Good Citizens Need Strong Civic Skills, According to Lee Hamilton '52
June 2, 2011
June 2, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — According to Lee H. Hamilton, veteran statesman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University, "Citizenship requires both knowledge about government and the ability to be involved in governance. 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."
In a newspaper op-ed, the Democrat who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives observes, "This is asking a lot of citizens in our divided and contentious modern democracy. That's because the prevailing winds blow hard against using these skills. The Pew Research Center for People and the Press recently released a report noting that a majority of registered voters 'prefer elected officials who stick to their positions' over those willing to compromise with people with whom they disagree -- even though accommodating various points of view is a requirement for making our large and diverse republic work."
What's also needed, writes the man who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group, is "a willingness to seek out media sources with which we don't agree. It is possible these days to limit your reading and viewing solely to news and analysis that reconfirm what you already believe. True citizenship asks us to be willing to hear what a broad range of thinkers and arguers have to say, so we can learn from them, come to our own conclusions, and work to build solutions."
The column was spurred by the recent release of a National Assessment of Educational Progress "report card" on civics education in the United States. It found "an alarming percentage of eighth graders proved ignorant of such core constitutional notions as checks and balances, and majorities of 12th graders could not identify the use of the Census or knew which level of government to approach in order to influence public policy," writes Hamilton.
He concludes, "Only by spending time with people who think differently, learning how to listen to them and to seek common ground, do we truly learn what it takes to make a diverse republic work. It's only part of the equation to learn about the structure of government and civic involvement in school. To fulfill the role of citizen we must take personal responsibility for deploying our civic skills to make our neighborhoods and communities better places to live. 'The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen,' Justice Louis Brandeis once said. True, but only if we use our civic skills to deserve it."
You'll find the complete essay at the website of Ohio's Hillsboro Times-Gazette.
Now the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton returned to DePauw on March 15 to address "The U.S. Role in the World After Afghanistan and Iraq" in a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture. A summary including video clips can be accessed here.
Also available is this recent story.Back