Spring 2010 Newsletter

From the Director...

Dear Fellow Citizens:

The Center on Congress works in many ways to promote knowledge of Congress and teach the skills of effective citizenship. This edition of our newsletter highlights four areas of particular focus for us — recognition and professional development for social studies teachers; creating exciting new online teaching tools; helping journalists understand and explain the work of Congress; and learning more about the complicated relationship between citizens and their representatives in Washington.

I hope you will use the Center's resources, participate in our programs, support our efforts to emphasize and improve the teaching of civics, and work with us to foster an informed electorate that understands the central role of Congress in our representative democracy.

With warm regards,
Lee H. Hamilton



Teachers from Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin Receive American Civic Education Teacher Awards

Teachers Are Chosen for Summer Institute To Improve Social Studies Instruction

AT&T Grant Boosts "Oceana: A Virtual Democracy"; "Virtual Congress" Enters Classroom Testing Phase

Training for Journalists Expands with Issue Briefings; Annual Budget Seminar Draws Full House

Surveys Show Congress and the Public Have Plenty of Room for Improvement

Teachers from Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin Receive American Civic Education Teacher Awards

Teachers from Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin are recipients of the 2010 American Civic Education Teacher Awards, recognizing their exemplary work preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens.

The ACETA winners are: Jackie Viana of Hialeah Gardens Middle School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.; Milton Hyams of Incline High School in Incline Village, Nev.; and Tamara Johnson of Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wis.

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

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

The ACETA winners receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in July to participate in an educational program that includes observing floor sessions and committee hearings in Congress, meeting members of Congress and other key officials, and visiting sites such as the National Archives and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three awardees share a passion for explaining the work of government in an engaging way, and helping young people see that what goes on in Washington is relevant to their lives.

In her self-portrait essay, Jackie Viana wrote, "By the time students leave high school, they should be equipped with the tools to become active citizens of their community and country. Living in a democracy is a true blessing. I try to help my students appreciate that, not take it for granted. Nearly all my students are children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves, who came to this country in pursuit of freedom. I want to make young people aware that they have a patriotic duty to understand and sustain our democracy."

Milton Hyams wrote, "My teaching of twelfth grade civics is a journey for students to understand the significance of their role in the fabric of American citizenship and the complex relationship between rights and responsibilities. I view my classroom as a learning community where ideas are shared, respected, and built upon; where knowledge, experience and learning are valued…As a civic educator, I recognize that it is my duty to promote civility of discourse, open-mindedness, the disposition to compromise, and compassion….My goal is that students learn their role as active, thoughtful, informed, empowered citizens, participants in the dialogue of who we are as a people."

Tamara Johnson wrote, "One of the most important factors in a high-functioning democracy is an educated populace. I have dedicated my career to this principle, and it is more like a mission than a job for me….I provide my students with the means to critically think through complex problems and to develop their own political philosophies." She takes pride that students of hers "have gone on to become legislative aides, civil servants, attorneys, officers in the military, candidates for public office…and active and productive citizens of all stripes, who understand the structure of our government, are politically literate and critically think through problems, in small part because of taking my class."

Each year the ACETA program selects and showcases 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. 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. Applications and materials for the 2011 awards will be available online in January.

With the recognition this year of Viana, Hyams and Johnson, the ACETA program has now honored 15 teachers since the awards were first given in 2006. The previous ACETA awardees:


  • Nate Breen — Cheyenne Central High School, Cheyenne, Wyo.
  • Sally Broughton — Monforton Elementary School, Bozeman, Mont.
  • Christopher Cavanaugh — Plainfield High School, Plainfield, Ind.
  • Cheryl Cook-Kallio — Irvington High School, Fremont, Calif.
  • Mary Ellen Daneels — Community High School, West Chicago, Ill.
  • Barbara Simpson Ector — Cleveland Middle School, Cleveland, Tenn.
  • Kevin Fox — Arcadia High School, Arcadia, Calif.
  • Julie Kuhnhein — Highlands High School, Fort Thomas, Ky.
  • Galelyn McElroy — Central High School Magnet Career Academy, Louisville, Ky.
  • Donna Paoletti Phillips — Robert Frost Middle School, Rockville, Md.
  • Sarah Ann Richardson Turpin — Clemson Elementary School, Clemson, S.C.
  • Gregory Walsh — Falls Church High School, Falls Church, Va.


