Winter 2007 Newsletter

 

 

From the Director...

Dear Fellow Citizens:

The future of our nation depends on citizens like you and me instilling in young Americans an understanding of our political heritage, and equipping them to think critically and participate constructively in local, state and federal affairs. Each new generation of Americans must learn that the freedoms we enjoy carry with them certain obligations — to be informed about issues, to listen to opposing views, and to work in a civil manner to resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in a nation as large and diverse as ours.

At the Center on Congress, we are waging an aggressive campaign to make young people and adults more aware of Congress' vital role in sustaining the health of our democracy. This edition of the Center's newsletter provides highlights of our work to teach all Americans about their obligations as citizens, and their opportunities to help the national legislature be the responsive "people's branch" that the framers intended.

I invite you to examine our resources and join in our effort to promote an active citizenry that more effectively communicates its concerns and needs to Congress.

With warm regards,
Lee H. Hamilton, Director

 

CONTENTS

Curtain Goes Up on “Teaching with Primary Sources” Web Site

January 17 Seminar for Media Demystifies Federal Budget Process

Entries Due March 7 for American Civic Education Teacher Awards

Teachers Nationwide Embrace Center's Instructional Resources

Center Supports Indiana Summit on Civic Engagement

Scholars Discuss Findings from Center's Survey on Congress

News Notes

 

Curtain Goes Up on “Teaching with Primary Sources” Web Site

The Center on Congress formally launched its new Web site for educators, “Teaching with Primary Sources,” at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, held Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 in San Diego. Go to www.tpscongress.org to tour the premiere edition of this valuable resource.

The TPS project, funded through the Library of Congress, aims to engage students in learning about Congress, representative democracy, and citizen participation through the use of the Library's vast storehouse of online digital primary source material.

The project is part of a nationwide Teaching with Primary Sources program that works with colleges and other educational organizations to deliver professional development programs that help teachers design challenging, high–quality online instruction that incorporates the Library's rich reservoir of materials.

The Center, a leader in the field of online civic education, devoted more than a year to developing the TPS Web site, field–testing it extensively with middle and high school teachers around the country. The highly positive responses from field testing led to refinements in the site's content and teaching tools, as well as a streamlined design and user interface that helps make civics and history “come alive” in the classroom.

The TPS site will continue to expand and improve, with new e–learning modules expected to come online in the year ahead. Project staff is offering onsite orientation to the TPS site to school districts in Indiana and around the country. If you would like more information about this opportunity, please e–mail the Center at congress@indiana.edu, or call (812) 856-4706.

 

January 17 Seminar for Media Demystifies Federal Budget Process

One of the Center's top educational priorities is helping the public understand the federal budget's impact on every American, and to that end the Center on January 17 is co–hosting its annual "How to Cover the Federal Budget Process" seminar for reporters in Washington, D.C.

The Center is partnering again with the National Press Foundation and the Regional Reporters Association to host the half–day seminar, which brings together prominent experts to explain the complicated budget process to journalists. Speakers will offer reporters tools and approaches to sort out the budget documents and to find stories that help citizens see how spending and taxing decisions in Washington affect local communities.

The seminar is Thursday, Jan. 17, from 8:45am to 12:45pm at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, in Washington. There is no cost to attend, but reservations are required; a working buffet lunch is included. The seminar is open to print, broadcast, online or active freelance journalists. To reserve a seat, e–mail programs@nationalpress.org or call (202) 663-7285. Provide your name, affiliation, address, telephone and email.

 

Entries Due March 7 for American Civic Education Teacher Awards

March 7 is the application deadline for teachers who wish to be considered for the 2008 American Civic Education Teacher Awards (ACETA).

The Awards are given annually to elementary and secondary teachers of civics, government and related fields who have demonstrated special expertise and dynamism in motivating students to learn about Congress, the Constitution, and public policy.

The ACETA program is jointly sponsored by the Center on Congress, the Center for Civic Education, and the National Education Association.

Each year the ACETA program selects and showcases three teachers who are doing exemplary work in preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens. Applicants must be full–time classroom teachers of grades K–12.

Applications for the 2008 Awards must be postmarked by Friday, March 7. There is no fee to apply. In addition to a two–page “self–portrait” essay, applicants must submit three letters of recommendation — two from teaching peers and one from their school principal. The application form is at www.centeroncongress.org.

The ACETA winners will be announced in early April. In July the awardees will participate in a three–day educational program in the nation's capital. They will attend floor sessions and committee hearings in Congress, meet members of Congress and other key officials, and visit sites such as the National Archives and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Office of the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Historical Office of the U.S. Senate will also participate in the educational program. Awardees' travel and lodging expenses are provided by the sponsoring organizations.

 

Teachers Nationwide Embrace Center's Instructional Resources

Demand is brisk and user reviews are positive for an array of print materials and electronic resources that the Center on Congress offers to teachers looking for new ways to present information about Congress and civics that is interesting and relevant.

The Center knows that busy social studies teachers have need for high–quality, standards–based supplementary resources that are easy to integrate into the curriculum. On the Center's Web site, www.centeroncongress.org, teachers, students and citizens can find a wealth of resources for learning about the operations and significance of Congress, including classroom materials and lesson plans that are aligned to state civics and government standards.

