Distributed March 4, 2002
News Service Contact: Kate Bramson
The Capitol Forum on America’s Future
High school students get civics lesson, share views with policymakers
Students from Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Utah will debate the United States’ foreign policy role in their state capitols through a program sponsored by Brown University. After weeks of study and debate, the students will share their views on the environment, international conflict resolution, trade and the global economy, and immigration with their elected officials.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Selected students from six states are gearing up to represent their peers in their state capitols as the culmination of the yearlong Capitol Forum on America’s Future program. Coordinated nationally by Brown University’s Choices for the 21st Century Education Program, the Forums educate young people about controversial issues and hard choices in America’s future and promote civic engagement among high school students.
“The purpose of the program is to help students find their voice, give them a reason to feel that expressing their views is important and legitimate, and then to give them an opportunity to be heard by their elected officials,” said Susan Graseck, director of the Choices Program at Brown University’s Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies.
The material the students are using to prepare for the fifth annual Capitol Forums has been rewritten in the aftermath of Sept. 11. While students will debate the same issues they have in past years, Graseck is certain that Sept. 11 and the threat of terrorism will be at the forefront of discussion.
The program begins each fall with workshops at the state level for about 20 teachers per state. Then they each return to the classroom with two curriculum units on international issues developed by the Choices Program. That allows them to work with the students throughout the year to develop critical thinking and civic judgment skills.
Teachers select four to five students per classroom to travel to the state capitols and represent their peers in the spring. Prior to attending the forums, each student works to become an “expert” on one of four topics – environment, international conflict resolution, trade and global economy, and immigration – and the entire class participates in a session to determine the group’s views on the issues.
For the first time, classes this year are developing a group statement expressing their views and posting that statement on the Web prior to the Forums. Each Forum participant (about 80 students per state) will see those opinions ahead of time so they will have a better idea about how their peers view the issues.
The curriculum is designed so that all viewpoints are given a fair hearing as the students debate the issues. “The idea is that there’s room for everybody,” Graseck said. “What you’re really doing is creating broad space for public discussion about unsettled public issues.”
After the students debate the issues at their state capitols, they return to their classrooms to lead a discussion. The classes all complete ballots indicating the policy direction they believe is appropriate for the United States to take, and the Choices Program tabulates the votes each year. Last year, students’ top concerns were damage to the global environment and the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
“Capitol Forum is an excellent program that gives students the opportunity to develop, share and reevaluate their opinions on substantial global issues,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
For more information, call Graseck at (401) 863-3155 or visit the Choices Web page at www.choices.edu. Dates and contact numbers for each Capitol Forum are as follows: