Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Lithuanian education leaders here to study civic education best practices
IU School of Education dean, faculty, MCCSC teachers, and Sen. Vi Simpson will travel to Lithuania next month
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 26, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A three-member delegation from the Republic of Lithuania is spending this week visiting Indiana classrooms, the Indiana Statehouse and other places dealing with government and legal matters to learn more about civic education in the U.S. The visit is part of a continuing exchange between the Indiana University School of Education and the state of Indiana with Lithuania as part of the Civitas International Civic Education Exchange Program.
The three Lithuanian visitors have spent time in Bloomington elementary and middle schools to learn from teachers and will observe a social studies methods class at the School of Education on Thursday. Today (Wednesday) they are touring Arsenal Tech High School's International Academy in Indianapolis, then going to the Indiana Statehouse, visiting the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana, and meeting with the Indiana Bar Foundation.
On April 11, the School of Education and Indiana will send its own delegation to Lithuania to continue discussions. Gerardo Gonzalez, University Dean of the IU School of Education, Terry Mason, associate professor of curriculum studies, State Sen. Vi Simpson, as well as Batchelor Middle School social studies teacher Rebecah Boyle and Childs Elementary School social studies teacher Karen Johnson will spend a week discussing the importance of civic education for the young democracy, which broke from the Soviet Union in 1990.
The School of Education has participated in the exchange since 1995, when the U.S. Department of Education funded the Civitas International Program through its Center for Civic Education. The program pairs international educators from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa, Asia and Latin America with partners in states throughout the U.S. Over the last decade, the IU School of Education has hosted and participated in the exchange yearly.
Throughout the exchange, Mason said, he and others will discuss how civic organization is organized in U.S. schools and what types of models work well. He said Lithuanian educators still are grappling with the transition from a socialist state.
"I think when they come from a system where they're sort of used to being taken care of by the government, it's a transition to recognize for them that they are the government," he said.
The Lithuanians said they have reached a critical time in their civic education, since students now in school have no memory of the country under Soviet occupation.
"It's very necessary for us now, because our independence is very young," said Elena Urboniene, who directs a school for children with disabilities at Vilnius University Hospital. She pointed out that the Lithuanian Republic celebrated its 18th anniversary on March 11. "Like in human life, it's a young boy or girl. Eighteen years is the brink of life."
They also add that the students are hoping to connect more with other countries.
"It's very important to know other cultures, others' experience," said Alvydas Puodziukas, Lithuania's Secretary of Education and Science. He added that it may not be a natural thing for older Lithuanians who grew up in the closed Soviet society. "Students and the young people, they want to come to other countries and to communicate," Puodziukas said, adding that this is his first trip to the United States. "I talked to my daughters, and I understood that they understood about other countries more than I."
The continuing relationship is one that the visitors said has helped them in developing their civic education over the last 10 years.
"We have opinions that Indiana, among the other states, the educational system is one of the best in the United States of America," said Giedre Kvieskiene, professor and director of the Lithuanian College of Democracy at Vilnius Pedagogical University.
Mason anticipates a broader discussion on matters of education when the Indiana party returns the exchange in a couple weeks. While civic education will be a primary topic, Mason said the Indiana delegation will also address common educational issues.
"They have a declining population, for example," Mason said. "So they have rural areas where the student population is so small that they're consolidating school districts. That's something we've had experience with in this country."
Simpson said she's fascinated by the process of developing democracy, which she saw in a former Soviet country when she spent time studying in the Czech Republic just after it drafted its first constitution.
"I'm anxious to share with them what I know about my experiences here in this country," Simpson said, "but I'm also anxious to hear about them and the process of growth that they're going through right now."
But with the rise of hard-liners in the Russian government who hint at a return to an authoritarian state, the Lithuanian educators said civic education is more important than ever. They said teachers must make sure students don't forget their country's history.
"We must speak about that every day," Urboniene said.
Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://www.education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.
Mason describes the Civitas exchange program with Lithuania:
"For a week during one part of the year, we'll have the Lithuanians come here, and each year it varies, where we go, what we do. And then we go over there for a similar week. Sometimes we do it in the fall, one group in the fall, one group in the spring. The last couple of years we've had them close together in the springtime."
Over a short period of time, Mason says Indiana tries to expose the Lithuanian visitors to a lot regarding civic education:
"We go to a lot of different places. We see schools, teachers, students in classrooms. We also, a component of this is to meet with government agencies -- elected officials, representatives of the legal system, the court system, because all of those groups, and individuals, and agencies, many of them anyway, have programs that are devoted to developing citizenship and the knowledge base for citizenship. So tomorrow, for example, we'll be in Indianapolis at the Statehouse, at the district court, and the Indiana Bar Foundation, all of whom have very specific activities related to citizenship education."
Mason says there are things the Lithuanian people must still learn about democracy:
"I think a lot of it boils down to understanding what the nature of citizenship and the responsibilities of citizenship are. I think when they come from a system where they're sort of used to being taken care of by the government; it's a transition to recognize for them that they are the government. This idea of popular sovereignty, that people really are the source of power, in a sense, for what we do within our government, is a new idea, and it requires that they, first of all, understand what those roles are, and then have the means to enact them to actually do things that will help promote the common good, basically."
Elena Urboniene of the Vilnius University Hospital says the young Lithuanian democracy must have good civic education:
"It's very necessary for us now, because our independence is very young. On the 11th of March, we celebrate 18th anniversary of our independence. Like in human life, it's a young boy or girl. Eighteen years is the brink of life."
Giedre Kvieskiene, professor and director of the Lithuanian College of Democracy, Vilnius Pedagogical University, says the exchange with Indiana has gone very well since it started a decade ago:
"That means we are very successful that we are partners of the Indiana state, because as we in about 10 years study your experiments, we have opinions that Indiana state among the other states, the educational systems, are one of the best, I think, in United States of America."
Sen. Simpson says she expects to learn a lot herself in the upcoming trip to Lithuania in April:
"I have spent some time in former Soviet Union countries and eastern European countries as these infant democracies have grown. I studied for a while in Czechoslovakia right at the time when they were writing their first constitution. It's just a fascinating process, but from that I think we can learn a lot because they don't take anything for granted like many of our own citizens do. So I'm anxious to share with them what I know about my experiences here in this country, but I'm also anxious to hear about them and the process of growth that they're going through right now."