Director’s Report October 2013

Date: 
October 1, 2013 (All day)

Dear friends: 

The Center on Congress continues its efforts to teach Americans about Congress’ vital role in our democracy, and to spur young people and adults to understand their obligations as citizens. Below are highlights provided by Center staff of how we are working with a variety of groups and using an array of tools to improve civic education and encourage citizen participation.

With warm regards,

Lee Hamilton

Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University

• The Center takes pride in being an innovator in using technology to make civics interesting and relevant to young people. Our newest online resources, two apps for tablet computers, both earned “New and Noteworthy” billing in the iTunes store when they debuted.

The first app, “Civic Quotes,” uses notable quotations from a variety of U.S. political leaders, as well as primary-source images, to teach about representative democracy, the role and impact of government, the democratic process and compromise, and citizen participation. See http://www.tpscongress.org/civic-quotes/. 

The second app, “Congressional Moments,” offers an interactive tour of landmark congressional accomplishments in six areas — child labor laws, civil rights legislation, women’s suffrage, the Marshall Plan, the National Park Service, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. See http://www.tpscongress.org/congressional-moments/

Development of both apps was funded through the Center’s partnership with the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program. Interest in both has been high — “Civic Quotes” averages more than 1,000 downloads a month, and “Congressional Moments” nearly 2,000. Though developed primarily for the classroom, the apps also are of interest to the general public.

• September brought further proof of the growing popularity of the Center’s resources: Visits to our website, www.centeroncongress.org, topped 36,000, an all-time monthly record. Third quarter 2013 website traffic was 58 percent higher than the same period in 2012. We are also raising our profile in social media, posting regularly on Facebook about Center resources and programs, and inviting comments about Congress, civic education, and the citizen’s role in representative democracy. “Like” us on Facebook at “Center on Congress at Indiana University.”

• A priority for the Center is improving civic education by providing professional development opportunities for social studies educators. To that end, the Center hosted two summer teacher-training institutes, one in Bloomington and the other in Indianapolis. The institutes, conducted under the auspices of the Center’s TPS program (again in partnership with the Library of Congress), were built around the theme “Representative Democracy: Using Primary Sources to Investigate the Role of the Individual in the U.S. Government.” The Center is rolling out fall institutes in Bloomington, Indianapolis, South Bend and Fort Wayne, and also will broaden its professional development for educators through online webinars.

• 2013 marks the 15th year of Center Director Lee Hamilton writing his “Comments on Congress” columns, which are published by newspapers across the country. Drawing on his long career in public service, including 34 years in the U.S. House, Hamilton writes twice a month about the legislative branch and what individuals can do to make our representative democracy work better. His columns are distributed free to newspapers by IU Communications, as part of the Center’s educational mission.

The complete collection of Hamilton’s columns are at http://www.centeroncongress.org/center-blog. Here are excerpts from the most recent three:

“We are on the road to a government that cannot plan, a country shackled by perpetual uncertainty, and a loss of faith in our institutions. We need legislators who realize and respect that those on the other side feel just as passionately, and who are committed to finding common ground.” — “It’s Time For An Intervention,” Oct. 9.

“Congress has some challenging work ahead. It needs to restore the proper balance between effective intelligence-gathering and intrusion into Americans’ privacy.” — “What Congress Needs to Do About the NSA,” Sept. 25.

“As I speak to people about the Congress, one question arises more than any other: Why is Congress gridlocked? People are perplexed and disappointed with its performance, and are searching hard for an answer.” — “In Washington, Ideology Need Not Reign Supreme,” Aug. 28.

• Noted Washington Post columnist and author David Ignatius will speak at IU-Bloomington on Nov. 18, and while on campus he will receive the Lee H. Hamilton Public Service Fellowship. The fellowship program brings to Bloomington a person of civic prominence to present a public lecture, talk to classes, and meet informally with students, faculty, and the broader community. Ignatius’ visit is co-sponsored by the Center on Congress, the IU Institute for Advanced Study, and the IU School of Journalism. He is the third Hamilton Fellow, following broadcast journalist and author Jim Lehrer, and David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.

• In September, the Center co-hosted its latest Capitol Hill Issues Briefing, part of a series of free seminars that help Washington reporters bring more depth and perspective to their coverage of congressional action on timely subjects. The September program, “Following Federal Dollars,” featured experts explaining how to track the flow of money from Washington as it is disbursed to state and local governments, businesses and institutions across the country. The Center’s partners in the seminar series are the National Press Foundation, POLITICO, and the Regional Reporters Association.

• In September, the Center participated in the second planning meeting of the Civics Renewal Network (CRN). Brought together by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the organizations in the CRN aim to harness their combined expertise to promote educational resources about the three branches of government. The CRN plans to launch a website, with links to content on CRN members' sites, on May 25, 2014 — the anniversary of the start of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.

• In November, the Center will be in the field with a survey examining the relationship between citizens and Congress — how people learn about, interact with, and evaluate the institution and its members. Since its founding in 1999, the Center has regularly conducted public opinion polls to gauge if Americans feel Congress is relevant to their lives and is living up to the framers’ expectation that it should be the responsive “people’s branch” of the federal government.