but unfortunately valid, and broke along three issues:

* Classroom overcrowding was the most frequent response. One teacher explained to us she had 52 fifth-graders due to another teacher leaving with no available replacement.

* Teachers reported the need to focus on the lessons in which fifth-graders would be tested by the state, and there was no time for additional items such as our specialized civics curriculum.

* Finally, many teachers told us they were afraid of retribution should they implement anything that might be viewed by some as “indoctrination” of students.

We explained that the state Department of Education had approved the lessons, and that Gov. Kevin Stitt and former Govs. Mary Fallin, Brad Henry, Frank Keating, David Walters, and George Nigh all endorsed the program. Even so, that assurance did not ease teachers’ concerns.

There are fixes for overcrowded classrooms through incentives to enter the field of education and overcoming learning loss through additional tutoring, but resolving the anxiety of educators is tougher. Elected officials need to consider the plight of what teachers, parents and students alike are facing, and have rational, civil conversations about solutions, followed by implementation.

We are not giving up easily. Mila will serve an additional year as Kid Governor® while the program adapts. OICA plans to partner with another program to hold the lessons and election as an extracurricular activity in the Fall. Not an ideal situation, but still providing lessons for many students.

Please help us encourage young Oklahomans to learn more about civics education, and if you know a 5th grader who would be interested, reach out to our office at so we can connect them with a local Kid Governor® program. Please also contact Oklahoma’s policymakers and express your desire to seek solutions to these challenges.

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