Co-Authored by the Board of Attorneys for Civic Education
In November, our nation will once again be afforded the opportunity to exercise one of the greatest privileges of being a United States citizen: the right to vote, in a year that also celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment that afforded all women in the United States that same privilege. While Americans rarely shy away from learning about and debating a candidate and his or her stances on import issues, many might miss the essential foundation of citizenship: a solid understanding of our system of government and the rights and responsibilities that are part of being a United States citizen.
Unfortunately, with budget cuts and focus in other educational areas, civics education and related activities have received less emphasis than other subject areas. In response, a group of Idaho attorneys who recognized the importance of civic education founded the Attorneys for Civic Education (ACE) in 2013.
ACE is a public service project of the Idaho State Bar’s Government and Public Sector section, but anyone can join. ACE members share a common vision: to increase and sustain the opportunities for civics education in Idaho’s schools in order to ensure that Idaho’s citizens will have a solid understanding of the Constitution, the rule of law, and our form of government. ACE achieves that vision through volunteer recruitment and fundraising for three of Idaho’s civic education programs: Idaho We the People, YMCA Youth in Government, and the Idaho High School Mock Trial Program.
Idaho We the People
Idaho We the People promotes civic competence and responsibility among Idaho’s upper elementary and secondary students. It is partnered with the nonprofit, non-partisan Center for Civic Education which has a network of public and private sector organizations and educational leaders in every state and congressional district in the country. Since its inception in 1987, more than 30 million students and 75,000 educators have participated.
The foundation of the We the People program is the classroom curriculum. It complements the regular school curriculum by providing students with an innovative course of instruction on the history and principles of U.S. constitutional democracy. The program’s culminating activity is a simulated congressional hearing in which students “testify” before a panel of judges acting as members of Congress. Students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles and have opportunities to evaluate, take, and defend positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues.
Idaho We the People underwent exciting changes recently. The State Capitol hosted the 2019 State Competition using East and West Wing hearing rooms for the Competition and the Lincoln Auditorium for the Awards Ceremony. The Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School Team taught by Blake Gaudet won the 2019 State Competition. This was State Coordinator Troy Hamilton’s last year and Idaho We the People thanks him for his years of service.
Idaho’s new State We the People Coordinator is Pete Kinnaman of Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School. The College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho will host the 2020 State Competition on Thursday, January 30, 2020 and will see participation by additional high schools. The winner of the State Competition will have the honor of representing Idaho at the National Competition near Washington DC during April 24-27, 2020.
Idaho We the People survives on volunteers to mentor and coach students, assist teachers, judge competitions and fundraise. If you are interested in helping in any way with this worthwhile cause, please contact Pete Kinnaman at Pete.Kinnaman@gmail.com or Dan Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YMCA Youth in Government
Every spring students from across the state come to the Capitol and Idaho Supreme Court buildings to participate in the State Session of YMCA’s Youth in Government program, the second longest running program of its kind nationwide. Youth in Government is an educational program that offers civic education using an interactive experience involving direct participation in the process of all three branches of government. Students take on roles from each branch including Governor, Speaker of the House, Deputy Attorney General, and Chief Justice. The program also provides an opportunity for students to participate as lobbyists and members of press staff. Last year, 256 students from 14 high schools and one YMCA delegation participated in the program. Participating high schools included Bear Lake, Blackfoot, Caldwell, Capitol, Centennial, Eagle, Grangeville, Highland, Leadore, Mountain Home, Oakley, Orofino, Rocky Mountain, and Timberline.
Here’s how it works. Prior to the State Session, there are regional conferences at which students run for elected offices, attend workshops to prepare for the State Session, and compete for advocate positions for the Youth Supreme Court oral arguments. Also preceding the State Session, the student delegations submit proposed bills to debate during legislative hearings. Examples of issues addressed by the proposed legislation include loan repayment assistance in school districts struggling to retain certified teachers; immunization; assisted suicide; overtime wages for farm employees; smoking in vehicles with minors; and term limits. There may also be proposed legislation on lighter topics, such as trampoline parks in high schools and designating silver as the state metal. Whatever the subject of the legislation, the exercise affords students the opportunity to draft a bill and debate it with other students who have varying backgrounds and beliefs.
