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Via IKE, high school students participate in 1st gubernatorial debate

Wednesday, October 5, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Susan Ferrer
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Students from seven Indiana high schools got an up-close look at state politics Sept. 27 at the first debate between this year's gubernatorial candidates.


The town hall meeting at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis was organized by the Indiana Debate Commission in partnership with Indiana Kids' Election, the award-winning, statewide mock election program sponsored by the Indiana State Bar Association, the Indiana Secretary of State and the Indiana Department of Education.


"In our state's bicentennial year, it's extremely fitting that Hoosier students statewide get to take advantage of this special opportunity afforded them through Indiana Kids' Election," said outgoing ISBA President Carol M. Adinamis, Westfield. IKE and the town hall forum "demonstrate the legal community's commitment to instilling the importance of voting in today's youth."


As of Oct. 5, nearly 1,450 schools representing Indiana's 92 counties were signed up for IKE, a program offered every four years that teaches students ages 5 to 18 about the election process and the importance of voting.


Graydon Chisholm, a senior at Columbus East High School who will vote in his first election Nov. 8, was among the students who attended the town hall meeting, where gubernatorial candidates John Gregg (D), Eric Holcomb (R) and Rex Bell (L) debated education issues facing the state.


"I didn't know a lot about their platforms. I was surprised how similar they were," said Chisholm, who thought attending the debate would stoke his interest in state and local politics and help prepare him to vote in the upcoming election.


Troy Buntin, Chisholm's American Government teacher at Columbus East, said his classes would discuss the debate and who they thought won it in the weeks leading up to the election. IKE and the debate, which was streamed live statewide by WFYI-TV, were good opportunities to introduce his students to state and local politics, which are often overshadowed by pop culture and the deluge of federal election news, Buntin said.


Sean Bowman, a senior at Indian Creek High School, found the candidates' forum informative and a contrast to the presidential debate he had watched the night before. "It wasn't as flashy as the presidential debate," Bowman said. "They were more civil."


Among the students who were able to ask the candidates a question was Tylyn Johnson, a junior at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. He asked how young people can best interact with elected officials to inspire change in their communities. The candidates' answers, he said, will inspire him to explore how he can become more involved in the political process.


Johnson's teacher, Alene Smith, appreciated the inclusion of Libertarian candidate Rex Bell in the debate. She said her students aren't familiar with the Libertarian Party and that it would add to a discussion she expected to have with students about how the basic philosophies of the political parties were revealed in the candidates' answers to questions.


The number of students who attended the debate live were only a fraction of the more than 110,000 Indiana school children expected to vote in IKE's mock election Nov. 8. IKE, which happens every four years in the lead-up to the general election, emulates the real election process, with students observing election milestones, such as this year's Oct. 11 deadline to register to vote, and then casting their own votes on election day for governor, senator and president.


Indiana attorneys have the unique opportunity to participate in the program by volunteering for the IKE Speakers' Bureau. In volunteering for the speakers' bureau, attorneys agree to deliver one-hour classroom presentations about the election process, how to make informed choices about candidates and more. As of Oct. 5, enough attorneys had signed up to provide speakers at more than half of the participating schools, according to the ISBA.


IKE, funded by the ISBA and Indiana Bar Foundation, is a big help to schools, which under Indiana law are required to give instruction on the election process two weeks preceding a general election to all students in grades 6-12. IKE helps schools meet the requirement by providing comprehensive curriculum guides, free of charge, to participating schools. The curriculum meets state academic standards approved by the Indiana Department of Education.


This year's IKE program received special status from the state, which by way of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission designated it last spring an official Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project. The real legacy of IKE, of course, is the information it imparts to the state's youth about the importance of voting. IKE is based on the premise that voting is only occasionally done by inspiration but more often done by habit.


Immersing students in the process at a young age is perhaps the best way of creating that habit, especially at this time in the history of our democracy.


Prof. Laura Merrifield Albright of the University of Indianapolis, who moderated the gubernatorial debate, introduced the event by placing the debate in the context of some of the country's most famous debates: the Illinois senatorial debates of 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and the 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, the first debate with a mass media audience.


Fast-forward to 2016, Albright said, and it seems debates are designed more to entertain than inform. But debates can be valuable, she said, to voters who do their homework and know the issues. She implored students to do their research, reminding them that "democracy is not a spectator sport."


For more information on IKE and/or to sign up as a speaker, visit:

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