Congress to Campus discusses civic engagement

By Brian Loschiavo Megan Kutulis
October 29, 2009

Schools should incorporate civic engagement into the curriculum so that students become more involved in their communities and in government. This was the message of two former members of Congress who visited Cabrini this week as a part of the Congress to Campus program.

Former Rep. Lou Frey, R-Fla., and fomer Rep. Jim Lloyd, D-Calif., engaged students in various classes, town meetings, and informal chats over their three-day visit from Sunday, Oct. 25 to Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Congress to Campus is a program dedicated to attracting young people to public service and leadership. Among the issues that the program deals with are concerns about lack of civic literacy among America’s young people and declining participation in politics and voting.

The program usually requires booking speakers awhile in advance, but Frey and Lloyd’s visit was an exception. During a Cabrini alumni event in Orlando, Fla., an alumna contacted Frey after talking to Dr. Marie George, the college president, about Cabrini’s new core curriculum, Justice Matters.

“I was intrigued by Cabrini’s curriculum because it has such an emphasis on working in the community,” Frey said.

Although Frey and Lloyd discussed a variety of political topics, the focus of the discussions was primarily the integration of civics into classroom learning.

Civic engagement is an idea based on the fact that citizens can contribute to their community through ideas and actions, as well as propose change.

“We need to require civics to be taught in second or third grade all the way through high school. You can have an impact because you have to start people young,” Frey said.

Frey and Lloyd talked about how civic engagement needs to be taught consistently across the country. Because of “No Child Left Behind” legislation, they believe many schools are teaching for tests and not teaching for the good of their students. Schools should be teaching more about the foundation of our country and how it functions. The former members of Congress believe schools should be teaching students how to be involved in their communities making them better as a whole.

“We want to create an online civics academy with civic lesson with input from teachers on different programs so kids in Podunk, Idaho will have the same chance as that kid from the Main Line in Philadelphia,” Frey said.

According to Frey, 73 percent of fourth graders, on a multiple-choice test, could not pick the Constitution out as our leading legal document. For both Frey and Lloyd, this number is alarming and calls for attention from educators nationwide.

“I want people to understand how our government operates. Our government is unique. I want everyone to know the Constitution,” Lloyd said.

Julie Bonomo, junior marketing major, appreciated the congressmen’s visit, and praised Cabrini for already developing standards of engaged learning.

“It’s a great thing to know that the college you go to is already so engaged in the community for the common good and that a lot of students are taking part in some of the things that the congressmen talked about,” Bonomo said.

Among its other efforts to develop engaged learning initiatives, the education department offers a class based solely upon the topic. The class, titled Schools in America, educates future teachers on how to incorporate civics lessons into their curriculum.

“I have taken classes in education where we have talked about these types of things before. It’s all about teaching social studies and civics to younger kids so they know what they’re doing when it comes to government,” Vanessa Castellani, sophomore elementary education major, said.

Besides educating students on the topic, Frey recommends that citizens get involved in community and on-campus clubs and organizations. He recommends “putting life back into” organizations like the Kiwanis and civics clubs, as well as giving back to the community through volunteer work.

“We need leadership, we need people who care about country. I’ll never be able give back to my country what my country gave to me,” Frey said.

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Brian Loschiavo Megan Kutulis

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