Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

I recently spent an evening at Springfield’s Dubois Elementary, with a group of tutors focused on helping the school’s youngest students — kindergarten through second grade.

But in this particular tutoring arrangement, everyone is learning. The older kids are in a program called Our American Voice, designed to bring civics lessons back to the younger grades. Students get an instructional course in citizenship, and then create their own community service project.

Illinois Issues: Civics Class In An Uncivil Time

Nov 3, 2016

A new state law requires that high school civics courses cover current and controversial events. The requirement kicked in during an election cycle when adults are struggling to have civil conversations about politics. 

Illinois is one of only 10 states where students are not required to take a civics course. A task force of legislators and educators now recommends that students learn not just the history of government, but how to participate in it. 

Civil society is on the tips of many tongues these days. This shouldn't surprise us — not in the American democracy. American civic life was not lopsidedly state-centered, as in Europe, but more dispersed, more open to citizens within the purview of their particular communities. 

When we speak of civil society, we call to mind that world of associational enthusiasm that so enchanted Alexis de Tocqueville when he toured the fledgling republic during the Jacksonian era. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Jean Bethke Elshtain argues that we need more religion in politics. 

Her essay on this point is timely. And we expect it will be controversial. At least we hope so. We commissioned Elshtain, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago Divinity School, as Illinois Issues' first Paul Simon Essayist. Then we asked her to explore the underpinnings of our civic life.

Ed Wojcicki
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Once or twice a year I got together with former Gov. William Stratton, who had been on the Illinois Issues Board since 1978. He liked to joke that government spaces ordinarily bear the names of dead people, but he already had three named for him: a government office building in Springfield, a state park near his hometown of Morris and a lock and dam on the Fox River.

The Auburn Rotary Club disbanded last summer. The few remaining members were getting older and having trouble recruiting younger people. The club folded, a Springfield newspaper reported, "due to lack of interest." The collapse of Auburn's Rotary would not surprise Harvard scholar Robert D. Putnam. He would see it as part of a larger, alarming trend. His extensive research shows that membership in traditional organizations is on the decline everywhere and that Americans are less engaged in their communities, attending church less frequently and voting less often.

Ed Wojcicki
WUIS/Illinois Issues

My feeling about this new year differs from the last few, when January 1 meant little more than waking up for another day. I sense more urgency, but maybe it's just personal. I mention two items on my own wish list: