Foundation supports civic health appraisal

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Lee Hamilton
Lee Hamilton

National data shows only one in three Americans can name all three branches of government.

A project to assess Indiana’s civic know­ledge and engagement is underway with support from former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton, the Indiana Supreme Court and HSPA Foundation.

The Indiana Civic Health Index focuses on the importance of an informed and engaged citizenry.

It will assess who participates in community activities such as voting and volunteerism, what resources promote civic engagement, what obstacles prevent citizens from getting involved in community decision-making, and knowledge of the First Amendment.

Civic engagement and newspapers are closely tied together, said John Rumbach, editor of The Herald (Jasper) and member of the HSPA Foundation board of directors.

“A citizenry that cares less and less about its government imperils freedoms, especially speech and press,” Rumbach said. “And I have no doubt that declining newspaper readership is, in part, attributable to declining interest in civics and politics.”

Many Americans don’t understand their government, said Hamilton, who is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.

The index will help the state focus on what must be done to improve people’s civic knowledge and skills, he said.

“Our nation’s success depends on citizens’ ability and willingness to participate constructively in the dialogue of democracy,” Hamilton said.

The National Conference on Citizenship will perform the analysis, which will be released in the fall.

The conference, founded in 1946 and chartered by Congress in 1953, tracks and promotes civic and political participation, encourages community and national service, and supports history and civics education.

The HSPA Foundation encourages increased education on government and the First Amendment in Indiana schools, Foundation director Karen T. Braeckel said.

“Having data to back up the plea for more civic education will help our cause of fostering public understanding of individual rights,” she said. “The Foundation’s support also ensures the survey will include questions on the First Amendment.”

Newspapers invest a large portion of editorial budgets in covering government and politics, yet fewer and fewer people are interested in those stories, Rumbach said.

“This index, and the ensuing discussion of what it means and what should be done, is of keen interest to newspapers throughout the state and well worth our support,” he said.

The Indiana Bar Foundation, the National Conference on Citizenship and Indiana University Northwest are also partners in the creation of the state index.