Thousands of teachers across the country are taking part in a major new initiative of the Alliance for Representative Democracy, an educational program of the Center for Civic Education, the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and the Trust for Representative Democracy of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Representative Democracy in America (RDA) Professional Development Leadership Initiative kicked off last summer in Washington, D.C., with a two-day seminar wthat was attended by 150 master teachers. The aim of the seminar was to teach them how to train elementary and secondary educators in their home states on RDA curricular materials.
Lee Hamilton, Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, addresses the Representative Democracy in America seminar.
During the seminar, teachers also learned about representative democracy from scholars and experts in the field, including former congressman Lee Hamilton, Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.
“This professional development initiative gives educators the resources and the pedagogy to teach their students about representative democracy,” said Charles N. Quigley, Center for Civic Education's executive director. “The curricular materials provide not only the history and workings of our country’s governmental structure but they also engage students in the process.”
John Harkness, a teacher at Graham-Kapowsin High School in Washington, participated in an RDA training in the fall.
“I am using it [RDA] as the opening sequence in my American Government class this year,” he said. “It is really the best supplement I have found to date that covers our federal government.”
Established in 2002, the Alliance for Representative Democracy provides educational materials for the classroom, conducts the Campaign to Promote Civic Education, and informs the general public about representative democracy. The goal of the Alliance is to enhance the public's—and in particular young people's—understanding of, and appreciation for, the institutions of representative democracy, and to promote competent and responsible citizen participation.
During the July, 2009 seminar, legislators, scholars, and civic educators lectured on the institutions and practices of representative democracy in the United States. Their presentations are available on the Center’s website, in the multimedia section (see links below).
- "Understanding Congress," Lee Hamilton, Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University
- "The Philosophical Foundations of Representative Democracy," Anthony Corrado, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government, Colby College
- "The Informal Political Process," Thomas Mann, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
- "The Role of the U.S. Senate," Donald Ritchie, Associate Historian, U.S. Senate
- "The Role of U.S. House of Representatives," Fred Beuttler, Deputy Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
- "The Role of State Legislatures," Alan Rosenthal, Professor of Political Science, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University
- "Citizen Participation in State Legislatures," Rosie Berger, Wyoming State Representative, and Leticia Van de Putte, Texas State Senator
- "The Role of Education in a Representative Democracy," Margaret Branson, Associate Director, Center for Civic Education
Hamilton drew on his experience of having served in the U.S. House for 34 years representing Indiana’s Ninth District. He acknowledged that while Congress “puzzles us, angers us, rarely pleases us," the United States is a “great big, complicated country” and that Congress has a very demanding task—“to understand the hopes and the dreams and the ambitions and the desires of the American people . . . and translate that into public policy.” He said: “That’s tough to do for a nation of 300 million people and all this diversity.”