TERRY COWGILL
TERRY COWGILL

As my colleague Barth Keck likes to point out, there are few subjects in the modern era more important than media literacy. And I agree. After all, in the age of deep-fake artificial intelligence, fake news sites and social media, it is sometimes challenging even for a veteran media literacy teacher such as Barth to tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Other life-skill literacy courses have the stamp of approval of the state government and are a requirement for graduation from Connecticut’s high schools. Last month the state Senate passed a bill requiring that public secondary school students pass a half-credit course in financial management and literacy as a condition of graduation. Bravo!

This – quite sensibly – led Barth to question why media literacy has not received similar treatment from the legislature. That led me to wonder about civics and whether it was similarly required in Connecticut schools. Happily, it is.

According to the Office of Legislative Research, since at least 2003 state law has required schools to offer instruction in citizenship and government, and it prohibits students from graduating if they are not familiar with U.S. history and government at all levels.

At Housatonic Valley Regional High School, from which my own children graduated, students are required to earn three credits in Social Studies, including United States History, and Civics. When my son was enrolled there, Housatonic had a stand-alone civics course. Keck told me Haddam-Killingworth Regional High School, where he teaches, requires a course called U.S. History and Civics.

The fact that civics is required to be taught in one form or another is a credit to our state. How well it’s being carried out is another story. A report released last month by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that only 13% of the eighth graders in America were proficient in U.S. history last year, and 22% were proficient in civics – a significant drop from 2019. Some of the slippage could be attributed to the pandemic, but civic knowledge has been eroding for some time nationwide.

The good news is it looks like there is some movement in Connecticut on the civics and media literacy front. In an op-ed in the Hartford Courant last week, state Rep. Frank Smith (D-Milford) announced that the legislature’s Education Committee is proposing a bill that would “establish a Civics Education and Civics Engagement and Media Literacy Task Force to study and develop strategies to improve and promote civic engagement and instruction on civics, citizenship, media literacy and American government.”

“We live in a period of political estrangement not seen in our lifetimes. When people are ignorant of or removed from democratic practices and how they work, misinformation and conspiracy theories can quickly displace confidence in our very election process and institutions of government,” said Smith.

Mr. Smith goes to Hartford. Thank you, sir. Lest we forget it, sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.

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Amid the drama of the budget in the closing days of the legislative session, I found myself gratified by the passing of one small and seemingly insignificant bill requiring police officers who pull you over to explain why they made the stop.

It sort of boggles the mind that this isn’t already the law. Rep. Pat Boyd, a Democrat from Pomfret who co-chairs the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, said the new law, known as SB 1022, merely codifies what has become standard practice among law enforcement professionals. Indeed, Boyd said he and other lawmakers thought it was already the law.

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Click above to vote and comment on SB 1022: AN ACT REQUIRING POLICE OFFICERS TO INFORM DRIVERS OF THE PURPOSE OF A TRAFFIC STOP

“So from our point of view and from what the committee’s settled on is that we are looking at what is a common courtesy,” Boyd said. “I know if I was pulled over, I would want to know the reasoning.”

Yes, it is common courtesy. Over the 35 years I’ve lived in Connecticut, the state troopers who have pulled me over sometimes tell me straight up why I have been stopped. Others have not and have been evasive when I asked about it. When you have been stopped by law enforcement, you are essentially being held by authorities. 

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any reason why they should not be compelled to tell you why you are being detained, especially if it isn’t obvious. Even the police officers who testified during public hearings said they had no problem with the new law, which has already passed the Senate unanimously and is headed to Gov. Lamont’s desk after clearing the House by a 110-38 margin.

Rep. Greg Howard, a Republican and detective with the Stonington Police Department, said he personally saw nothing wrong with the law, but was concerned that, in the wake of recent police accountability laws passed in the state, some officers might throw up their hands and complain that SB 1022 was just “another thing that’s been done to demoralize our profession.”

If that’s the way some cops will feel about this law, then they can join the club. Many professionals are feeling demoralized right about now. For at least two decades, journalists have been under constant attack from certain public officials and their followers. So have teachers, librarians, “deep-state bureaucrats” – and, more recently, public health officials trying their best to protect us from a deadly pandemic.

We all feel your pain.

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Under pressure from an ever-expanding number of ursine-encountering constituents, the General Assembly took some baby steps last week and passed legislation by an overwhelming margin banning the feeding of bears and allowing residents to use deadly force if self-defense is justified in repelling bear attacks, including not only those on humans but on people, pets, or farms.

This is a welcome step. As I’ve written in previous columns, I’d like to see an actual limited bear hunting season, as is done in neighboring states such as New York and Massachusetts. But the legislature has balked every time it’s been proposed, so this is a workable compromise that will allow people to better defend themselves and their property.

The problem is even worse in rural areas such as Litchfield County, where I live and where hunting has been proposed in the past. The number of bear contacts in the state rose from around 1,000 in 2019 to more than 3,500 last year, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Some of them have resulted in human injuries. One lawmaker said there were 70 home invasions by bears last year.

I have become especially attuned to the ursine menace after a mother and her cub invited themselves into my kitchen last month, absconded with a garbage can and tried to make a meal of it on my deck. After frightening them away, I contacted DEEP. Two conservation officers arrived the next day and parked a barrel trap in my backyard. I kid you not: as I wrote in my Substack column, the bait was a bag of donuts, and it did not work.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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