Attempting To Combat Civics Ignorance

November 16, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With a civics curriculum already in place for elementary and high school students across the state, The Civics Institute is putting the final touches on a similar learning path for Michigan's middle-schoolers.

Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council feel so strongly about getting the courses into classrooms that they're going to give TCI a $5,000 grant next month to finish the final leg of the curriculum's trifecta.

The board normally applies for grants instead of making awards. But as Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg said, the project is worthy of the funding as it is trying to turn "the tide of ignorance about how local government works." Vanderberg said voters often show up at the wrong polling place in his county because they don't know whether they live in a city or in a township.

GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said even state lawmakers lack a basic understanding of how counties, cities, townships and villages operate. Stypula also said the educational effort, which has a $70,000 annual budget, fits in nicely with the council's vision and mission.

Stypula hopes the TCI endeavor, known as the Local Government Curriculum Project, provides today's children with a refined understanding of the roles local units play in their adult lives. The Grand Rapids Public and Christian schools districts use the curriculum, as do those in Cedar Springs, ComstockPark, Lowell, Northview, Rockford and West Ottawa, along with other districts in other parts of the state.

Frey Foundation President Milt Rowher, who has lots of experience at awarding grants, is Grand Rapids' newest representative on the Metro Council. Frey replaces Beverly Drake of the Area Community Service Employment and Training Council.

As a staffer at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce almost two decades ago, Rowher said he worked with local government officials to help create the Metro Council.

The council turned 18 this year and has 35 municipalities as members.

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