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Report on Civic Engagement Says Illinoisans are Faring Poorly

A report on civic engagement suggests Illinoisans need improvement in areas ranging from voting to simple acts of kindness.

The National Conference on Citizenship's report uses Census Bureau data to show a decline in the number of voters, particularly young voters, in 2008. Voter turnout fell 3-percent that year, despite the presidential campaign of native son Barack Obama. And Illinois ranked 46th in the past year among those 18 and up who did favors for neighbors, like babysitting.

Study Author Shawn Healy says the report should be viewed as a call to action, and one of those areas are schools - which at one time, weren't solely to prepare us for college or a career.

"They're certainly important objectives, but was to prepare people for their role in a democracy," Healy said. "So that's really critical. And there are some great things going on statewide in that respect. But in this tough environment with fiscal constraints, and top of it the standardized testing that's gripped our country, that's really narrowed the curriculum and really pushed civics aside in that central role for schools to play."

Healy also suggested that Illinois should make voter registration easier. While he says absentee voting has become more accessible in the state, he notes states like Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voter registration on Election Day.

He says simple day to day things, like reading a daily newspaper to get the news, or talking politics with a friend, rarely happen anymore. He says someone only needs to look as far as their local bowling alley.

"Bowling hasn't died. In fact, more people are bowling than ever before," he said. "But we bowl alone. And what used to happen when we were bowling on teams is we would interact with people that we might not otherwise see. We might talk about what's going on in the community - we might even discuss politics."

Healy uses Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's metaphor about the bowling alley to represent society, and the layer that stands between individuals and their government. The 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index was funded by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation, and the Citizen Advocacy Center.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics