Fall 2011 Newsletter


“Impact of Congress” Videos Show Legislators’ Influence on Society

A core mission of the Center is to make Americans more aware of how the work of Congress affects us all. With that goal in mind, the Center is rolling out a new educational resource, “The Impact of Congress,” a series of web-based videos examining key legislation in our nation’s history that impacts our lives today.

The first six videos in the series are on the Teaching With Primary Resources web site, (http://www.tpscongress.org/teachers/activities.php?id=2), a joint effort of the Center and the Library of Congress. The videos, each about two minutes long, incorporate images of historical documents and photos from the Library’s vast collection. The videos are ideal for use in classrooms as discussion-starters, to help students understand that Congress is not detached from Americans’ everyday concerns, but rather is an integral part of how we live and work.

A brief synopsis of each video:

• “Child Labor” — Hear stories of children working in dangerous jobs in the early 1900s and understand how the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 provided basic protections to all U.S. workers.

• “Civil Rights” — Gain insight into the civil rights movement of the early 1960s and explore the historical events and leadership that led up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

• “Marshall Plan” — Examine the legislation that lifted Europe from the devastation of World War II and helped to create the post-war economic prosperity that followed.

• “Morrill Act” — Learn how the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 made higher education available to millions of Americans.

• “The SEC” — Find out how the Securities and Exchange Commission, created through three major acts of Congress in 1934, provided an oversight structure that helped make America's stock markets safer.

• “Head Start” — Explore the impetus for and scope of the Head Start program, one of ten federal programs established by Congress in The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

New “Civic Quotes” Application for Tablet Computers

Coming soon to the cybersphere is a new Center tool to promote learning about American government and effective citizenship — a “Civic Quotes” application for tablet computers. The app presents 64 notable quotations — from former members of Congress and other political leaders — on the topics of representative democracy; the role and impact of government; the democratic process and compromise; and citizen participation.

The app is a product of the Center’s Teaching With Primary Sources project, funded by the Library of Congress. The visuals accompanying the quotations include some that are drawn from the Library’s archive of historical images. Also appearing with each quotation is a quiz question that relates to the topic of the quote. These questions are taken from the 2006 and 2010 national civics assessment tests (NAEP); users of the app can see how they do on each question compared to the 8th and 12th graders who took the NAEP test.

Lesson plans will be available to help teachers use the “Civic Quotes” app in classrooms. For an “in development” preview of the app for the iPad, go to http://ahdev.dvinci.com/coc_civic_quotes/

First-Ever Indiana Civic Health Index Spurs Hoosiers to Action

The Center is playing a leading role in a coalition of Hoosier organizations seeking to bring new vitality to Indiana’s civic culture. The coalition released the first-ever Indiana Civic Health Index Report at an event in Indianapolis Sept. 14. The unveiling generated considerable media attention and is spurring interest around the state to take steps to improve civic education and promote active citizenship. 

The Center’s partners in the Civic Health project are the Indiana Bar Foundation, the Indiana Supreme Court, the Hoosier State Press Association and Indiana University Northwest, working in coordination with the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonpartisan, congressionally chartered organization that tracks and promotes civic and political participation, supports history and civics education, and encourages community and national service.

At the invitation of IU Northwest Chancellor William J. Lowe, Center Director Lee Hamilton and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard visited Gary Oct. 27 to talk with students and community leaders about the need to focus more attention and energy on civic health. “We have to show people how to engage in their community,” Hamilton said. “If a citizen is involved in trying to improve something in his or her community, they are not apathetic, they are not indifferent, they feel a part of the community and they want to make it better.”

Coverage of the Hamilton-Shepard visit to IU Northwest is at http://www.iun.edu/~newsnw/press_release/2011/11-15-2011_inchefollowup.shtml. The Indiana Civic Health Index Report is at http://www.inbf.org/Uploads/33/Files/116222011_indiana_chi_report_final.pdf 

Report Highlights Importance of the Civic Mission of Schools

The Center is in the front ranks of the national movement to improve and expand civic education. Center Director Lee Hamilton serves as co-chairman of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which in September released a report calling on education policymakers to devote more attention and resources to ensuring that every student acquires the knowledge and skills to be an informed, engaged citizen.

