sealPurdue News

September 1994

New Purdue center espouses democratic ideals

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A one-of-a-kind center at Purdue University has developed an agenda to improve the teaching of civics, ethics and economics in schools across the nation.

The James F. Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship in Purdue's School of Education was created earlier this year with a $2 million gift from Ackerman, an Indianapolis cable television executive, and his wife, Lois.

"We see a need to prepare new generations of Americans for the highest office in the land -- citizen," he says.

Denee J. Corbin, director of the center, says its goal is to instill democratic values in each new generation of children. She says its initial focus will be on elementary schools.

"I know some people get uncomfortable when we talk about teaching values," says Corbin, assistant professor of social studies education. "But we're talking about our country's values, the values of democracy. Teaching these values doesn't threaten religious or racial or ethnic beliefs.

"For those who don't think we should be teaching values, I reply that one of the skills necessary in a democracy is to be able to have a dialogue with people you disagree with."

Corbin, who for 17 years was an elementary or secondary teacher in urban, suburban and rural school districts, says all programs offered by the center are based on the belief that American democracy will survive and thrive only if each generation understands seven fundamental values:

But understanding and embracing those values is only one step toward becoming a responsible citizen, Corbin says. Citizenship also requires that the members of a society share a sense of community and participate in the economic and civic life of their communities

The Ackerman center will attempt to achieve those goals by conducting intensive summer institutes for teachers, sponsoring workshops and civic education projects for teachers and students, and developing curricula and becoming a resource center for citizenship education materials.

Purdue Dean of Education Marilyn J. Haring says the Ackerman center is unique because of its national emphasis on elementary-school civics education based on the seven core values of democracy.

"There have been excellent teacher workshops, institutes and fellowships across the country focused on instilling notions of responsibility and civic virtue in high-school students," she says.

"But elementary-teacher education programs seldom offer such exciting preparation. Also, elementary-school environments are not necessarily conducive to children participating in democratic processes. Yet we know that the best time to lay a foundation of citizenship skills is before the age of 12."

The center's first teacher institute will be from June 11 to June 25 for 20 elementary teachers. Nine national authorities on citizenship education have agreed to conduct seminars, and Corbin also has invited five national political figures to participate in the institute.

"When the teachers finish the institute, each will go home with a $3,000 or $4,000 grant to start an ongoing citizenship program in their community," Corbin says. Participants in the institute will return to Purdue a year later to report about the projects they instituted at their schools and to work with Purdue education students. Applications for the institute will be accepted after Nov. 1.

Corbin also has scheduled three events for this academic year:

Encouraging such participation in democracy was the reason Ackerman, former majority owner and chairman and chief executive officer of Cardinal Communications Inc., and his wife made their $2 million gift to Purdue in November 1993.

Ackerman, who earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue's School of Agriculture in 1947, says they provided the gift because they believe there is a need to prepare elementary teachers to teach children about their personal power and responsibility as citizens.

Their son, John Ackerman, is one of 11 members of the Ackerman center's board of advisers. He is vice president of Cardinal Ventures, an Indianapolis business founded by his father that provides venture capital to entrepreneurs. The other members of the center's board of advisers are:

Sources: Denee Corbin, (765) 494-2372; Internet,
Marilyn J. Haring, (765) 494-2336; Internet,
James F. Ackerman, (765) 228-5070
Writer: Frank J. Koontz, (765) 494-2080; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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