Winter 2004 Newsletter
From the Director...
Dear Fellow Citizens:
The Center on Congress has an ambitious mission: to help Americans understand the important role that Congress plays in their lives, and to engage citizens in the revitalization of representative government in our nation. The healthy functioning of democracy relies on an informed electorate that participates fully in our civic life.
Since the Center was launched in 1999, it has worked hard to give Americans a balanced, realistic view of Congress, one that acknowledges its flaws but recognizes its central role in our system of government. We have reached many Americans, young and old, but much more needs to be done. The 2004 election underscored the challenges we face in building consensus to solve problems in our large and diverse nation. More than ever in politics and government we need rational discourse, respect for one another, fair dealing, and tolerance of different views. Congress should lead the way in exhibiting these good habits, and in bringing Americans together to advance our shared ideals.
Marking its fifth anniversary in 2004, the Center continues to expand its education and outreach efforts. Our wide–ranging activities include: interactive, web–based e–learning modules for students; newspaper columns, books and youth–oriented magazines; television programming, radio commentaries, and public service advertising; awards to outstanding civics teachers; conferences bringing together civic education activists; and survey research to determine citizens' understanding of, and attitudes toward, Congress.
At the core of all the Center's programs and projects is an emphasis on the importance of civility, bipartisanship, good process, and the centrality of checks and balances in the American constitutional system.
We invite you to participate in the Center's work to improve the public's understanding of Congress, strengthen civic engagement, and teach the skills that are essential to the continued success of our great experiment in representative government: learning, listening, reasoning together, and finding consensus.
With warm regards,
Lee H. Hamilton, Director
Civic engagement: The Center on Congress Director Lee Hamilton was the leadoff speaker at the Second Annual Congressional Conference on Civic Education, which opened December 4 in Washington. More than 350 delegates participated in the three–day conference, which brought together key education policy activists from all 50 states, members of the judiciary and state legislators, and representatives of professional and civic organizations to share strategies for strengthening civic education at the state and local levels.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the conference is a project of the Alliance for Representative Democracy, a joint venture of The Center on Congress, the Center for Civic Education, and The National Conference of State Legislatures.
At the inaugural Congressional Conference in 2003, the Alliance initiated a five–year effort to address concerns about civic knowledge and engagement among young people, as well as the decline in the teaching of civics in American classrooms. Since last year's conference, every state has some type of campaign underway. While the efforts differ by state, they focus on making civic education a core subject in schools, on establishing standards and curricular requirements, and on improving teacher education and professional development.
Hamilton's speech was on Civic Engagement and the Common Good. It emphasized the need for strengthening the dialogue of democracy and giving greater attention to the common good.
“We're working to try to make sure that there is a national commitment to give young people a quality civics education one that teaches them the skills necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy,” Hamilton said in a Dec. 1 article previewing the conference in The Hill newspaper.
For more information on the conference, see www.representativedemocracy.org
Interactive Learning Modules: New interactive simulations and activities continue to be added to the Center's website, as part of our aggressive effort to use e–learning tools to explain Congress to students in a lively, dynamic way.
There are now nine e–learning modules on the website, with a tenth coming soon, titled The Many Roles of a Member of Congress. It takes students through a typically hectic day in the life of a congressman, showing the remarkable range of a member's work in Washington and at home, from helping a constituent get her Social Security check to working to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
Some of the other e–learning modules on the website include Public Criticisms of Congress, How a Member Decides to Vote, and Getting Involved. To test–drive these and other titles, go into the Learn About Congress section on the Center's website and click on E–learning modules.
The Center's website has a wealth of other information about Congress and government for students and teachers, including extensive Congress Q & A and Congressional Glossary sections and an inventory of books and online resources about Congress.
Radio and TV
Public Service Announcements: In a new television and radio outreach initiative, the Center has developed a series of public service announcements that will be distributed to television and radio stations across the country through the National Association of Broadcasters. The spots feature Center Director Lee Hamilton and former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean and deliver a message that it's your government; get involved. Hamilton and Kean were vice–chairman and chairman, respectively, of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The idea for the PSA's, Hamilton said, sprung from a desire to encourage people to become more civically engaged in everything from helping at the polls on election day to working to solve a local community problem because people who are engaged are less cynical and distrustful of government and more likely to become the active citizens our system of government needs.
