Being a good citizen

June 22, 2010
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This post was written by IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger.

The civics education team of the Indiana Bar Foundation kicked off the weeklong “Project Citizen: Equal Justice Institute” Monday afternoon at Indiana University’s education building in Bloomington. The institute will help teachers know what their students are going through when they work on community projects that help instill a sense of pride in themselves and their communities, while teaching students what it means to be a good citizen.

This year, the institute and Project Citizen teachers in Indiana will focus on human rights, something the organizers said is rarely discussed in American classrooms. However, the subject is often talked about among students and teachers in other countries, particularly countries that have written their constitutions since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written more than 60 years ago.

While the event was slightly altered after Monday’s key speaker, an Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor had to pull out due to a family emergency, the almost two dozen registered teachers were still engaged in the conversation led by Dr. Dan Prinzing, education director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center. Prinzing, along with Indiana teachers Scott Frye and Lynnette Wallace, will serve as mentors to the teachers at the institute.

By asking the teachers questions about their own experiences teaching civics to their students, who mostly teach high school but some teach middle and elementary school students, Prinzing talked about how teachers can share with students what they need to know in terms of basic knowledge, such as laws and how policy works, how to use that knowledge to affect change through voting and other means, and why the students need to care or else the other two things don’t matter.

As an example, one teacher in the room said she had a student who was pulled over by police. As a result of that student’s experience, she rewrote her curriculum for that class and the students worked on a list of things for juveniles under 18 to know if they ever needed to interact with law enforcement. Because the students understood how a real interaction with law enforcement would affect them, she said they understood exactly why it was important.

The other teachers also weighed in on their students’ attitudes toward voting, law enforcement, and why many of them are apathetic to civics education for various reasons. In most cases, teachers who have minority students said there seemed to be a sense of fatalism and low self worth that what they did didn’t matter, even though the teachers didn’t believe that to be true. A teacher who has mostly wealthy, white students said they didn’t care because their parents took care of everything for them so they didn’t feel a need to participate.

Following Prinzing’s discussion on interacting with students, Frye explained how Project Citizen fits in with civics education while improving test scores for ISTEP social studies tests given to fifth- and seventh-graders. He said the two civics standards in Indiana were the three steps of how to excel as a citizen: voice opinion, monitor government, and effect and evoke change; and the character traits of a good citizen: participation, cooperation, responsibility, and the newest, respect for others.

Wallace also explained how the projects for Project Citizen work: first students come up with a problem, such as a littered park, they come up with a few alternative solutions, then they propose which policy would be the best, and finally come up with an action plan to present to community leaders who can help implement the project.

Throughout the week, the teachers working in small groups with their mentors will come up with their own problems, solutions, proposals, and action plans through research and working together.

Other highlights of the week include: Indiana Rep. Chester Dobis of Merrillville, who has served since 1970, will speak with the teachers about state and local government; and former Project Citizen students will talk about their experiences with the program. Other speakers for the week include the mentors; Arlene Benitez, associate director of the I.U. Center for Social Studies and International Education; Eric Steele, who directs the Project Citizen program for the Indiana Bar Foundation; and other members of the civics education team. They will all emphasize how the program can benefit students and in turn society at the local, national, and even international level.

While Project Citizen is funded by congressional spending, the civics education staff who organized the event is supported by the Indiana Bar Foundation. While their funding partly comes from IOLTA funds, which are low this year due to low interest rates, they are also receiving funds from the “An Hour for Civics” program, which will continue at least through June 30, but is likely to be extended beyond that as long as funds continue to come in. They are also always seeking help from lawyers to work with Project Citizen classrooms.
 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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