It may be surprising to hear a former U.S. senator acknowledge that negative campaigning is unfortunately so common – because it works.
Or another ex-legislator explain that strong lobbyists are a good thing. And another who laments that in today’s world: “The noise of democracy is like fingernails on a blackboard.”
These and other candid commentaries from former U.S. senators and representatives are the fabric of a new educational resource developed by the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida.
The Civics Connection: Conversations with Congress was developed by the institute and the United States Association of Former Members of Congress for high school and college-level American government courses. The video interviews also are accessible to anyone who would like to hear insider perspectives on how policies are developed and how the business of government works.
“It is, in a sense, a living textbook on American government and politics,” Lou Frey Jr., a Florida representative from 1969 to 1979, wrote in his introduction to the course. The institute, which he founded, strives to engage citizens to become active and responsible in government.
Frey said The Civics Connection’ s roots go back to when he was a novice congressman. He said there were a lot of government practices and procedures that he previously had never been exposed to, and “I made a vow to myself not to let that happen to others.”
Over the years he has developed intern and educational programs for students, but the impetus for this latest project came about three years ago when a report ranked Florida fifth worst in “civic stupidity,” he said.
Project director Terri Susan Fine, a UCF professor of Political Science and associate director of the institute, traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to tape the series of 15-minute interviews with former lawmakers who volunteered to be a part of the project. The 16 segments include teacher-support materials aimed at helping students understand the subjects.
Each interview pairs a Democrat and a Republican, with terms ranging up to 30 years in Congress. Interviews deal with issues such as political parties and interest groups, campaigning, landmark public policies, impeaching the president, and budget earmarks.
Fine said she was impressed by the lawmakers’ candor on the occasionally delicate topics.
Topics were chosen, in part, to align with high school Advanced Placement courses on government and politics, but the materials also are useful for other history and government classes. The project, which is under the auspices of the nonprofit College Board, is an example of using technology to help students develop a deeper understanding of the subjects, said Doug Dobson, the institute’s executive director.
The interviews and other free materials available to teachers can be found at http://loufreyinstitute.org/.
The institute plans to tape additional interviews and add new topics to the site.
As for that fingernails-on-the-blackboard description of democracy, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who served in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, said in one interview that today’s political parties don’t use the system to achieve the best for the country, but rather to defeat the other side.
“Politics has changed a lot and the country is worse off for it,” he said. “Because what our country needs at the moment is some very important nurturing by the political system making good decisions about putting the country on track and moving the country ahead.”