The Center for Economic and Civic Learning (CECL) at Ball State University hosted the 2023 Annual Civic Learning Symposium August 25th and 26th
“We connected teachers, faculty, political leaders, and members of our community in a dialog about the ways in which quality civics instruction can improve the lives of our students and better our community” said Dr. David J. Roof, CECL Director and one of the event organizers.
Provost Marri informed the crowd that in 2020, after a recommendation from the Indiana Civic Health Index, Lieutenant Governor Crouch assumed leadership of a Civic Education Task Force. This task force listened to expert testimony from civic education experts from around the country, and heard directly from Indiana educators, to develop effective policy changes and recommendations to advance civic education opportunities in Indiana.
Provost Marri noted that earlier this year the National Center for Education Statistics released scores for eighth graders revealing that average civics scores across the U.S. declined for the first time since 1998. Fewer than 1 in 4 students were “proficient,” with a level of understanding sufficient to apply the subject, and 31 percent tested below the “basic” level. He went on to note that “as a result of Lieutenant Governor Crouch’s leadership, Indiana has emerged as an example of a focused and broadly inclusive approach to this solve this problem” pointing out that because of the Indiana Civic Education Task Forcerecommendations Indiana became one-of only 7—other states in 2022 with a stand-alone civics course in middle school.” Indiana, House Bill 1384 authored by Representative Anthony Cook led to the new middle school civic course, which passed almost unanimously with bi-partisan support – “a testament to Lieutenant Governor Crouch’s leadership” Provost Marri said.
During the event, Lieutenant Governor Crouch spoke to the crowd about her path into public service and her concern for quality civic education. “Civic education empowers us to be well informed and active citizens,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Indiana’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “I am proud to have chaired the Civic Education Task Force that created a middle school civics course to enable Hoosier students to contribute to a healthy democracy. The teachers across Indiana, including those in Muncie and Delaware County, who are implementing this curriculum in their classrooms will truly make a difference in the lives of their students.”
Lieutenant Governor Crouch has consistently noted that our democracy depends upon well informed citizens that are active and engaged in our communities and government at all levels. In order to maintain our “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we need to pass down civic knowledge from generation to generation.
Please see Lieutenant Governor Crouch’s opening remarks:
The Indiana Bar Foundation and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site were also represented at the Symposium and are working with the Center for Economic and Civic Learning to expand civic engagement opportunities for students in central Indiana.
The Symposium also featured remarks from Indiana Secretary of Education, Dr. Katie Jenner who leads the Indiana Department of Education. Dr. Jenner said that “through civics education students understand, not only their rights, but also their responsibilities including their role in the democratic process.” She invited teachers to reach out to the Indiana Department of Education to tap into statewide resources for civic literacy like the ‘We The People’ program.
Muncie Community Schools’ Excellence, Ongoing Projects
Friday evening also featured a panel discussion with Muncie Community Schools (MCS) Board of Trustees President Jim Williams, and Provost Anand Marri moderated by Mary Dollison of Motivate our Minds.Provost Marri and President Williams discussed their interest in public service and our community. Both leaders said they see civic education consistent with cradle-to-career and other MCS initiatives.
MCS Central High teacher Julie Snider received the Award for the Advancement of Civics and Education, presented by Brittany Bales. Ms. Bales said she had been inspired by Mrs. Snider to pursue a career in education and public service. She currently teaches at Ball State and has served as a member of the Muncie Community School Board.Ms. Bales shared how Ms. Snider has for many years organized annual trips for students to visit Washington D.C. and the Indiana Statehouse. During her acceptance speech, Mrs. Snider said she strives to “help students understand that civics isn’t just learning about government and politics, it’s developing an enduring commitment to the wellbeing of our community and our country.”
Dr. Roof took a few minutes on Friday evening to update the crowd on the CREATE project, noting the project had been approved for another year by the U.S. Department of Education. This project will continue to provide support for MCS teachers in promoting civic education and engagement activities.
Dr. Roof also took some time Friday evening to thank Senator Scott Alexander, who was at the event, and represents Delaware and Randolph counties. “Senator Alexander has welcomed hundreds of students to the Indiana statehouse over the past year, personally taking them to the senate chamber to discuss the role of the Indiana legislature” said Dr. Roof, adding that “Senator Alexander showed up to Central High School to help students dig holes to plant trees.”
