Fall 2006 Newsletter
From the Director...
Dear Fellow Citizens:
The Center is now in its seventh year of working to teach Americans about Congress' vital role in our democracy, and to spur young people and adults to understand their obligations as citizens and take an active part in the governing of our nation.
This edition of the Center's newsletter provides highlights of how we are working with a variety of groups and using an array of tools to encourage civic education and citizen participation. Our recent efforts include outreach programs and educational resources aimed at teachers, students, journalists, minority groups, scholars and others.
In all our projects and programs at the Center, we give Americans a balanced, realistic view of Congress, acknowledging its imperfections but emphasizing the Founders' vision that Congress should be the branch of government most responsive to the people's needs and aspirations.
I invite you to examine our resources and join in our effort to educate Americans about our institutions of government, especially Congress and the important role that it plays in our lives.
With warm regards,
Lee H. Hamilton, Director
Three Educators Recognized in Washington as Winners Of Inaugural American Civic Education Teacher Awards
Teachers from Indiana, Kentucky and Maryland were honored Nov. 19 in Washington, D.C. as the recipients of the inaugural American Civic Education Teacher Awards, recognizing their exemplary work preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens.
Selected in a nationwide search, the ACETA winners are Christopher Cavanaugh of Plainfield High School in Plainfield, Ind.; Galelyn McElroy of Central High School Magnet Career Academy in Louisville, Ky.; and Donna Paoletti Phillips of Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville, Md.
The awards will be given annually to elementary and secondary teachers of civics, government and related subjects who have demonstrated special expertise in motivating students to learn about the Constitution, Congress and public policy. ACETA is sponsored by the Center on Congress, the National Education Association, and the Center for Civic Education.
The three teachers received their awards during the fourth annual Congressional Conference on Civic Education, held Nov. 18-20 in Washington. The conference brings together more than 350 lawmakers, educators and other officials from all 50 states to address the need for increased civic education in schools throughout the country.
"These three award-winning teachers are at the 'head of the class' in the field of civic education, which is essential to the preservation and improvement of representative democracy," said Center on Congress Director Lee Hamilton. "In recognizing them, we also call public attention to the fact that many teachers across the nation are doing an excellent job molding the civic character of young people and training them to assume the obligations of citizenship."
Each year the ACETA program will select and showcase three teachers whose students represent the diversity of the American public and private school systems. Applicants must be full-time classroom teachers of grades K-12. There is no fee to apply. Applications and materials for the 2007 awards will be available online in January.
Awardees receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington in September to observe the federal government in action. They attend floor and committee sessions of the House and Senate, meet with their congressional representatives and other government officials, and visit sites such as the National Archives and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Students of Cavanaugh got a "bonus" as a result of their teacher winning the ACETA honor: While traveling through Indianapolis on Oct. 26, Lee Hamilton stopped in at Plainfield High School and spoke to Cavanaugh's government students.
To help members of the Hispanic community become more fully engaged participants in America's civic culture, the Center on Congress has launched a Spanish-language version of its Web site, providing a unique source of information for Spanish speakers on the history, responsibilities and importance of Congress.
The site — accessible via the Español link on www.centeroncongress.org — was developed with a grant from the AT&T Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AT&T Inc. The grant is part of the company's commitment to help bring education and training opportunities to members of the Hispanic community.
"We are grateful for AT&T's help in the Center's campaign to reach out to and serve our diverse country," said Center Director Lee Hamilton. "When people are informed about the role of democratic institutions such as Congress, they are much more likely to vote in elections and to communicate about politics with their representatives and their friends. The growing Hispanic community plays a vital role in our country, and it is important for the Center to communicate with this audience."
Available on the Spanish-language site are the Center's full array of tools that make learning about Congress and civics an intellectual adventure, including the widely acclaimed Módulos de aprendizaje interactivo — interactive learning simulations that focus on the operations and significance of Congress and citizens' responsibility to be informed and engaged. The simulations include "El proceso legislativo dinámico" ("The Dynamic Legislative Process"), "El impacto del Congreso" ("The Impact of Congress"), and "La importancia de la participación cívica" ("The Importance of Civic Participation").
Also on the new site are: — Comentarios del Congreso — text and audio versions of Hamilton's commentaries about Congress and what individuals can do to make our representative democracy work better; — El Momento del Congreso (Congressional Moment) radio segments — more than two dozen two-minute recordings that explore a specific way in which the work of Congress has made a difference in people's lives; — Hechos del Congreso (Facts of Congress) — more than 20 videos that explain basic concepts and terms of representative government; — lesson plans for teachers; glossary and Q & A sections and other reference materials; and the latest news about all the Center's programs, projects, publications and events.
In the wake of the November election that flipped party control in the House and Senate, politicians and pundits have poured forth with opinions about what caused the shakeup. Soon a leading expert on public opinion, Edward G. Carmines, Director of Research at the Center on Congress, will weigh in with authoritative information on what the public was really thinking prior to the November election, and also in its aftermath.