Teachers Are Chosen for Summer Institute To Improve Social Studies Instruction

Twenty-five social studies teachers representing 14 states have been selected to participate in a Summer Institute on the Indiana University Bloomington campus sponsored by the Center on Congress and the IU Center for the Study of History and Memory.

The three-week institute, titled "Social Movements in Modern America: Labor, Civil Rights, and Feminism," will help the teachers understand the pivotal role those movements played in changing U.S. public policy over the last century.

In keeping with IU's efforts to promote excellence in social studies education nationwide, the participants in the institute are from a wide range of states: There are four teachers each from Illinois and Indiana; three are from Massachusetts; two each come from California, Maryland and New York; and the others are from Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

The institute, which will run from July 11-31, is funded by a $165,422 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). For details on the institute, seehttp://www.indiana.edu/~inst2010.

Co-directing the institute are Edward G. Carmines, the Warner O. Chapman Professor and Rudy Professor of political science and research director for the Center on Congress; and John Bodnar, Chancellor's Professor of history and co-director of the Center for the Study of History and Memory at IU Bloomington. Bodnar is also director of IU's Institute of Advanced Study.

The institute will devote one week to each of the social movements, acquainting teachers with the latest scholarship and elements that tie the three movements together. The teachers will attend lectures, participate in classroom discussions, analyze essential primary sources, complete reading assignments, watch documentary films, visit historic sites, and develop curricular materials. Following the institute, participants will be able to continue working on curricular materials via an institute Web site, where they will be able to post lesson plans and share strategies for making their instruction more effective.

The NEH has designated the institute as part of its "We the People" project, a special initiative designed to improve the teaching of American history and culture. The grant for the 2010 Summer Institute at IU Bloomington is one of 184 projects nationwide to be supported by a total of $29 million in NEH grant funding. The NEH is an independent federal agency that supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities.

Joining Professors Carmines and Bodnar in conducting the institute will be three distinguished experts in the topics being examined.

The principal instructor for the labor movement will be Carl Weinberg, Ph.D., editor of the Organization of American Historians Magazine of History , one of the premier publications on the teaching of history on both the secondary and university levels. Weinberg is the author of Labor, Loyalty and Rebellion: Southwestern Illinois Coal Miners and World War I , as well as articles and essays on the role of the labor movement in American history.

Professor Jennifer Maher will be responsible for the section of the institute that focuses on the women's movement. Maher is senior lecturer in the Department of Gender Studies at IU Bloomington, and is the author of numerous articles, essays and reviews that deal with the women's movement, feminism, and contemporary women writers.

Professor Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar will teach the civil rights section of the institute. Ogbar, an IU graduate, is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. His research focuses on black nationalism and radical social protest. He has published Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identify and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap.

Also on the institute faculty, focusing on helping participants integrate the institute's content into their classrooms, will be Purdue University Professor Lynn Nelson, a specialist on the teaching of history and civic education on the secondary level.

Barbara Truesdell is managing the administrative details of the institute. She is assistant director of the Center for the Study of History and Memory, an interdisciplinary research center focusing on the field of memory studies. Founded in 1968 by Professor Oscar O. Winther, the Center's mission is to conduct original research on the myriad ways that people remember, represent, and use the past in public and private life. For more information, go to http://www.indiana.edu/~cshm/.

AT&T Grant Boosts "Oceana: A Virtual Democracy"; "Virtual Congress" Enters Classroom Testing Phase

April brought news of progress on two of the Center on Congress' new online educational ventures — Oceana: A Virtual Democracy, a multiplayer video game that will help young people develop the core skills necessary to be effective citizens in our representative democracy; and Virtual Congress, an online replica of Congress that will allow students to take on the role of lawmakers in realistic 3D locations that are key in the legislative process, including the House and Senate chambers, committee rooms, and congressional offices.

On April 28 in Indianapolis, AT&T Indiana President George S. Fleetwood announced a $250,000 contribution from AT&T to the Center to support development of Oceana. Fleetwood said, "We applaud the great work that the Center on Congress is doing to encourage young people to become better-informed and engaged citizens." Center Director Lee Hamilton was on hand to accept the ceremonial check from Fleetwood.

Oceana is a fictional island nation where students will engage with their peers to identify problems in their homeland, and then work together to find solutions. Whereas the goal of most multiplayer online games is to defeat your opponent, in Oceana the players do not succeed at the expense of others. Rather, they succeed by listening to others' opinions, looking for points of agreement, and reaching compromise.