By the time this article is published, the 2019-2020 is already underway and the State Session is just around the corner on April 23-24, 2020. This year’s State Session will, as in prior years, showcase the talents and leadership potential of students from all over the state. The lessons and skills learned in Youth in Government are designed to not only teach student participants about the work of government, but also to learn how to advocate for their ideas, respect and value the opinions of others, and debate important issues with civility. Moreover, the YMCA reports that Youth in Government alumni are thirty percent more likely to vote and that eighty-eight percent of alumni over the age of 25 have received a post-secondary degree.
For more information about Youth in Government, including how to start a delegation or support an existing delegation, contact the YMCA Youth Coordinator at (208) 377-9622, extension 441. You can also learn more about the program by visiting the program’s website at https://www.ymcatvidaho.org/youth-in-government/.
Idaho High School Mock Trial
The Idaho High School Mock Trial Competition, sponsored by the Idaho Law Foundation’s Law Related Education Program, teaches students in grades 9-12 about the law and the legal system by participating in a simulated trial. Students from all parts of Idaho prepare a hypothetical legal case. Then, in real courtrooms, before real judges and attorneys, teams try their cases – from opening statements, through direct and cross examination, to closing arguments, each team has its own attorneys and witnesses and must be ready to present either side of the case. Teams compete in one of three regional tournaments. The top 12 qualifying teams compete in the state tournament, and the state champion qualifies to compete in the national tournament.
In 2019, the mock trial program piloted the Coach Development Initiative. The overall goal of the project is to develop a better prepared, more supported, and more committed cohort of teacher coaches for Idaho’s mock trial program.
Teachers who participate in the initiative commit to:
- Register a mock trial team from their school that commits to complete the mock trial season
- Participate in a training program to prepare the teacher to effectively work with a team
- Attend monthly mentoring sessions for support and troubleshooting throughout the mock trial season
- Complete an end of season survey and attend an end of initiative focus group
Once they’ve completed these requirements, participating teachers receive one of their six required professional development credits, paid for by the Law Related Education Program, and a $500 stipend.
Idaho’s mock trial program is still looking for volunteers for 2020 competitions. Regional competitions will take place in February and March in Idaho Falls, Lewiston, and Caldwell. The state competition will be in Boise from March 18 to 20. For more information or to volunteer, visit idahomocktrial.org or contact Carey Shoufler at email@example.com.
Hilarity for Charity
Hilarity for Charity is a creative, clever, and very entertaining all for a good cause: civic education. In June, ACE sponsored its sixth annual Hilarity for Charity event to raise funds for civic education programs in Idaho. A dedicated group of local improv comedians have volunteered their time and talents to support this worthy cause for the last six years. Idaho law firms and several Idaho State Bar Practice Sections have consistently and generously sponsored this fun event so that all funds raised from ticket sales go directly to the three civic education programs ACE supports. The 2019 raised $3,750. For 2020, ACE has set an ambitious goal to double that amount and raise $7,500, allowing the group to contribute $2,500 to each of our three programs. The event is in the planning stages but will be held in Boise in June. Look for more information soon.
The attorneys who founded ACE recognized that they have both an opportunity and a responsibility to share their knowledge about civics. Due to our education, experience, and role in society, lawyers are uniquely situated to further the cause of civics education. Attorneys enjoy the opportunity to experience all branches and levels of government to one degree or another. Sharing the resulting insight is rewarding.
Attorneys also have a responsibility to share their civic knowledge. Rule 6.1 of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer’s pro bono work may include “participation in activities for improving the law, the legal system or the legal profession.”
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, “The fundamental skills and knowledge of citizenship are not handed down through the gene pool. They must be taught and learned anew by each generation.” ACE is dedicated to being engaged in that teaching process, through their involvement and support of civic education in Idaho. For more information about ACE, visit attorneysforciviceducation.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.