The case for Civics in schools


When I was at Burnside High School in 1998, one of my five courses was one called Legal Studies. It was a non-compulsory Year 12 paper that I did with two one hour class room periods per week. The purpose of the paper was to introduce the New Zealand legal system to students and covered a range of topics in its syllabus. As I look back at the course nearly 20 years after doing it, aside from wishing I had put in a bit more effort, I wonder about the feasibility of introducing the course into the curriculum as compulsory subject matter.

To me this is a no brainer. At some point in everyone’s lives we will have some sort of encounter with the law, for better or for worse. For the majority of people it will be dealing with things such as creating wills, settling the estates of loved ones. Others may find themselves having to settle disputes with neighbours, private civilians, companies or even the Government and some unfortunately will find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

My own preference is to make it compulsory in Year 12, with the same level of importance as English in Year 11. The greater the number of young New Zealanders who are aware of their rights and responsibilities before the law the better. The greater the number of people who realise just how lucky we are to have a functional legal system in New Zealand that is for the most part not corrupt and relatively transparent, the greater the trust will be. A compulsory Legal Studies  course will help to do that. The course taught at Burnside High covered the essential subject matter – criminal law, rental and consumer law and the democratic process. A non compulsory – but recommended Year 13 paper could briefly touch environmental law, insurance law and international law. It would provide a really useful initial grounding for students wanting to study law as their major at university

United Future leader Peter Dunne is an advocate of civics being taught in schools. Many politicians agree that it is a good idea, though the excuses I have heard for not actually doing it are pretty wimpish. One of them was that parents don’t like children being politicized from an early age, to which all I could say was “do you want them to know how to vote or not?”.

So, what is so hard about getting a no brainer off the ground?

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