Also in April, the Center began taking a beta version of its Virtual Congress into classrooms for testing with teachers and students. Virtual Congress leverages the latest virtual world technology familiar to many students today to immerse and engage them as online members of Congress. It will allow students across the country to participate simultaneously from their computers, proposing ideas for legislation, discussing them in-world with other student-members, and trying to find common ground in order to move their proposals along.

Virtual Congress connects with core social studies learning standards, such as understanding diversity and multiple perspectives, the government's role in resolving differences, and our responsibilities as citizens, as well as core civic skills such as being able to articulate reasons for a point of view, critically analyze arguments, and work to develop consensus.

Training for Journalists Expands with Issue Briefings; Annual Budget Seminar Draws Full House

Expanding its efforts to promote good journalism about Congress, the Center has partnered in launching a series of "Capitol Hill Issue Briefings" to help reporters cover timely topics in the news. The first briefing in the series, on the financial regulatory legislation being hotly debated in Congress, was held April 23 in Washington. The next briefing, scheduled for May 21, will be on the Senate's consideration of a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

The Center's partners in the Issue Briefings series are the National Press Foundation and the Washington-based newspaper Politico.

The program on financial regulation included Victoria McGrane, a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires; Kathleen Day of the Center for Responsible Lending; Steve Verdier, Sr. VP/Director of Congressional Relations for the Independent Community Bankers Association; and Martin Kady, the congressional bureau chief for Politico, who served as moderator. Program resources are at http://www.nationalpress.org/.

The Center and the National Press Foundation have an established tradition of co-hosting a free, half-day seminar each January to help reporters cover the economic, political, personality, and state and local angles of the federal budget and appropriations process. The fifth annual federal budget seminar, held Jan. 11 in Washington, drew more than 50 reporters.

Center Director Lee Hamilton opened the seminar, telling the journalists, "Our democratic system of government cannot function effectively if citizens are clueless about our most important financial document, the federal budget. From my perspective, you in the media have a responsibility to understand and explain how the budget choices by politicians in Washington affect the lives of every American every day."

Joseph Minarik, Senior Vice President and Director of Research at the Committee for Economic Development, offered a primer on how to find information in the actual budget documents. Minarik is a former top staffer with the House Budget Committee and the Office of Management and Budget. Stan Collender, blogger for Capital Gains and Games, and Managing Director of Qorvis Communications, put the budget into perspective in his presentation on politics and money. Thomas Kahn, Staff Director of the House Budget Committee, offered perspective from Capitol Hill on the fiscal context in which lawmakers are making budget decisions this year.

Reporters Kerry Young of Congressional Quarterly, Deborah Solomon of the Wall Street Journal, and Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation completed the seminar with practical tips that journalists can use to make sense of the numbers and write interesting budget stories. Program resources are at http://www.nationalpress.org/.

Surveys Show Congress and the Public Have Plenty of Room for Improvement

To better understand how the public gauges the effectiveness and responsiveness of Congress, the Center regularly conducts surveys examining how people learn about and interact with Congress, and how average citizens and political science experts rate the institution's job performance.

The Center's latest national public opinion survey, released in February, showed that neither Congress nor the citizenry is doing its job in getting the legislative process to work effectively.

The survey found 77 percent disapproving of the way Congress is handling its job. And when asked, "Do you believe that the delays in Congress are due to serious differences on the issues, or that members just like to bicker and score political points?" 65 percent attributed delays to bickering.

But according to the survey, citizens bear some responsibility for shortcomings in the functioning of Congress. Respondents gave citizens a D on "their understanding of what Congress does and how it works," a C-minus on "contacting members of Congress on issues that concern them" and a C on "following what is going on in Congress." [Read more about the citizens survey.]

The Center also conducted a survey of 46 top academic experts on Congress from around the country. They gave Congress a grade of "C" for its work in 2009, one rung lower than the "C-plus" grade the experts gave Congress for 2008.

The experts also were asked to assess the public's knowledge of and interaction with Congress. The citizenry got "D's" on "following what is going on in Congress on a regular basis," on "understanding the main features of Congress and how it works," and on "having a reasonable understanding of what Congress can and should do." [Read more about the experts survey.]

About the Center on Congress

The Center offers 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 and radio stations; 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 

Newsletter editor: Phil Duncan