ILNews

Effort seeks to revive citizens' civic interest

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The message from lawyers, lawmakers, and educators is clear: Civic education is suffering, and along with it, our country. But no one seems certain how to convince people to care about civics.

Days after Congress passed a budget that cut $35 million for civic education, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton announced on April 19 that the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) will soon begin work on the Indiana Civic Health Index. The project will assess the civic engagement of Indiana’s population, and findings are expected to be announced in September.

“Those of us interested in this project are concerned … because there is an awful lot of evidence that suggests an awful lot of Americans are less and less interested in civics, and if that’s the case, the entire democracy is in jeopardy,” Hamilton said. Many people who had gathered in the Indiana Supreme courtroom for the announcement nodded solemnly in agreement.

The NCoC will collect census data and turn it over to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. There, the staff will crunch the numbers to produce statistics on civic life in Indiana, including voter turnout, community involvement, and civic education.

Since 2006, the NCoC has conducted a yearly national Civic Health Index. Comparing results of the indexes with research studies conducted in the 1970s and thereafter, the NCoC reports that most forms of civic engagement measured in the index – like voter turnout and volunteerism – have fallen over the past three decades. In 2008, the NCoC began offering state-level indexes. Ohio, California, and Florida were the first states to receive such a report, as they have every year since. In Florida, the results helped support legislation that aims to improve civic education in middle schools.

Florida Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, said he cited results of the Florida Civic Health Index when he introduced the Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act. He said that due to the state’s weak economy, it took almost three years to win approval for the bill, which passed with a unanimous vote in 2010. The bill states that beginning with the 2012-13 school year, middle school students must complete a one-semester civics course, in addition to meeting other already established requirements.

“We have a requirement of reading at every grade level. What the bill also requires, since you’ve got to have reading anyway at every grade level, some of that reading has got to include civic reading,” McBurney said.

By the 2013-2014 school year, the end-of-course assessment will account for 30 percent of a student’s course grade. The following year, students will be required to pass the exam in order to pass the course.
 

kennedy-sheila-suess-mug Kennedy

He said the exam wording was included in the bill because the Florida Legislature wanted to ensure that teachers devoted proper attention to the course.

“We actually had a requirement for civic education, but they weren’t teaching it,” McBurney said.

Sheila Suess Kennedy, professor and director of public affairs programs for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, is familiar with the challenges of teaching students about civics and of getting teachers to teach civics.

“Indiana has fabulous standards,” she said. “But we don’t use them. We don’t apply them.”

Kennedy, who joined IUPUI in 1998 as an assistant professor of law and public policy, said she sometimes gives her undergraduate students a pop quiz: the U.S. Citizenship Test. Foreign students, she said, always fare better on the test than their American-born classmates.

She said the lack of civic knowledge is not a new problem, but the changing nature of the country points to a need for pushing civic education.

“The other kinds of identities we share as Americans are fewer than before. We have even less in common if we can’t all say what’s in the Constitution,” she said. “Our differences as individuals – race, religion, political affiliation – none of that would matter if we had really strong civic education.”

Educators have tried again and again to find a way to make young people care about civics, “but nothing seems to take,” she said.

A civics success story

The Indiana Bar Foundation has tried to revive civic interest among young people with its programs, Project Citizen and We the People. Project Citizen, for grades 5 through 9, intends to help children work together to accomplish tasks like determining which level of government can best handle a particular problem. We the People, for grades 5, 8, and 12, focuses on understanding the Constitution. The course involves mock congressional hearings, where student groups compete with each other to give the best answers. For high school students, the course culminates in a national final in Washington, D.C., with a team from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands competing for the championship.
 

wepeople-15col Munster High School’s 12-person We the People team, with teacher Michael Gordon, after winning the Indiana championship. Gordon and the students will compete in the national finals April 30 through May 2 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Indiana Bar Foundation )

This year, Munster High School will be sending a team to nationals for the fifth time.

Munster High School teacher Michael Gordon will take his team of nine seniors and three juniors to the finals, April 30 to May 2. He said there are many reasons the team has been so successful.

“We have a school administration that is unbelievably supportive,” Gordon said. “We have a community that was willing to give time, energy, resources, finances – including a host of people who come into our Monday evening practices.”

Students may compete only once at the high-school level, but he said the students continue to be involved in the program, even if they can’t compete. Juniors who participate will volunteer as seniors to help the class.

Chuck Dunlap Dunlap

“Not to mention that the current team goes and recruits for the next year and talks about the impact that the program is going to have,” he said. “The program becomes part of them.”

Morgan said that last year, Munster sent a team of 28 students to the national finals. Even with financial support from the IBF, the school needed to come up with between $6,000 and $7,000 to cover the costs of the trip.

“The school sent fundraising letters to alumni – 65 percent of those letters came back with checks,” he said. “Half of those letters went to kids that were still in college.”

We the People and Project Citizen lost all federal funding this year with the passage of the national budget. But Chuck Dunlap, IBF executive director, said he is confident the programs will continue, thanks to support from the legal community. Already in place is a fundraising program – An Hour for Civics – which asks attorneys to donate the amount of one billable service hour in support of the programs.

Kennedy lamented the loss of funding for the program. “We the People is the single most effective civics program of its kind,” she said.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

ADVERTISEMENT