Indiana University Professor Carmines is leading a team of researchers from IU and several other institutions who are sampling opinion nationwide, focusing on the public's knowledge and evaluation of Congress as well as citizen involvement in this year's election.
Colleagues of Carmines from the University of California at Davis, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Illinois, the University of Nebraska and the Ohio State University partnered with the Center on Congress to support and carry out the study. During phase one of the survey, pollsters worked the phones intently in the weeks leading up to Nov. 7, striving to conduct 1,250 in-depth interviews before Election Day.
The pollsters were gauging opinion on a range of topics, aiming to learn how citizens obtain their information on candidates and issues, and how they feel about various candidates, issues, and Congress itself. One sample query: "Members of Congress do a good job representing the interests of ALL Americans, rich or poor, white or black, male or female. Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with that statement?"
After the election, researchers began calling back respondents to the initial survey to ask a new battery of questions about their opinions and experiences. Carmines expects to present findings from the pre-election phase of the survey in early 2007; findings from the post-election polling are expected several weeks later.
"Data from the surveys will help the Center understand how to foster a closer relationship between citizens and their representatives, making representative democracy work better," said Carmines.
Groups of teachers in Arkansas, Virginia and Colorado are among those taking a close look at the new, Web-based civics-and-history education resource developed by the Center on Congress in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
The Center and the Library are partnering to promote classroom use of the Library's vast resources available on the Internet. Center staffers are busily taking in feedback from field-test sites around the country, working toward the goal of making a refined, full-featured product available to teachers nationwide in early 2007, with additional components to be added in the future.
Through its "American Memory" program, the Library has put online some 10 million items on American history and culture. The eclectic trove includes resources such as records of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, selections from the papers of congressional giants such as Calhoun and Webster, political cartoons and much more on Congress, politics and law. (See http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/)
To help teachers use these historical resources in the classroom, the Library has developed the Teaching with Primary Sources project, which involves more than two dozen institutions across the country. The Center has brought its online civic education expertise into the Teaching with Primary Sources effort; we are blending information on how Congress works with specific Library resources to create a visually appealing, interactive resource that will help teachers make civics and history "come alive" for their students.
"This is a great opportunity to use the Library's rich and varied storehouse of information with our Center's own e-learning content to create a unique resource that teachers can use to engage students in civics," said Center Director Lee Hamilton.
To encourage citizens to share their concerns with their elected representatives in Washington, the Center is offering a new booklet, Making Your Voice Heard: How to Work with Congress.
Developed in partnership with the Center on Civic Education, the booklet gives advice that helps citizens get off the sidelines and constructively express opinions to federal officeholders.
"Certainly not every problem needs a government solution," said Center Director Lee Hamilton. "Yet sometimes a problem arises that an individual or even a community cannot tackle alone. This booklet explains how citizens can turn to Congress and make their voice heard."
The 24-page booklet offers practical tips on how to communicate with Congress, with features such as "Ten Ways to Contact Your Member of Congress" and "Making Your Case Effectively: Some Do's and Don'ts." It discusses how citizens can amplify their voice by connecting with interest groups and political parties, and by using new tools of "cyber-democracy" available on the Internet. Sprinkled through the booklet are vignettes on "People Who Made a Difference" — average citizens who got involved in the political process and ended up making a big impact on government policy.
If you are an educator who would like to distribute and discuss Making Your Voice Heardin your classroom, or if you are affiliated with a civic organization interested in sharing the booklet with the group's members, contact the Center on Congress. The booklet is available free in limited quantities; for bulk orders, there is a modest "at cost" charge to cover printing and delivery.
Richardson Award: The Council for Excellence in Government presented its 2006 Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence in Public Service to Center Director Lee Hamilton and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean. Kean and Hamilton were Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).
The Richardson Prize was established in 2000 to recognize extraordinary, sustained accomplishment and integrity in government service. The Prize carries with it a $25,000 award, which Hamilton donated to the Center on Congress. The Council for Excellence in Government is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to improve the performance of government at all levels, and to increase citizen participation, understanding and trust in government.
New Center Brochure: The Center has just issued a new brochure giving an overview of its extensive array of programs, projects and resources that foster an informed electorate which understands our system of government and participates in civic life.
The 20-page brochure summarizes the Center's efforts to improve the public's understanding of Congress and promote citizen engagement. These include: print publications; Web-based, interactive modules and other online learning tools; commentaries for newspapers, radio stations, podcasts and a Weblog; video and television in the classroom resources; survey research; and lecture series, conferences and awards.
The Center's new brochure can be downloaded fromhttp://www.centeroncongress.org/pdf/center_brochure.pdf
Grateful for Support: The Center expresses its appreciation to the Ogle Foundation and the Harman Family Foundation for their generous support of our educational mission.