Conversation with the Publisher: The legislature wraps up while others make case for civics training

Jun 1, 2001

Ed Wojcicki
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

We weren't alone in predicting that the big issues in this spring's legislative session might be rewriting telecommunications law, doling out education funding and drawing new legislative maps.

As you can tell from the Legislative Checklists in this issue (pages 8-9) and in recent months, the legislature has dealt with numerous other matters. Our new bureau chief, Aaron Chambers, has done an admirable job of following the action.

But one ritual practiced by insiders bothers me. Many pundits, politicians and journalists focus too much on "when we're getting out of here" - that is, when the legislative session will end. That date matters only to a tiny percentage of Illinoisans.

Of greater significance is what legislators, lobbyists and the governor do or fail to do before they adjourn because their actions affect the state's 12.4 million people, sometimes for years to come. That's why we place so much emphasis on substantive issues every spring.

We continue to discover how passionate people are about the topic of civic engagement. In a Web search I learned that Elizabeth Hollander, a well-known former Chicago Community Trust staff member who is now at Brown University, is the executive director of the national Campus Compact. That's a consortium of university and college presidents committed to helping students develop citizenship skills through participation in public and community service.

"We share a special concern about the disengagement of college students from democratic participation," says a declaration signed by at least 750 higher education presidents. "A chorus of studies reveals that students are not connected to the larger purposes and aspirations of the American democracy. Voter turnout is low. Feelings that political participation will not make any difference are high."

It would do no good to lament how much college students' attitudes have changed in one generation. So university leaders are wise to collaborate on a national program. With disconnectedness and cynicism so rampant, a case could be made for more and better civics training, not only for college students, but for younger students and adults.

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