2022 Fall Civics Educator Conference

2022 Fall Civics Educator Conference

By Hank McIntire, Center for Constitutional Studies

See photos of the conferencephotos of the Arthur Brooks keynote address, and video of the presentations.

Bridging and Bonding

Nearly 100 K–12 teachers from throughout Utah came to UVU campus Oct. 27 for the Fall 2022 Civics Educator Conference, sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Studies.

The theme of the one-day event was Bridging and Bonding: The Role of Teachers in Cultivating Citizenship. Director of the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative (CTLI), Dr. Robert Burton, welcomed teachers in the kickoff session and outlined the purpose for the conference.

“Our goal with CTLI is to help citizens and communities develop the civic knowledge, skills, and virtues necessary for the perpetuation and flourishing of representative government,” said Burton.

“And in practice, we work with you as teachers to provide resources, research, and professional-development opportunities like this,” he added. “It really is a partnership.”

Presenters Christopher Collard, Jeff Nokes, Lisa Halverson, and Glori Smith and Erika Munson covered social capital, relationship-building, the state of civics education in Utah, and communicating across political divides, respectively.

Social Capital

A senior analyst with the Utah Foundation, a nonprofit focused on researching public-policy issues, Collard defined what social capital is. He used the example of borrowing his neighbor’s tools to fix a car, or his wife, an avid gardener, lending her gardening tools to a neighbor.

In both cases, the borrower saves money by not having to buy their own tools to meet a short-term need. “It is the idea of a network that allows you to help other people and for other people to help you,” he said.

“Based on the measures we use, Utah is the best-performing state when it comes to social capital,” explained Collard. “One of the reasons for Utah’s success in this area is that teachers use their own network to benefit students.”

Relationship Building

Jeff Nokes, a professor of history at Brigham Young University and an expert in literacy in secondary social-studies classrooms, began his presentation by taking an informal survey, where participants answered questions to see if they were more like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams.

Nokes used a case study of the connection between Jefferson and Adams based on 19 letters they had written to each other to convey the importance of building relationships despite political differences. The two men came from diverse backgrounds yet became great friends, then they became great enemies, and then they became great friends again.

Nokes led teachers through an exercise of asking questions, using evidence, and supporting a claim based on that evidence. “Teaching through inquiry is a way that builds students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions,” he said. “And questions allow space for different students in the class to come up with different interpretations because good document-based lessons have evidence.”

State of Civics Education

Lisa Halverson, a civics-education fellow with CCS, discussed the state of civics education in Utah, based on a 2021 report that surveyed hundreds of Utah teachers.

The study found that teachers understand the importance of civics and prioritize it in the classroom by covering various topics from the founding documents and the history of our nation to modern constitutional questions.

“You help students communicate in a more civil manner across differences and to thoughtfully engage with American history,” said Halverson, reminding teachers of the critical role they play. “You are in charge of teaching adult norms in our society and in civic engagement. Teachers are primary agents for getting children to talk about and understand differences. These are developed in the classroom.”

Communicating Across Divides

Glori Smith, also with CCS as a civics-education expert and former high-school teacher, discussed using debates as a way to engage students. “It helps them learn content, explore another perspective, and how to share their own opinion without being disagreeable,” she said.

During her presentation Smith moderated a light-hearted debate to demonstrate how teachers can use that tool to help students see if they are being nonfriendly. She invited two participants to come to the front of the class and debate the virtues of reading a book vs. watching a movie based on the book.

“In my classes I ask students to determine what side they are on personally,” said Smith. “It helps them sharpen the arguments to know what the other position is. And if you end up changing just one person’s mind, then you’ve won the debate.”

Smith and Erika Munson of Utah’s Braver Angels organization, which seeks to help citizens understand differences and find common ground, led teachers through an exercise to illustrate how individuals who have opposing political views can navigate a conversation without resorting to anger or personal attacks. Munson suggested several steps to follow for engaging someone who sees an issue differently than you do.

“First, set the tone by showing that you want to understand, asking permission to pose questions, acknowledging your own political stance, offering something critical of your own side, and crediting something positive on the other side,” she said. “Then focus on listening as you paraphrase, ask questions, and identify the values that support the person’s perspective. As I have learned these techniques and teach them to other people, I’m constantly learning myself.”

"Love Your Enemies"

Arthur C. Brooks, renowned social scientist, Harvard professor, Atlantic columnist, and author gave the public keynote address that evening to wrap up the conference.

