Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The 9-11 Generation

By Shawn Healy
The Christian Science Monitor reports that volunteering among Americans is at a historic high. This is according to a December 2006 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service. 29% of Americans volunteered in 2005, a 30-year record.

The CNCS hopes to expand the national cadre of volunteers by 10 million by the end of the decade to 75 million strong. Schools at the secondary and collegiate level that require community service contribute to this mix, along with employers like CVS, Best Buy, and Home Depot that provide staff members with free time to volunteer (they benefited from higher rates of retention and productivity as a result).

This uptick is a welcome response to research that suggests the opposite. Robert Putnam's seminal work, Bowling Alone (2000), uses his title to illustrate his central point. While more Americans are bowling than ever before, league membership is in a freefall, symptomatic of a decline in civic organizations and membership across the country. Such "horizontal association" between community members is vital to maintain a vertical relationship with our government, borrowing Putnam's terminology.

The National Conference on Citizenship produced a Sept. 2006 report titled Broken Engagement: America's Civic Health Index. It attempts to create a parallel index for civic engagement like the economic indicators used to evaluate our fiscal health. It includes measures of religious worship, social trust, staying informed, and participating in politics. Volunteering is also part of the mix. The overall indicator presents a precipitous decline over the last 30 years in line with Putnam's hypothesis, but there is evidence of a recent uptick amongst young people, often dubbed the "9-11 Generation." Volunteering is on the rise in this group and others according to CNCS report. Baby boomers and elderly individuals are also part of this mix.

Let's hope this uptick becomes a surge as we rebuild the social fabric of our democratic republic. Democracy means quite literally that the people govern, and minus civic engagement, this social contract is broken. Volunteering represents the height of associational relationships and an engaged populace, so my kudos to the 65 million Americans who give so selflessly. The remaining 235 million, myself included, have work to do. For some ideas, visit the "Get Involved" quadrant of our website and click on the "Do More" bubble.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh...btw...been thinking about your post of 1-31-07...

"Bowling Alone" I agree...people seem to be less involved. But why?

I think it is going to be hard to keep people involved when they are working ungodly hours trying to keep their 3500 squ foot, three car garage houses in the suburbs, then trying adding a few kids. Even if you make them aware of it, they are not going to be able to step out of what they are used to.

These people are time poor...and feel is hard to move them...but they are movable if there is a crisis. And with the current avalanche of information available to them it is hard for most people to sift through the obfuscation and see the real truths...but they are intelligent.

I think there is a tremendous amount of energy out there, but it needs to be focused.

For the time being it will be up to a few people that will make the first moves...

---A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has...Margaret Mead---

Once they move...and it resonates with the rest of the world...things will fall into place. Though it will be hard to find that tune that everyone can sing along with. Until then it will be like the tower of Babble...all of us going in different directions.

That is where you come in...

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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