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The National Conference of State Legislatures and lawmakers across the nation are joining together to launch a bold new civic education initiative: the Trust for Representative Democracy. Based on the ideas and fundamental principles set forth by the framers of the Constitution, the Trust for Representative Democracy is designed to engage young people and build their understanding and support for America's democratic institutions and counter the recent heightened cynicism and distrust of the legislative process. It will benefit citizens of all ages who aspire to promote the free exchange of ideas, confront and solve the critical issues of our time, and help make our nation a better place in which to live.

Several programs currently comprise the Trust for Representative Democracy, and planning for each is already under way. Bringing these activities into classrooms, training centers and communities throughout the United States will take the dedicated efforts of many -- and generous sponsorships from farsighted corporate, foundation and organization leaders, as well as individuals across the country. With adequate funding, these efforts will extend beyond the planning and pilot stages and will soon begin to instill the values of representative democracy, clarify the democratic process and encourage Americans to play a responsible role in their government. The programs include:

1. A New Public Perspective on Representative Democracy

NCSL is launching this groundbreaking, long-term project, co-sponsored by the American Political Science Association, the Center for Civic Education and the Center for Ethics in Government and Advocacy, to promote civic education about representative democracy and the roles and responsibilities of legislators through the use of creative training and technology. A new guide to the legislative process, written by four political scientists, has been designed to counter public cynicism and distrust of legislative institutions. This text will serve as the basis for a comprehensive curriculum on representative democracy. The new curriculum will feature:

* Exercises, Internet resources and active learning modules for students and citizens of all ages.

* Teacher training programs on new perspectives in representative democracy.

* Multimedia simulations and games that place citizens in the shoes of legislators.

* A new video on American legislatures for general distribution.

* Guidelines for creating state legislative Web pages for children that interest and engage kids.

* Resource materials for capitol tour guides and civic education programs.

The guide and basic ideas underlying the curriculum have already been developed and are ready to be set in place. Support for the project will ensure the development of multimedia resources, secure funds to establish networks among university institutes of government, train teachers, and bring the curriculum to schools and organizations around the country.

2. America's Legislators Back to School Day

In the fall of each year, America's Legislators Back to School Day gives young people an opportunity to meet personally with their elected state lawmakers. NCSL seeks to expand America's Legislators Back to School Day to all 50 states.

This day offers a unique opportunity for legislators and students to exchange ideas and explore legislative concepts face to face. In their visits to local schools, legislators will learn firsthand what young people are thinking and how they feel about issues that affect their lives. Lawmakers can answer questions and take students' input back to their legislatures. Students, in turn, will gain valuable insight into the legislative process and come away with a greater understanding of the role of legislators -- and their own role as tomorrow's voters. Applying America's Legislators Back to School Day on a nationwide' scale will take the dedicated efforts of legislators and increased resources for promoting and implementing the program.

3. Project Citizen

Project Citizen takes an innovative approach to addressing the public policy issues and challenges that face our communities, generating ideas to meet those challenges. Co-sponsored by NCSL and the Center for Civic Education, Project Citizen is a national academic competition for middle school students, designed to involve young people in solving community problems. By focusing on real-life problems and concerns, students will learn practical ways to participate actively and responsibly in state and local government. Support for Project Citizen will ensure the expansion of this innovative curriculum throughout the nation's middle schools.

4. Civic Education Awards

A fundamental component of the Trust for Representative Democracy is the acknowledgment of legislatures, corporations, foundations, organizations and individuals in communities across the United States demonstrating outstanding commitment to, and achievement in, civic education. NCSL plans to initiate a formal series of awards that recognize such dedication. The Civic Education Awards will identify and spotlight people and organizations around the nation that exemplify, and foster the principles and values of representative democracy for all citizens.

5. Public Education Campaign

Legislative service is one of democracy's worthiest pursuits. Yet the negative attitudes that prevail today among the media and the general public toward legislators and their institutions undermine the very values of democracy. The Trust for Representative Democracy will consider a strategic plan for a national media campaign on behalf of legislatures to counter the public and media atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. NCSL will work with political and campaign experts to develop a campaign that can be undertaken both nationally and by individual states to defend and uphold the legislative institution.


The programs described above arose out of a clear need for legislators, teachers, students and citizens around the country to be able to engage in dialogue and work together to find solutions to issues that concern us all. The projects that comprise the initial programs of the Trust for Representative Democracy will go a long way toward realizing these important objectives. But to carry them forward on a national scale requires the efforts not only of legislators in all 50 states, but schools, civic organizations and many thousands of dedicated citizens. Legislators, teachers and students have long understood the need for programs' that bring citizens closer to the democratic process, and they are eager to embrace them. The key to meeting this need lies in careful planning, prudent management and the generosity of visionary benefactors. The Trust for Representative Democracy promises to contribute significantly to dispelling public cynicism toward government institutions and spurring the enthusiastic involvem ent of citizens in public service. By helping to bring these projects to fruition, sponsors will leave a lasting legacy for citizens across the nation -- especially for our young people -- giving them the knowledge, the skills and the tools to participate responsibly in civic life and ensuring a vital democratic process for generations to come.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:Election 2000--the States Are Crucial.
Next Article:Turnover at the Top.

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