In advance of a civics class that will be taught to all Hoosier public school sixth graders starting in the spring of 2024, the Indiana Bar Foundation is hosting a civics summit to build partnerships and identify ways to improve the state’s civic health.

The daylong event will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 13 at the Ivy Tech Community College Culinary and Conference Center, 2820 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis. The registration deadline has been extended and anyone interested in attending the summit can register by visiting the bar foundation’s website.

Along with featured speakers Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, the summit will include a series of panel discussions focusing on civics in the classroom, the workplace and the community.

The cost to attend the summit is $50 and includes breakfast, lunch and a copy of Haass’s new book, “The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens.”

Charles Dunlap, president and CEO of the bar foundation, said many groups across the state are working to promote civics but they are not connected to each other or collaborating. Summit organizers are hoping to use the event to launch the Indiana Civics Coalition.

“There’re more people out there that care about this,” Dunlap said of civics. “I think that bringing those folks together in a way that’s a little more structured and we can come together as a community and discuss and identify things that we think would be helpful … to increase civic education and civic engagement.”

The 2021 Indiana Civic Health Index reported mixed results with many Hoosiers being involved in their neighborhoods and helping but not as many casting a ballot on election days.

Among all states, Indiana has consistently placed in the lower third on voter registration and in the lowest 10% of all states in voting. Conversely, Indiana posted a volunteer rate of 34% in 2020, the 18th best in the United States, but since 2010, fewer Hoosiers are spending time with their neighbors, doing favors for their neighbors or joining a group.

Legislators took a step toward improving the civic condition of the state by passing House Enrolled Act 1384 during the 2021 Indiana General Assembly session. Authored by former Rep. Anthony Cook, R-Cicero, the law requires each school corporation, charter and state accredited nonpublic school teach a one-semester civics education class to students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Dunlap said implementing HEA 1384 is more difficult than getting it passed because teachers need help developing lesson plans and collecting resources.

“It’s going to be a brand new course,” Dunlap said. “So I am hopeful that some of the folks in this coalition can help to provide those sorts of supports and resources.”

The bar foundation holds civic education as a key pillar of it mission which includes the We the People program. Every year, the bar foundation promotes and strengthens the program not only by overseeing the regional and state competitions for high school and middle school students but also by providing materials and offering a teacher training workshop.

Dunlap cited studies which found participants in programs like We the People demonstrated less cynicism about government and were more open to the opinions of others as well as more willing to work together to solve problems in a community.

In addition to examining civics education, the summit will also look at the role civic knowledge and civic engagement play in business, the law and the community.  Quoting retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Dunlap said civics must be taught to every generation.

The bar foundation believes the summit will show how an understanding of civics is beneficial to individuals and organizations across the state.

“We hope there’s something here for you whether you’re interested in voting, whether you’re interested in community involvement, whether you’re interested in civic education at any level or the business case for it,” Dunlap said of the summit. “We hope that  it is enlightening and energizing in a way that maybe people didn’t expect when they came in.” — Marilyn Odendahl


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