Next steps for civic health: more information, education


More civics education for adults and students is the remedy for Hoosiers’ disappointing knowledge of the First Amendment and presence in the voting booth, say organizers of the Indiana Civic Health Index.

The recent study evaluated who participates in community activities such as voting and volunteerism and knowledge of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Click here to read the results of the index.

HSPA Foundation is among the index’s sponsors who will take steps to improve civic involvement among Hoosiers, said Karen T. Braeckel, Foundation director.

Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard helped oversee the report. Among its conclusions:

• The state ranked 21st in service club membership – which included school and religious groups – with a 36.2 percent participation rate. Mean­while, 1.3 million Hoosiers – or 26.1 percent – donated time to civic or charitable causes, or 32nd in the nation.

• Hoosiers get together with their families for meals, a habit researchers think tends to boost community involvement. Indiana ranked 17th nationally, with 90.1 percent of residents reporting meals with families at least a few times a week.

• Indiana ranked 48th among states in voter turnout, with a rate of 39.4 percent. The national average was 45.5 percent. The state ranked 43rd nationally in the proportion of citizens registered to vote, at 61.2 percent.

• When asked to name the freedoms covered in the First Amendment, 62 percent of Americans could name the freedom of speech, 19 percent the freedom of religion, 17 percent the freedom of press, 14 percent the right to assemble and 3 percent the right to petition. Thirty percent of Americans could not list any of the rights.

HSPA Foundation plans to partner with others on civics education, said Henry Bird, senior vice president of the Capital Division of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and president of the Foundation board of directors.

“Our core values are very much in place, but obviously we need to do a better job at getting people to the polls and making them feel more responsible about their civic duty,” Bird said. “Related to that is an absolute need to improve civics education in high school and earlier so Hoosiers really understand the Constitution and the importance of all of its amendments.”

The next steps for using the index include dialogue with the Indiana General Assembly on what actions can be taken to improve civic engagement and with the Indiana Department of Education to improve civics curriculum, Braeckel said.

The index finding that only 17 percent of Americans can name the freedom of the press as one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment raises serious concerns, Braeckel said.

“A democracy needs an informed citizenry to flourish, and one of its most precious rights allows a marketplace of ideas without government interference,” she said. “Yet our citizens don’t seem to understand that concept.”

Representatives from the Indiana Bar Foundation will present the Civic Health Index around the state, said Andrew K. Homan, civic education program manager for the foundation. Scheduled dates include Sept. 30 in South Bend, Oct. 7 in Evansville and Oct. 27 in Gary.

Other sponsors of the index are the National Conference on Citizenship and Indiana University Northwest.