By Sam Elliott
A chance meeting between a Fishers city councilor and Geist area resident led to a new opportunity for area adults to restart, refresh or kick-start their civics and government education.
“I was asked to be a judge for Fishers’ We The People teams,” City Councilor Cecilia Coble said. “The first night I volunteered, I happened to be paired up as a judge with the national director of the We The People program.”
That was Geist area resident Robert Leming, a longtime teacher involved with the Center for Civic Education for nearly 30 years and national director of the We The People program — which offers students opportunities for civics education and competition — since 1998.
The pair created Constitution 101, a six-week course offered to area adults eager to learn more about the document in which our nation’s government was established and how it continues to apply to life today. Leming considered it an experiment to see what sort of response such a class would get.
“What I’ve learned is there are people who want to do this but don’t know about it or what I’m realizing is adults have a craving for understanding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and government and it’s been a long time since they’ve been in school,” he said. “There’s a real need, but more importantly a want, to participate and learn.”
The group engaged in interactive discussion on a variety of topics covered by and concerning the constitution, its historical context, case examples challenging its power and its relationship to present-day current events.
“We were interested in the topic and we’ve been here in Fishers for about five years and felt this was a good opportunity. We’ve gotten a lot of good information out of it,” resident and class participant Lou Rush said. “We’re taking lessons on an important theme. We were students a long time ago, so some of this intended to refresh us on what the Constitution was about and all of our rights. The group has done a nice job of discussing all of it.”
Fay Rush said she enjoyed Leming’s presenting of the country’s founding fathers and appreciated the detail in his analysis of their personalities and effects on history.
Participants used a textbook, “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution,” in conjunction with a pocket Constitution and readings provided by Leming on examples of Supreme Court cases challenging certain properties or powers of the Constitution.
The reception by participants and prospects of the course the first time around has Leming considering another edition of the program.
“I wasn’t planning on it, but I am now,” he said. “I think what we’re going to work on is something bigger and better for September.”
Leming’s goal is to use technology to live stream the course on the Internet into the homes or offices of those who can’t make it to Fishers City Hall in person.
“You’d have a live audience there, but you could broadcast it out to different groups,” he said. “Then they could be involved through live streaming and there could be discussion between the two and things like that. There is some discussion of it going bigger and better in September. At the least, it would be another class, but I think we have time to actually plan this out and make it something special where more people in Fishers as well as the rest of Indiana and maybe other states could be a part of it.”
City officials weren’t sure what to expect when offering Fishers’ first Constitution 101 class to the adult public.
“This was something different and unique and we weren’t quite sure what to expect in terms of response from the public,” Casey Cawthon, Fishers’ marketing and public relations manager, said. “I think we were overwhelmingly pleased with how many people were interested in the class and then once it filled how many people were still reaching out to participate.”
With “class crashers” welcomed, attendance throughout the six-week course averaged approximately 50 students.
“One of the things I’ve attributed that to is the We The People program in the high schools is so strong and they do a great job keeping the public looped in to how they’re advancing and going to nationals, so they have a lot of great momentum and I think this program came at an awesome time,” Cawthon said. “A second tier to that is anyone who completes this course is able to be a judge for the We The People competition.”
Get to Know Robert Leming
- Geist area resident
- National Director of We The People program, which involves classes by thousands of elementary, middle and high school teachers across America
- Holds three degrees from Indiana University
- Attended General H.H. Arnold High School in Weisbaden, Germany
- Teaches online courses on the Constitution and Bill of Rights at Kansas State University
- Began teaching career teaching middle and high school government and math in Grand Rapids, Mich. And the United States Virgin Islands
- Taught undergraduate and graduate social studies courses at IU
- Taught part time in jails and prisons in Michigan, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Indiana