Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda includes five pillars, but there was nearly a sixth that would have dealt with civics and civility, he told The Times Editorial Board recently.

That’s a cause I hold near and dear.

“It’s part of getting everything else done,” Holcomb said.

Earlier that day, he saw about 20 students interviewing Subaru officials about the new Ascent that would be made in Indiana.

That’s a good civics lesson for them, he said.

“You never know when you’re going to turn on some light or get them juiced about something,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb promised he would be speaking more about this issue in December.

“It’s part of getting everything else done,” he said.

On Thursday, the Indiana Historical Bureau highlighted Caleb Mills, who wrote anonymously to the General Assembly on Dec. 6, 1846, to urge the establishment of public schools. Mills cited that only one in seven Hoosier adults could read and that 37 percent of children attended school. Mills wrote a total of six of these letters.

Indiana’s constitution said the state would establish a public education system, but that promise took decades to fulfill.

Today, education is seen as preparing for a career, but there’s another side to it as well. Education also prepares students to take their place as citizens of the nation, state and community.

I urged Holcomb to consider pushing for a high school civics class that focuses on state and local government.

Fourth-graders learn about Indiana history and often travel to the Statehouse for a tour. One of the big state expenditures during its bicentennial was a new education center that welcomes fourth-graders and gives them a broad overview of Indiana government.

I’m not discounting that, but it would be good to teach high school students about their state and local government before they begin voting at age 18.

Doing so could increase voter turnout. After all, the students would learn how government works and why their vote is so important.

In 2016 — a presidential election year when turnout is typically highest — only 58 percent of Indiana’s registered voters cast ballots. In Lake, 57 percent voted; in LaPorte, 55 percent, and in Porter, 62 percent.

There’s a lot of room for improvement.

Holcomb makes a good point in saying schools already are expected to accomplish a lot, and adding one more classes can be problematic.

There are extracurricular activities aimed at turning Hoosier students into better citizens, like the We the People program, American Legion speech competitions and, of course, serving as a page in the Legislature. 

On Wednesday, state Rep. Earl Harris Jr. told me he’d like to see more students from East Chicago serve as pages in the Indiana General Assembly to learn about the legislative process.

I was a page for Sen. Gene Snowden when I was in school, and I learned a lot about the Statehouse while roaming its halls in search of the specific brand of soft drink he requested we get for him.

But only a limited number of students are eligible for these extracurricular programs, and fewer still participate.

I don’t have a suggested curriculum or an answer as to which course might be sacrificed to fit this into the junior year so the knowledge is fresh for 18-year-old voters.

But this is a subject that shouldn’t be ignored if we are to turn students into responsible citizens.

Teach them civics, the mechanics of how state and local government works and the citizen’s role — their role — in the process. And teach them civility, how to get along with people they might not agree with, in the process.

We see how polarized the nation has become, and we see how that affects public policy decisions and outcomes. We see the importance of compromise even when some of our elected officials don’t.

We should see the need for a high school course that meets these needs.

It’s time to start talking about erecting that sixth pillar for a better Hoosier society.

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.