“Citizenship requires both knowledge about government and the ability to be involved in governance,” Hamilton said in the report. “It means knowing how to identify and inform yourself about issues, explore and evaluate possible solutions, and then act to resolve problems. It demands that you know how to interact respectfully with others. And it asks that you accept responsibility for meeting your community’s and the nation’s challenges."

The full report, “Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools” is at http://civicmissionofschools.org/site/guardianofdemocracy 

Issues Briefing for Washington Reporters Looks at Divided Congress

In its continuing effort to promote good journalism about Congress, the Center Nov. 7 co-hosted another in its series of Capitol Hill Issues Briefings for reporters in Washington, this one titled “Covering a Divided Congress.” 

A panel of experts discussed the interplay between the nation’s deep political divide and policymaking in Washington, focusing on the challenge of writing about issues at a time when lawmakers mostly seem to be throwing political punches across the aisle. The panelists were Sarah Binder, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution; Jonathan Allen, Senior Congressional Reporter for POLITICO; and Matt Bennett, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, Third Way.

To listen to a recording of the 90-minute briefing, go to http://nationalpress.org/programs-and-resources/program/capitol-hill-issues-briefing-a-divided-congress/ 

The Issue Briefings are offered free of charge, to help Washington reporters bring more depth and perspective to their coverage of timely topics in the news. Partnering with the Center in hosting them are the National Press Foundation and POLITICO.

Briefings in 2010 were on financial regulation legislation; Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court; energy and climate legislation in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; the public’s opinion of Congress’ performance and the midterm election; and what to expect in the 112th Congress. This year, in addition to the Nov. 7 session, there were briefings on covering the fiscal 2012 budget process, and on the debt limit dilemma. A briefing on covering the 2013 budget process will be held in January, date forthcoming.

Center’s Online Resources Have a Strong Following

The Center’s signature online educational resource for more than a decade — our e-learning modules (How a Member Decides to Vote, The Many Roles of a Member of Congress, Public Criticisms of Congress, and five more) — continues to be very popular with teachers and students. The modules are a major daily driver to the Center’s web site, which last month attracted more than 26,000 visitors, nearly three-fourths of them new to the site.

Go to http://www.centeroncongress.org/interactive-learning-modules and dive into “E-learning Activities for Students.” It’s an “executive summary” introduction to the eight longer modules, pulling together key sections from them into one easy-to-access menu that covers all the major aspects of Congress and how it works.

Earlier this year we gave a progress report on two of the Center’s new online teaching ventures — Oceana: A Virtual Democracy, and Virtual Congress. For details, see http://www.centeroncongress.org/spring-2011-newsletter. These projects are expected to keep the Center on the leading edge of innovation in developing creative, interactive online tools for getting young people interested in Congress and citizenship. 

News Notes

• Center Director Lee Hamilton’s twice-monthly Comments on Congress op-eds enjoy a loyal following among newspaper editors all across the country. Your reaction to the commentaries is welcome on the Center’s Facebook page (“like” us at Center on Congress at Indiana University); each commentary’s publication is announced there, with an excerpt and link to the full text. To receive the commentaries via e-mail, send a note to congress@indiana.edu. That’s also where reporters can request an interview with Hamilton, who is often asked for his views on the legislative branch. In September, POLITICO published Hamilton’s piece, “How To Fix a Broken Congress.” Read it at http://politi.co/oLVnxY

• As we increase use of social media to reach a broader audience on a tighter budget, look to the Center’s Facebook postings for the latest information on our educational resources and programs. We encourage everyone, especially teachers and students, to follow us on Facebook and post thoughts about Congress, about the citizen’s role in representative democracy, and about the Center’s civic education materials.

• Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in October appointed Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and Center Director Lee Hamilton to co-chair the state’s Bicentennial Commission, a group that will coordinate events to mark Indiana's 200th anniversary as a state in 2016.

About the Center 

The Center on Congress is a non-partisan, educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public's knowledge of Congress and to encourage civic engagement. The Center developed out of Lee Hamilton's recognition during his 34 years in the U.S. House that Americans should be more familiar with Congress’s strengths and weaknesses, its role in our system of government, and its impact on the lives of ordinary people every day.

The Center offers an extensive array of civic education programs, projects and resources to foster an informed electorate that 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; video and television in the classroom resources; seminars for journalists; and survey research.

The Center on Congress is supported in part by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington. 

Newsletter editor: Phil Duncan