Day 2 Panels Highlight ‘Earth Day Civics,’ Media Literacy, and More
Saturday morning began with a panel session highlighting the work of MCS teachers over the past year. For the first panel session of the day, Julie Snider, Heather Veach, and Ben Williams talked about their experiences taking groups of students to the Indiana Statehouse and Indiana State Museum to engage students in Indiana’s history and governance.
MCS Central High School teachers Julie Snider, Allen Kidd, and Brian Turner led a panel discussion their work developing an “Earth Day Civics” event. This event engaged students in a day devoted to community, civics, and collaboration. The experience was designed to help students gain insight into being an active citizen in our local community. Students picked up trash, cleaned the Central campus and planted new trees, all indigenous to Indiana.
Kate Elliott a lecturer who coordinates the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication’s Magazine Media concentration led a session about the importance of media literacy and storytelling in the classroom titled “What does media literacy + storytelling have to do with civics?” Kate’s favorite moment: When she asked teachers to engage in a few storytelling exercises. They started by writing a five senses memory. Many participants shared memories of travel or children, but one teacher voiced this: “I see my students failing. I hear my colleagues complain about the behavior that causes that failure. I want to touch their hearts and souls with knowledge, but I’m suffocating. ‘Do more, be more,’ I tell myself. I want my students to taste success, but am I enough?” Teachers also drew masks. On one side, they wrote phrases/words and drew images to express what the world sees of them; On the other side, they wrote phrases/words and drew images to express what’s going on inside. Kate says that “stories connect and inspire us.”
Dr. Nathanael Snow, Professor of Economics at Ball State held a session titled “The Bugs and Features of Voting.” In this presentation Dr. Snow presented on a class project that developed student’s knowledge of elected representatives and provided students with tools to explore the benefit of becoming informed about candidates in upcoming elections. This project allowed students to use a complete ballot from their voting precinct and research how many votes were cast at every level. The students performed calculations to learn the probability that one additional vote would be decisive in each election. The student also learned how this is a measure of the weight of an individual’s instrumental value from voting. Dr. Snow’s project helped students to understand the electoral process, why some voting outcomes are common, who their elected representatives are, and the frequency of elections for different offices.
Tim Kalgreen, Director of Civic Education for the Indiana Bar Foundation moderated a panel session titled “Mock Trials and We the People: Using Co- and Extra-Curricular Programs to Enhance Student Learning and Engagement.” This panel discussion included Matt McMichael an experienced social studies and history teacher with the Individuals and Societies at Center for Inquiry at School 84 and Janet Chandler with many years of educational experience in the Fishers area as a long-time teacher at Hamilton Southeastern High School. She serves as the elected President of the Hamilton Southeastern Education Association and is the coach for the high school’s Mock Trial and We the People teams. Janet Chandler talked at length about her experiences with Mock Trial and We the People at the Symposium. Janet discussed how a school Mock Trial Team and competition works, with some of the team playing roles as trial witnesses and other performing in the role of defense or prosecution attorneys.
MCS teachers Hannah George and Elizabeth Gillentine participated in a panel discussion titled “Civics Across Content Areas.” This panel discussion focused on the CREATE project’s summer conferences and how elementary teachers, how can you incorporate civics education across many diverse disciplines (math, English, the arts, etc.).
The event keynote address “What is Equity and Why does Every Child Deserve It?” was given by 2019 Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson. This speech focused on equity in the classroom and teachers can support the needs of students. Robinson also shared his unique experience working with students in the Richmond Detention Center. Robinson opened his keynote address talking about his mother, Sylvia and how she inspired him to become a teacher. Robinson recounted how his mother Sylvia never received the formal education, due to segregation and poverty in rural Virginia. That didn’t prevent her from providing educational opportunity to children in her community. She ran an in-home daycare and would tell people in the neighborhood, “Just bring your kid by, bring some food if you got it” And so “there were nights where I would go to sleep, and I’d wake up and there’d be kids I didn’t know in my bed.”
Robinson now works at a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center. “All of my students are age 12 to 19, some of them have committed minor offenses such as drugs. Some of them are accused of major offenses such as murder.”
Robinson said he tells the students that, “America is a country of second chances. And if you want a second chance, a high-quality education is the best way to take advantage of your second chance.”
After his speech, Robinson spent time talking and taking photos with teachers and administrators.