Capitol Forum: Equipping the next generation of voters
Capitol Forum invites high school students from all over the state to examine global issues, weigh the facts, and deliberate with other students about the potential impact on our nation and our state. Offered at no cost by Humanities Nebraska in partnership with the Secretary of State’s Office, it gives students skills that will last them a lifetime.
Secretary of State John Gale estimates more than 20,000 Nebraska high school students have engaged with the Capitol Forum curriculum.
The impact is impressive. More than 20,000 students have deliberated on today’s most pressing issues and have come to appreciate Nebraska’s significance to the international community and vice versa. Some have even articulated their positions on those pressing issues within the chambers of the Nebraska State Capitol.
“Capitol Forum helps young people develop a sense of what values and issues are most important to them,” Secretary Gale said. “Global warming, nuclear non-proliferation, international trade, and immigration are all things students know about, but they often don’t have the structure or context to develop a well-considered opinion.”
Capitol Forum empowers high school students to formulate well-considered opinions through the Choices Program created and provided by Brown University. Humanities Nebraska distributes this curriculum to teachers throughout the state who are involved with the program. Students then have the chance to examine important issues facing the nation and sample how the American democratic process works.
“The Choices curriculum provides Capitol Forum with such a firm foundation,” said Kristi Hayek Carley, HN program manager for Capitol Forum. “It provides the students and teachers with balanced scholarly research rooted in primary sources whenever possible. It is also frequently updated to reflect new events and perspectives that are helpful for understanding these complex world issues.”
As Chief of Protocol—one of the Secretary of State’s official functions as designated by the Unicameral—Secretary Gale feels a responsibility to reach the youth of Nebraska. He strives to foster educational, commercial, and cultural relations with foreign nations, and he understands the importance of including students in his goals.
“We have realized how important it is to have our students well-informed and educated in American foreign policy,” Secretary Gale said. “Foreign policy is a critical component of global security and global cooperation, and we want to furnish the students with knowledge and understanding as they reach voting age.”
The secretary noted he has seen one of the most important parts of democracy flourish through Capitol Forum: civil discourse.
“In our society today, it seems that the nature of civic discourse has somewhat broken down,” Secretary Gale said. “But with Capitol Forum, we give high school students the facts and confidence to engage in meaningful discourse.”
The teachers implementing the curriculum have seen the benefits, too.
Heidi Reinhart, an instructor at Omaha’s Duchesne Academy, appreciates the unbiased content and the emphasis placed on finding solutions via open discussion, rather than merely winning an argument or debate.
“Capitol Forum is more important than it has ever been, because this generation has so much information at their fingertips that can be confusing for them,” Reinhart reasoned. “It is more challenging for students to discern good information, and Capitol Forum shows them that seeing all sides of an issue is important.”
Robert Kerr, a teacher at Hastings High School, said that Capitol Forum returns high school students to the atmosphere their nation was born from. Kerr said confronting issues with thoughtful discussion of all views dates back to the founding fathers and unjust taxation.
“The importance of deliberation is in our very bones as Americans!” Kerr said. “Today’s students carry on that legacy when they participate in Capitol Forum to arrive at what they collectively see as the best policies for America to pursue.”
Secretary Gale sees Capitol Forum as more than another class for high school students.
“There’s an excitement and enthusiasm that comes with this process,” he said. “When students realize that Nebraska is a part of the bigger world, and then they realize that they can engage in that role – this is a deep commitment to having our students’ voices in American foreign policy.”
Humanities Nebraska thanks NextGen Lincoln, a fund of the Lincoln Community Foundation, for their generous support of Capitol Forum in 2016.