Indiana University Northwest released their 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index to a conference of local leaders and educators hosted by Chancellor William Lowe, to get a glimpse of how civic-minded we are in Indiana, and where some the state's civic strength and weaknesses lie.
Civic involvement is the foundation of what America has been built upon over the last two and a half centuries. One generation teaches the next how important it is to be involved in our communities, cities, and states. Within these generations has been an incredibly diverse mix of citizens holding us together and making us individually, and collectively, stronger.
The new Civic Health Index is the second edition of its kind, the first being in 2011, and is a report card of how actively engaged citizens are with their communities. Just as people go in for physical checkups, this is a check up on the civic health of the state of Indiana.
There is a direct link between civic health and economic prosperity, and having this data starts the conversation about getting involved within our communities in a way that promotes positive change which will improve the lives of individuals and the community as a whole.
First to speak at the conference was former U.S. Representative, and Director at the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton.
Hamilton is a leader in the movement to promote civic education.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Hamilton said. “Our job is to make Indiana better for the next generation. These findings tell us how we’re doing. Civic engagement is a very complex picture; it takes leadership. With civic education we improve our communities and push our way toward a more perfect union. A community is better off when we promote education,” he continued. “As the amount of education a person receives goes up, we see these people getting more involved socially in their community.”
This has been a passion of Rep. Hamilton’s for some time. “Civic education should be taught at every grade from preschool on up to the PHD level,” he said. “Teaching it only at the 4th or 5th grade level isn’t enough but I’m a bit of a radical when it comes to civic education.”
While there are a great many things going on in many cities, with people getting more involved volunteering and staying socially connected, there are also areas where Indiana has fallen behind other states. Indiana ranked last in registered voters, and Chuck Dunlap, Executive Director of the Indiana Bar Association, had some ideas as to why that might be,
“If you don’t feel apart of a community that’s a disincentive to go vote,” Dunlap said. “It’s a reflection of how people feel about their community.”
“Many citizens don’t trust their representatives and that’s seen in Indiana’s lack of voter turnout,” Rep. Hamilton added. “And the antidote to that sort of cynicism is involvement. With freedom comes obligation. There’s no sure fire way to success, but there is a sure fire way to failure. We’re encouraging people to get off the sidelines and get in the game.”