Radio is an important facet of the Center's outreach effort. Hamilton tapes monthly radio commentaries on Congress that are distributed to stations nationally and internationally through the cooperation of the Woodrow Wilson Center . And in conjunction with Indiana University Radio, the Center on Congress has developed a series of two–minute spots that each explore a specific way in which the work of Congress has made a difference in people's lives from food safety and health research to the interstate highway system.
To hear those spots, go into the Learn About Congress section on the Center's website and click on Congressional Moment Radio Series.
Television Outreach : The Center's educational work via television continues next year with a February program on The Media and Congress, produced in conjunction with the Close Up Foundation and C–SPAN television.
With these partners, the Center has sponsored and produced a number of one–hour programs featuring members of Congress, state legislators and representatives from the academic community in Q&A sessions with selected high school and college students. Taped either in Washington or on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, the programs are shown on C–SPAN, and are also edited to shorter versions that can be used in classrooms. For more information, go into the Learn About Congress section on the Center's website and click on Close Up Television Programs.
Also, the Center developed a series of 45–second Facts of Congress spots for use between longer public television programming for middle–school students. Each spot explains a basic concept, such as representation, compromise or filibuster, in a quick–paced, visually interesting way. To see the spots, go into the Learn About Congress section on the Center's website and click on Facts of Congress Television Segments.
Citizen's Guide to Congress: To give citizens the basic information they need to know about Congress, the Center has just published Understanding Congress: A Citizen's Guide, a 24–page color booklet that explains the concept of representative democracy, how Congress functions, how members of Congress work, and how Americans can participate in civic life.
The booklet initially will be made available to the Washington offices of House and Senate members, for distribution to constituents visiting the capital, with broader circulation to follow.
The Understanding Congress booklet is a complement to the book by Center Director Lee Hamilton published by Indiana University Press in the spring of 2004, How Congress Works and Why You Should Care. Aimed at the general reader, the book explains in non–technical terms how Congress works, how it impacts people's lives, and why citizen engagement is important.
Hamilton also produces monthly op–ed columns on Congress that are published in the Indianapolis Star and other newspapers, and are distributed widely by e–mail. Hamilton 's November column, Why Political Virtue Matters in the Voting Booth, was published just before Election Day by the Christian Science Monitor.
Student Magazine : Aiming to spur students' interest in our democratic system of government, the Center, in conjunction with the editors of TIME Classroom and the National Conference of State Legislatures, has published Your Ideas Count, an eight–page magazine that highlights the many ways young people can take an active role in American politics.
850,000 copies of the magazine were sent in September to 17,000 high school civics teachers across the country for distribution and discussion in their classes. Accompanying the magazine is a teacher's guide that includes a survey to gauge students' attitudes about whether politicians are trustworthy and our system of representative democracy is responsive.
We hope that Your Ideas Count will generate lively debate among students in the classroom, and that they will carry their ideas and opinions home with them, stimulating interest in politics among adults, said Center Director Lee Hamilton .
Your Ideas Count for high schoolers is the third in a series of such magazines oriented toward young people. Earlier, the Center and the National Conference of State Legislatures teamed with TIME to produce a TIME for Kids magazine for 2nd and 3rd graders, and another for middle schoolers, explaining how government works and why citizen input is important. To download each of the magazines, go into the Learn About Congress section on the Center's website and click on TIME for Kids Mini Magazines.
About the Center
The Center on Congress is a non–partisan, educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public's understanding of Congress and to encourage civic engagement. The Center offers an extensive array of programs, projects and resources that foster an informed electorate which understands our system of government and participates in civic life. These include: print publications; Web–based, interactive modules and other online learning tools in English and Spanish; commentaries for newspapers, radio stations, podcasts and a Weblog; video and television in the classroom resources; survey research; teacher awards; and seminars, conferences, and a lecture series.
The Center on Congress
1315 E. 10th St.,Suite 320
Bloomington, IN 47405
Phone: (812) 856-4706 Fax: (812) 856-4703