Civic discussions with youth: Graduation requirements

Who should decide what classes high school students need to take?


Discussing issues related to our government can sometimes seem distant when talking with youth. You can engage youth in a discussion that is relevant to their lives such as a discussion about graduation requirements.

The Michigan high school graduation requirements were updated in September of 2017. They currently include:

  • Four credits of math.
  • Four credits of English language arts.
  • One credit of physical education and health.
  • Three credits of science (one of these can be career/technical education).
  • Three credits of social studies, which must include one credit in U.S. history, half a credit in economics and half a credit in civics/government.
  • One credit of art.
  • Two credits of foreign language.

Here are some questions to start a conversation.

  • What do you think of those requirements? Do they make sense? If you could make changes, what would you change?
  • Should there be requirements at all? Why or why not? What classes do you think students would take if there were no requirements?
  • Do you think graduation requirements are best made at the local school level, the state level or the national level? Why do you think that way?
  • How do you think the decisions should be made for graduation requirements? Should the people making the standards look at what employers are looking for?
  • Are there things that everyone should know? What might those things be? Why are those things everyone should know?
  • Is the purpose of school to train individuals to take on a career or to be a good citizen? Or both? Or neither? How might the classes you take to be a good citizen be the same or different to be a good employee?
  • Do you think the requirements should be more specific? Should a particular math classes, like Algebra 2, be required, or should that be left up to the student? Or the school district?
  • Should schools be required to offer particular classes, such as home economics or auto shop?
  • What if you want to take a class that your school doesn’t offer? Should you be able to take it online at no cost to you?
  • Are there any classes or topics schools should be forbidden from teaching? Who should make those decisions?

If the student you are talking to has particularly strong feelings about any of these discussions, the next step may be to help them take the next step and consider taking them to their local school board or a state or national legislator. It is important that we utilize youth voice in our decisions, and encouraging them to move forward with their thoughts is a great step. You could help them find out how to get a meeting with the appropriate person or group and then help them prepare their concern. Attending the meeting with them would also provide the extra support they may need to be successful.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.


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