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Local groups team up to offer new course for community that focuses on civil discourse

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Reinhart Center, Viterbo

D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics and Leadership

This fall, a free new course will aim to teach community members about engaging in discussions and debates in a civil manner through the lens of better understanding government.

The “Rebuilding American Civics” course series will be offered in eight parts from Sept. 26-Nov. 23 and is a partnership with IM Education and the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics, and partially funded by the La Crosse Community Foundation.

The classes are free and open to the public, though a limited amount of seats are available for each class. All of the classes will be held virtually.

“The aim is to create a shared understanding of government topics to promote better and more constructive political conversations,” said Sam Scinta in a statement. Scinta is the president of IM Education and an area political lecturer who will lead the class.

Sam Scinta

Scinta 

“It’s often said that people should avoid talking about politics in mixed company, but in our country, it’s important for us as citizens to have these conversations,” Scinta said. “For it to be productive, though, we need to do it in a civil manner using critical thinking skills and empathy.”

The eight-course series will begin next week, and will run almost every Tuesday from 6:30-8 p.m. through November. The courses will cover a range of topics, from the role of the president, the media, interest groups and free speech, as well as a series of open civics conversation where participants will be able to discuss a topic they’re interested in.

The course description for Nov. 16 focuses on interest groups and involvement in political issues. Its description reads, “Interest groups, which range form political organizations to unions to nonprofits, are essential to our system of government, and are often a principal way that citizens get involved in political issues. And yet, their importance is not apparent to many Americans. In this session, we will explore the nature and role of interest groups in society, along with the tools they use to influence politics.”

'Rebuilding American Civics' course

Sam Scinta of IM Education and Rick Kyte of Viterbo University collaborate to bring Rebuilding American Civics classes to the community.

The class will also discuss the book “Our Declaration” by Danielle Allen at its Oct. 19 course, Viterbo University’s campus read this fall. The discussion will “explore the continued relevance of the Declaration of Independence to our contemporary world.” The book is not required for the course, but recommended.

Jamie Schloegel

Jamie Schloegel

The Community Foundation has donated a $2,500 grant to help partially fund the program, and leaders of the group said it fits in with the mission of the nonprofit.

“The objectives of ‘Rebuilding American Civics’ are entirely consistent with the work of the La Crosse Community Foundation,” Jamie Schloegel, executive director for the Foundation, said in a statement.

Schloegel highlighted the increasing divide amongst Americans, referencing a Pew Research study that shows that political party collisions in opinions are occuring on a wide range of topics. She also pointed to findings that education in civics can help “bridge that gap” by “giving them a chance to understand governmental processes, think critically and learn to have better conversations.”

“One of our guiding philosophies is that diverse voices, engagement and participation are essential to building and sustaining thriving communities,” Schloegel said. “These civics classes are designed to strengthen our community in every one of these aspects. For people who participate, the classes can be transformative.”

Each of the eight courses will be limited to 35 people, and registration is required. Those interested can choose which class they are interested in, and can find more information or register by contacting Kelli Jerve at kelli@inspiredmindsedu.org or Jill Miller at jmmiller@viterbo.edu.

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