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Editorial: We the People team's civics study heartens many

Editorial Indiana Lawyer
April 14, 2010
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Indiana Lawyer Editorial


Like it or not, we live in a time where, for some people at least, it's become acceptable to speak about "reloading" when doing battle against political opponents and to mark their political districts with gun sites, and where members of a Midwestern church believe it's their duty to travel the nation and spew hate-laced messages in places where people are mourning tragedy.

For those of you looking for a speck of hope for civil discourse, we want to call your attention to a post on our First Impressions blog made April 7 by our reporter Rebecca Berfanger.

Rebecca writes about a group of about 30 high school students from Munster that spent some time at Indianapolis-based law firm Baker & Daniels preparing for their We the People competition in Washington, D.C., later this month. The program is coordinated by the Indiana Bar Foundation.

We the People is a semester-long civics course for high school students about the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that ends with a mock congressional hearing where students present on various topics. Students work in teams to answer pre-determined questions before a panel of judges, who then ask follow-up questions to determine how much the students know about the subject at hand.

It's heartening to see busy lawyers take the time to volunteer to work with and encourage high school students. B&D partner Scott Chinn, himself no stranger to politics after working for former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson as corporation counsel, offered pointers for the students to keep in mind during their competition. He also encouraged the students to continue their work by voting, educating those around them about important issues while respecting the right to disagree, and to exercise their rights to remonstrate when they take issue with the direction their government is heading.

Our reporter was among those at the practice who were impressed with how intelligent and articulate the students were given the difficult subject matter some of them dealt with. One group compared the Magna Carta, the United States Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We the People appears to not be for the faint of heart.

That teenagers can take such a keen interest in these kinds of matters has to be a sign of hope for the future of civility and our ability as a nation to disagree and yet make decisions for the good of us all.

The Munster students' teacher, Michael Gordon, said it best of all: "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."

We agree, and we'd like to see more of it. To learn more, visit http://firstimpressions.theindianalawyer.com/

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