Web Exclusive: The Indiana Bar Foundation Civics Summit is in the rearview. What’s next?

  • Print
A panel discussion at the Indiana Bar Foundation's inaugural Civics Summit on April 13. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Bar Foundation)

John McGauley spent all day April 13 inside a large conference center room on the campus of Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis — even after the windows intensified an otherwise comfortable mid-April day and left everyone wondering where the air conditioning was in the afternoon.

McGauley, the court executive for the Allen Superior Courts, was there for the inaugural Indiana Bar Foundation Civics Summit.

The summit featured speakers, panel discussions and a display of historical documents including the Magna Carta.

The day culminated with the announcement of the Indiana Civics Coalition that will help with the rollout of a new sixth-grade civics class that is scheduled to begin in the 2023-2024 school year.

McGauley said civics education is important, though he sees the potential impact through a slightly different lens.

“For me, it’s a delivery-of-service issue,” he said at the end of the summit.

As the court administrator, McGauley said he spends a lot of time helping people navigate basic parts of the judicial system.

“When people come to my office to do things, they’re there with a few minutes they’ve taken off work or on their lunch break or something like that,” he said.

It would mean a lot to him, McGauley said, if the general public had a better understanding of the system.

“But it means a lot to them, too,” he said, “because instead of spending two hours off work, they can get their task accomplished in 15 or 20 minutes.”

It’s common, McGauley said, for people to get to him only after they’ve first gone to the federal courthouse or the Circuit Court or the county commissioner’s office — or maybe all three.

“And by the time they get to me, they’re really frustrated,” he said with a laugh.

‘It’ll come up faster than we think’

Much of the focus for the summit was on students and educators as stakeholders prepare for the new civics course.

David Joest, a high school teacher in West Lafayette, said it’s natural for teachers to be skeptical of change, but this is different.

“I would say this is an area where I’m pretty optimistic,” said Joest, who teaches U.S. history and government and chairs the social studies department.

Joest said he was already familiar with the bar foundation because of its “We the People” program, and now through the social studies department, he’s making sure the district is prepared for the civics course.

He said his biggest takeaway from the summit was how many people and groups seem interested in supporting classrooms.

“It was really cool to hear a lot of different people coming together to support civics education in Indiana,” Joest said.

Andrea Wilz, who teaches social studies for eighth through 12th grade students at a Catholic school in southern Indiana, also said it was good to hear from different sectors. She said she gained knowledge she can take back to her students.

“A lot of times you hear kids say, ‘Why do I need to know this?’” she said.

Now, Wilz said she can reference the session about the business case for civics and tell students that employers are looking for people who are “savvy” in that area.

When the civics course was first announced, Wilz said the state sent surveys about potential standards, and she admitted to questioning why all of it was necessary.

“I thought it’s another thing we have to deal with,” she said.

Now, Wilz is on a committee for the Catholic Diocese of Evansville to help implement the sixth-grade course next year. She said she’s already talked to people from the diocese about “We the People,” which she attended last summer.

“It’ll come up faster than we think,” Wilz said of the new course that will start in the second semester next school year.

‘Americans need this’

Andy McKean traveled from St. Charles, Missouri, to be at the summit.

McKean is the founder and president of Liberty Lives Forever, which supplies pocket Constitution books to students. He said he’s talked to class assemblies in Indiana through the Lions Club.

McKean has been doing civics education for 27 years, he said.

“Americans need this,” he said. “We need it because our country is precious. I cherish it.”

McKean called the summit a “great foundation” and said he hasn’t seen anything like it before. One of the keys now, he said, is avoiding a problem he’s seen previously play out.

“If it becomes partisan or political, that’s where the problem comes in to me,” he said. “Educating the people about how the government works or where our rights come from is not a political thing.”

As a byproduct of the new civics course, McKean said he hopes to see parents and the general public get involved, too, by talking to students about what they learn and encouraging them to continue learning on their own.

For next steps, McKean said he’d like to see a national civics summit with leaders from all over the country, including former presidents.

“I thought it was great,” he said of the summit. “I liked it because I think civic education is critically important for all Americans: adults, children, everyone.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}