Judging from the volume of teacher requests we receive, here are some of the Center's more popular offerings:

  • TIME for Kids: series of colorful, information–packed mini–magazines — for 2nd and 3rd graders up to high schoolers — that explain how government works and why citizen input is important.
  • Understanding Congress: A Citizen's Guide: concise, readable “Congress 101” booklet explains the concept of representative democracy, how Congress functions, its impact on people's lives, and the importance of citizen participation.
  • Making Your Voice Heard: How To Work With Congress: booklet gives practical advice to help citizens get off the sidelines and constructively express opinions to their elected representatives.
  • Facts of Congress: animated, one–minute videos explain to middle school students some key concepts about Congress and representative government in an entertaining way. The Center offers a DVD with 30 Facts of Congress videos, covering five main areas: History of Congress, Definitions, How Things Work, Impact of Congress, and Civic Participation.
  • Congressional Moments: more than 30 two–minute recordings that explore a specific way in which the work of Congress has made a difference in people's lives.

You can preview all the resources mentioned above by going to www.centeroncongress.org. Also there is a link to the lively Democracy Kids Web site (www.democracykids.org), which includes crossword puzzles, quizzes, games, surveys, videos, and examples of young people who got involved and made a difference.

If you want to learn more about how to use these instructionally sound resources in your classroom, please e–mail the Center at congress@indiana.edu, or call (812) 856-4706.

 

Center Supports Indiana Summit on Civic Engagement

The Center on Congress actively supported the Indiana Summit on Civic Engagement, an initiative of the Indiana Bar Foundation that drew more than 175 people to Indianapolis on Sept. 11 to promote efforts aimed at helping Hoosiers understand and fulfill their civic responsibilities.

Center Director Lee Hamilton was one of four honorary co–chairs of the Summit, joining Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Senators Richard Lugar and Birch Bayh.

To call advance attention to the Summit and its goal of restoring the civic mission of schools, Hamilton paired with former Rep. William F. Goodling (R–Pa.) in writing two op–ed columns distributed to newspapers statewide. Goodling served in Congress from 1975 to 2001 and was Chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce; he is now a member of the Center on Congress' Board of Advisors.

In their first column, titled “Sounding the Call for Civic Education,” Hamilton and Goodling wrote that students at an early age — certainly by middle school — “should be learning and practicing the skills democracy requires of its citizens: how to identify useful historical and contemporary data in an era of information overload and develop a logical, factual argument; how to deliver that argument persuasively in writing, and in a speech or debate; how to listen to opposing views, acknowledge the concerns of others, and negotiate toward consensus.”

In their second column, “The Health of Our Democracy and Our Economy Go Hand in Hand,” Hamilton and Goodling wrote that “Good citizens make better workers.... [B]usinesses value workers who can analyze a complicated problem, evaluate conflicting information...articulate an evidence–based opinion...[and] collaborate with others on group projects....Participating, analyzing, collaborating — all these are skills that effective civic education can help students acquire.”

The Sept. 11 Summit opened with a 20–minute videotaped address from Hamilton, titled “What We Owe Our Young People,” which included a call to teach each new generation “the responsibilities of citizenship: staying informed, volunteering, speaking out, asking questions, writing letters, signing petitions, joining organizations, building consensus, working in ways small and large to improve our neighborhoods and communities and to enrich the quality of life for all citizens.”

 

Scholars Discuss Findings From Center's Survey on Congress

Center of Congress Research Director Edward G. Carmines was among the eminent congressional scholars who gathered at the University of Illinois in October to discuss their perspectives on the 2006 congressional elections. Carmines oversees the Center's Survey on Congress, which in 2006 polled 1200 adults nationwide to gauge their knowledge of Congress, their attitudes about its performance, and the factors influencing their voting behavior.

Political scientists from the University of California at Davis, the University of California at San Diego, Ohio State University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Nebraska participated in the Survey with Carmines and his Indiana University research assistants, and were present at the October conference. Center Director Lee Hamilton also spoke to the conference via videotape.

Carmines is also working on a book, “Congress and the Public Mind,” that draws on findings from the Survey to examine and better understand the public's opinions about Congress. The book is under contract with Cambridge University Press; Carmines' co-authors are two Indiana University political science PhD's: Jessica Gerrity, an assistant professor at Washington College, and Michael Wagner, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

 

News Notes

  • Center Director Lee Hamilton is among “America's Best Leaders 2007,” according to the U.S. News & World Report. In its Nov. 12 edition, the magazine featured Hamilton among 18 individuals “who motivate people to work together to accomplish great things.” He was recognized in tandem with James A. Baker III; the two men co–chaired the Iraq Study Group. Baker told U.S. News that in the group's work, Hamilton was “a careful listener. He was always a person who would try to bridge the gap. He understood the political restraints the other side had with connection to any negotiation. He is not consumed by ideology, but he would not sacrifice principle for pragmatism.”
  • The November/December edition of Indiana Alumni Magazine carries a feature on Hamilton that details his efforts to promote the “Dialogue of Democracy” at the Center on Congress and in his work on international affairs and homeland security matters — a portfolio that earned him the 2007 Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service.
  • Design work is under way on the Center's Virtual Congress project, supported in part by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) that was announced in August. Virtual Congress, an educational multiplayer online role–play game, will function much like the real Congress, with committees, floor action, amendments, back–and–forth discussions, input from constituents, and random events that can influence the legislative agenda. In Virtual Congress, students from across the country will assume the roles of Members of the House and Senate, lobbyists, journalists, and constituents.
  • There are two newcomers to the Center on Congress' Board of Advisors: Steve Ross, a partner at Akin Gump in Washington, and Rodney Smith, Vice President for Government Affairs with AT&T in Washington. The Board, now with 18 members, provides strategic advice and helps promote awareness of and financial support for the Center's programs and resources.

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 
email: congress@indiana.edu 
www.centeroncongress.org