CENTER ON CONGRESS WEB SITE MAKES LEARNING ABOUT CONGRESS EASY

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic."(Democracy in America, vol. 1, pg. 317.) More than 150 years later Americans recognize that helping children develop into informed and responsible citizens is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy.

Although the need for civic education has been well established, it can be difficult for educators to find good materials that are appropriate for their students. Children today are sophisticated users of media; they are accustomed to high-resolution graphics, stereophonic sound, and interactive video. This makes it especially difficult for educators to find materials that will engage their students. In addition to being instructionally sound and factual, materials must captivate students’ interests and support their multi-sensory abilities.

The Internet enables educators to access some free civics education resources. Many websites provide kid-friendly information that describes the ins and outs of our government, teaching suggestions to help students become engaged citizens, or interactive activities. For example, the Center on Congress at Indiana University website (http://congress.indiana.edu) provides educators with media-rich materials that are useful in helping students understand and appreciate the fundamental values and principles of American democracy. If you visit this website, you will see a section titled "Learn about Congress." The "Browse by Topic" feature in this section, which provides eight topics for educators to choose from, is especially helpful.

The Role of Congress. This topic covers some of the most basic questions about Congress, such as what the Founders had in mind for it when they set it up and what are some of the broad responsibilities of Congress. Points covered include Congress’s role in balancing off the powers of the President, protecting individual liberties, and passing the laws of the land.

How Congress Works. This topic deals with some broad themes about our system of representative democracy — such as how legislators represent the views of a diverse nation, why the legislative process can be slow and contentious, and what role compromise plays.

The Legislative Process. This topic covers the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, tracking the various stages a bill goes through to become law. It explains that the legislative process is more dynamic and fluid than the standard "How a Bill Becomes Law" diagrams capture.

The Impact of Congress. How has the work of Congress affected your life today? In the past week? Year? This topic looks at these questions and presents some key legislative accomplishments that are so woven into our lives that they are almost invisible unless someone points them out.

Members of Congress and What They Do. This topic highlights some notable Members of Congress over the years, explores what makes a good politician, and explains the many roles of a Member of Congress today.

Public Criticisms of Congress. Almost everyone has some thoughts on how Congress could be improved. This topic explores some of the main public criticisms of Congress as well as some of the reforms that have been suggested for improving how Congress works.

The Importance of Citizen Participation. This topic emphasizes the core importance of citizen participation in our system of government if it is to function properly, and it outlines several specific ways in which people could become more civically engaged — from voting and contacting legislators and staying informed to getting involved in your local community.

How to Learn About and Contact Congress. This topic provides various resources for learning about Congress as well as some information on how to contact Congress.

Each topical section contains numerous resources for learning about the U.S. Congress including interactive activities, videos, articles and commentary, Q&A, and links to other great Web resources for learning about Congress. For example, if you click on "The Importance of Citizen Participation," you can access "Facts of Congress," e-learning modules, a series of commentaries, and a TIME for Kids mini magazine.

The Facts of Congress items are short, animated video pieces for students in grades four through high school. They are designed to teach students the basics of Congress in a way that is both educational and entertaining. This resource also includes teacher suggestions that are useful in helping educators provide engaging learning experiences.

The e-learning modules are interactive simulations and activities. Each module is self-contained. However, if you would like to further develop your student’s knowledge of government, each module comes with several lesson plans that include tools for assessing student learning and alignment of the lessons with state curriculum standards.

The Center on Congress at Indiana University produces a series of commentaries by Director Lee Hamilton. In these commentaries, Mr. Hamilton draws on his 34 years of experience as a U.S. Representative from the Ninth District, Indiana, and explains the important function of Congress in our system of representative democracy. Accompanying the commentaries are teaching suggestions, which persuade students to critically analyze the work of our government and encourage students to make intelligent, informed decisions.

The TIME for Kids mini magazine explains in a visually interesting, readable format how representative democracy works and why citizen participation is important.

Many things have changed over the past 150 years, but Americans still uphold Tocqueville’s words today. More than ever before, Americans recognize that a well-informed citizenry is needed to maintain a democracy. Free, online resources, such as those provided by the Center on Congress at Indiana University, have made it easier for teachers to educate young citizens about our representative democracy. Please see the ad on p. 34.

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