“We have a contempt epidemic in our country,” Brooks told the 400 gathered to hear his message. “We can fix it if we get our communication right.”

Brooks quoted the New Testament, citing the injunction Jesus Christ gave to his disciples, “Love your enemies,” as recorded in Matthew 5:44.

“It's the most subversive teaching in human history,” observed Brooks. “Love is an act; it's a commitment. Love is something you decide to do.”

Impact of the Conference

Event organizer Robert Burton was pleased with the outcome of the conference, and teachers found it instructive and inspiring.

"Our teachers left with a renewed sense of the important role they play in fostering a thriving civic community, one that crosses political and ideological barriers towards our common goals," said Burton. "They also walked away with hands-on tools and lesson ideas that they can apply in their classes tomorrow. And I, for one, experienced a renewed hope that, while firmly defending our principles and ideals, we really can heed Abraham Lincoln's call to live 'with malice towards none, with charity for all.'"

“The theme of the conference—Bridging and Bonding: The Role of Teachers in Cultivating Citizenship—was clear and effective,” said Pace Ford, history teacher at Spanish Fork High School. “The social-capital presentation was absolutely fascinating, and I would love to implement the material on building relationships despite our differences.”

“It was well organized and planned,” said Malayna Knowles, a government teacher at Green Canyon High School in North Logan. “The keynote speaker, Arthur Brooks, was fantastic and brought a hopeful message. It was a great event to be with other teachers for the day and hear ideas and information.”

“The presentations spoke to the reality and necessity of civil discourse and to teach that to our students who far too often see the opposite in the real world,” said Christina Mickelson, a social-studies teacher at Draper Park Middle School. “It recharged my batteries and made me so happy I chose to do what I do.”


10:00 - 10:30 am Check-In

10:30 - 11:00 am -Introduction: "Civic Relationships and Why They Matter"

Dr. Robert Burton, Director of the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative at UVU's Center for Constitutional Studies

11:00 am to 12:00 pm - Session 1: "Social Capital in Utah and the Role of Teachers"

Christopher Collard, Senior Analyst, of the Utah Foundation

12:15 - 12:45 pm - Fulton Library Lakeview Room - Lunch presentation: The "Gap Problem" and the State of Civics Education in Utah"

Dr. Lisa Halverson, Civics Education Fellow at UVU's Center for Constitutional Studies

1:00 - 2:30 pm Session 2: "Teaching Relationship Building Through American History"

Dr. Jeff Nokes, Professor of History at Brigham Young University

2:30 - 2:45 pm - Break

2:45 - 4:15 pmSession 3: "Building Bridges Across Political Divides: the Braver Angels Method"

Dr. Glori Smith, Civics Education Fellow at UVU's Center for Constitutional Studies

Erika Munson, Braver Angels State Coordinator for Utah

4:15 - 4:30 - Closing Discussion

Dr. Robert Burton, Director of the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative at UVU's Center for Constitutional Studies

5:15 - 6:00 VIPReception: Teachers attending the conference and invited guests

6:00 - 7:00 pm Evening Keynote Address: "Love Your Enemies"

Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, Harvard Kennedy School

In order to fulfill the purpose of the Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative passed in the Utah State Legislature, this conference will provide professional development and assist in the PLC process by helping teachers determine essential standards and identify foundational prerequisite skills to develop targeted instruction. The conference will empower teachers to understand complex government principles by learning from experts in the field.

Participants can earn up to 9 relicensure credits.

The Center for Constitutional Studies will offer a Visa gift card to help offset travel to UVU for conference attendees and lunch will be provided.

The Center will also reimburse schools for the cost of any substitute teachers needed to cover for teacher attendees. Please work with your schools to request the sub for your class and let Kari Dennis know that you will be needing one [email protected].

This conference is made possible by the Utah Legislature through the 2021 House Bill 327, which established and funded the Civic Thought & Leadership Initiative within the Center for Constitutional Studies at UVU. The initiative was created to "facilitate nonpartisan political discussion and provide civic education and research" by "provid[ing] resources to students, outside academic institutions, government agencies, and other persons regarding civic affairs; and foster[ing] thoughtful civic engagement in Utah and the surrounding region."

To read the full text of HB 327, click on the following link: https://le.utah.gov/~2021/bills/static/HB0327.html