Arizona Makes Civics Education a High School Graduation Requirement

Arizona Makes Civics Education a High School Graduation Requirement
Chinese troops march during a military parade in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)
Allan Stein

Arizona state Rep. Quang Nguyen learned about the sorrows of communism through the eyes of a child in South Vietnam.

His final lesson came in 1975, when his family fled the country as communist North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, signifying the end of liberty as he knew it.

“I have had the unfortunate [perspective] of dealing with three invasions during my lifetime in Vietnam,” Nguyen told The Epoch Times.

“Some people argue [communism] is an economic system—no more, no less. I would argue against that. It’s a system of total control of the people—but control not because of policies. It’s control because of fear. It’s all about putting the thumb on your life.”

In America, Nguyen said his family discovered “this amazing thing called freedom.”

Arizona state Rep. Quang Nguyen
Arizona state Rep. Quang Nguyen

And it is the freedom he has lived for so many years that he sees slipping away because Americans haven’t experienced the painful lessons of communism.

For this reason, Nguyen sponsored HB2008 to make civics education a high school graduation requirement in Arizona.

On June 12, Arizona’s Senate adopted its version of the bill on a slim 16-12 vote. The House narrowly passed an amended version on Feb. 17. The vote was 31-28.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law on June 17.

Understanding Totalitarianism

“This bill is another point for Arizona’s strong civics education,” Ducey posted June 17 on Twitter. “Students will learn about other nations’ governing philosophies and form a deeper understanding of the freedoms and rights Americans are guaranteed.”

According to the bill, the new standards will help students become “civically responsible and knowledgeable adults.”

The Arizona Board of Education (AZBOE) will work with organizations such as the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom at Arizona State University, and the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute to develop new civic education standards.

Lessons would include the original intent of America’s founding documents and principles and the “civic-minded expectations of an upright and desirable citizenry.”

In a statement, Nguyen said the bill’s intent is for Arizona high school students to graduate with a “similar appreciation for what it means to be an American.”

“This [education] is mandatory. This is not an option,” Nguyen said.

“This civics standards update will help ensure that our students are taught the brutal facts of oppressive communist systems and how they are fundamentally antithetical to America’s founding principles,” he added.

HB 2008 directs the board of education to update its high school social studies academic standards to incorporate a comparative discussion of political ideologies that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy.

The standards will include a knowledge of communism and totalitarianism as they exist today in countries such as the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

“Having grown up in Vietnam and survived three communist invasions, I have a deep love and appreciation for the United States and its freedoms, which are guaranteed to all,” said Nguyen, a Republican.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

As refugees worldwide flock to America, Nguyen said, young people in the United States know little about communism’s bloody past and present.

“I thought about just the next generation not being aware of what communism is doing to the world. Communism hasn’t ended. It is happening every day,” said Nguyen, citing 100 million people killed after a century of communism.

“We want to make sure you understand the difference between the policies in these countries against what makes this such a great nation. We don’t want to lose that,” Nguyen said.

He said on social media people have accused him of wanting to “dictate” what students learn. The exact opposite it true, he said.

“They don’t realize I worked with the state board of education on this bill. We’re not even going around the state board of education. I sat down with them on the bill, and they amended it.”

The BOE did not immediately respond to an email requesting a comment.

Nguyen said it could take another two years before Arizona’s civics education standards receive an overhaul to include the new civics education standards, but he’s willing to wait.

“If I don’t get it this year, I'll get it another year. I’m all good,” Nguyen said.