What do you get when high school and middle school social studies teachers from 20 states come to Peoria during the summer to hear presentations from top-notch congressional experts? The answer is the national, award-winning Congress in the Classroom program, sponsored by the Dirksen Congressional Center in collaboration with the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University.
For the 15th year, teachers from across the country were selected for this premiere four-day workshop. The kickoff banquet highlighted Congressman Ray LaHood, who had announced his retirement three days earlier following his seventh term in Congress. Congressman LaHood spoke openly about the tough issues facing our country and was peppered with questions after his talk by teachers from Alaska to Florida, making for a candid and fascinating exchange.
The first day of the workshop began with a simulation called “Congressional Insight” where the teachers were broken into teams. Each team represented a newly elected member of Congress based on the demographics of real congressional districts The teams had to decide on which committees to serve, which bills to sponsor and what trade-offs to make amidst constituent, party, special interest and media choices. Their decisions were then put into a computer program which determined if they would be re-elected after serving a two-year term. Two-thirds of the teams were re-elected to Congress, while the remaining teams lost their elections.
In the afternoon, participants heard a presentation entitled “How Women in Congress Have Transformed It” from Debra Dodson, a nationally recognized expert in the field of gender and politics. Dodson discussed how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s influence has shaped the new Congress. The next morning the group heard University of Maryland Professor Thomas Schaller give an insightful look into the Electoral College strategy for the leading presidential candidates in 2008.
On the final day of the workshop, Dr. Richard Baker, who has directed the U.S. Senate Historical Office since that office was created in 1975, gave a behind-the-scenes look into the U.S. Senate. Dr. Baker actually leads training workshops for newly elected members to the Senate. You can view Dr. Baker’s presentation on the Illinois Channel (22 on Insight cable) in September and can find the programming times on its website at illinoischannel.org.
In between all of these great speakers, the participants were able to make “Best Practice” presentations, offering their best teaching tools and resources to aid colleagues. It was encouraging to see passionate educators from around the country giving up a week of their summer vacations to attend Congress in the Classroom. Forty teachers were selected for this competitive program after 123 applied. If we are to develop more principled leaders in public service, a great place to start is in the classroom.
Over its 15-year history, Congress in the Classroom has taught more than 500 teachers from more than 250 school districts. Kudos to Frank Mackaman, Lynn Kasinger and Cindy Koeppel of the Dirksen Congressional Center for putting together another outstanding program! IBI