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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

NFOIC Summit: Civics education

Katherine Garner, president of KLGarner Consulting and NFOIC treasurer; Mary Jo McGuire, Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership faculty at College of St. Catherine; and Barbara Peterson, president of Florida First Amendment Foundation, spoke about the crisis of civics education. Tom O'Hara, adviser of The Latern at Ohio State University moderated. Here are the notes from their NFOIC Summit session:

  • Schools are not teaching civics or not teaching it as properly or fun as it could be taught. This crisis is real. Check out Richard Dreyfuss' initiative on bringing civics back into schools here.
  • Children are not understanding the importance of Americans' freedoms. Democracy must be reborn in each generation.
  • The original reason for schools in this country was to teach people how to be good citizens.
  • For a democracy, citizens need knowledge, skills and inspiration. These skills include critical thinking, civil conversations, problem-solving, knowing how to vote, etc.
  • Some education models dismiss government. Therefore, young people don't understand how the political system works, McGuire explained. The people most likely to be affected by the government -- with the Iraq war, housing and health care -- are the least likely to be prepared to speak out.
  • No Child Left Behind focuses on language arts and math. If the subject isn't tested, it isn't taught.
  • Garner discussed how difficult it was to get K-12 teachers in Texas to teach a First Amendment curriculum. When she asked why they didn't teach it, one said it was too controversial. If you teach students they have a freedom of speech and press, they use it.
  • Garner spoke about the Light of Day project which connects Texas university students. They pick an investigatory topic and make FOIA requests across the state. The students use the data to write localized stories that are published by area newspapers. The first year, the students investigated how the Cleary Act was being used on college campuses. They found that most campuses were under reporting crime and not classifying date rapes as a crime. After their stories, Southern Methodist University changed the way it reports campus date rape and decided to start sending out campus alerts after date rapes. Students uncovered University of Texas at Dallas had private off-campus apartments for international students that had toxic mold and was ripe with crime. A week after the story, the administration created a committee to study the problem. Within a month, the apartment managing company had been fired and 16 new police officers were hired.
  • Light of Day students have also studied taser reviews, which led to legislative bills to put a moratorium on them until more research could be done, and academic evaluations of university presidents, provosts and deans.
  • Texas also struggled to explain what would happen if there were no FOIA laws. The blackout book was created by taking front pages of metro sections around the state and removing all stories, photos, infographics, etc. that were based on open meetings or open records laws.
  • Peterson said the lack of civics education frightens her. A Florida first-term legislator introduced a bill that would make names of elected school board members anonymous.
  • Peterson worked with a group of Florida young adults who had grown up in the foster care system. They testified at public hearings because they didn't have access to their own records, including their own SSN and previous home addresses. They helped get legislation passed that allowed children who had aged out of foster care access to their own records. Their involvement energized them and politicized them.
  • Florida First Amendment Foundation created a training video for middle and high school students. The group is currently working on a corresponding curriculum for teachers. View the video here.


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