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Effort seeks to revive citizens' civic interest

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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.•

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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