Taking time for civics

April 7, 2010
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IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this post.

A group of about 30 Munster High School students enjoyed their time with We the People program coordinators from the Indiana Bar Foundation, attorneys, and others who helped judge their presentations on Tuesday at Baker & Daniels downtown Indianapolis office. This was the firm’s fifth time hosting an Indiana We the People team just weeks before the national competition, which takes place April 22-27.

It was the first time I was able to attend and observe such a practice.

While the We the People  program in Indiana is supported in large part by the IBF, these practice days have taken place at the law firm since spring windstorms damaged the Indiana State Bar Association’s offices at the Regions Bank Building in 2006. That year, Baker & Daniels attorney and We the People alum Caryn Glawe suggested the firm could host the team that would represent Indiana at the national championships in Washington, D.C.

The first and subsequent groups of students have been particularly impressed not only with their day at a big law firm, including views of downtown Indianapolis from the 27th floor, but also that attorneys would take the time out of their busy schedules to work with them, said Erin Braun, director of civic education for the Indiana Bar Foundation.

As part of yesterday’s visit, chair and chief executive partner Thomas C. Froehle Jr. told students he was thrilled that the firm was able to host their visit.

Partner and We the People volunteer Scott Chinn also addressed the students, comparing their work to that of the Butler University basketball team.

Like the team that lost by one basket in a nail biter Monday night, Chinn said the key things for the students to keep in mind for the upcoming competition were execution, character, and enthusiasm. He added they should plan, as citizens, to participate by voting, to educate others about the issues while being respectful of opinions that were different from their own, and to remonstrate when they had reason to disagree with the direction the government was heading, based on what they learned in the We the People courses.

Perhaps more impressive than the attorneys giving their time were the students themselves.

One group compared the Magna Carta, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Watching this group of students discuss the importance of these documents made me hopeful for students going through the program in Indiana and in other states. If I hadn’t needed to get back to the office, I would have stayed for the rest of the afternoon’s sessions.

And I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Judges for this group said the students did well overall, and gave them a few pointers to impress the judges at the national level.

Judges for the practice session included former ISBA president Rich Eynon; Jill Baisinger, the Hamilton Southeastern High School teacher who helped her school’s team win fifth place in the national competition in 2009; Seth Lahn, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington; and Mark Sausser, an attorney at Baker & Daniels.

“When we take on the rigors of civic education with the vigor generally reserved for sport, and when the arena we play in is one of the top law firms in the state, there is something right in society,” said Michael Gordon, the teacher for the Munster students.

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  • Civics education is critical to creating informed and engaged voters in Indiana. We need more civics education in Indiana to ensure we have a healthy democracy.

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