Center for Civic Literacy

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Self-government in a democratic state requires a civically literate citizenry. Survey after survey confirms that Americans, on average, are civically illiterate. Despite overwhelming evidence of a public deficit in basic constitutional and civic knowledge, however, the nation has not previously had a research center devoted entirely to studying issues surrounding civic knowledge.

The Center for Civic Literacy was formed to fill that void. It will pursue an aggressive research agenda focused upon the causes and consequences of the nation’s “civics deficit,” and will disseminate its findings broadly, in order to make those findings available to a diverse audience of opinion leaders, educators and policymakers.

The Center’s Mission is, first, to increase scholarly and public understanding of the dimensions of our civic deficit and the effect of that deficit upon democratic decision-making and civil society, and second, to identify, develop and disseminate evidence-based best practices to help educators and others address and correct the problem. Among the many questions we want to explore are the following:

  • How do we define civic literacy? Are there elements of civic knowledge essential to democratic participation? If so, what are those elements?
  • What aspects of civic knowledge are most predictive of civic engagement?
  • Do individuals with low civic literacy hold attitudes about social, scientific, economic and political issues that vary in a statistically significant fashion from attitudes held by high civic literacy individuals?
  • Has the growth of social media fostered or inhibited civic literacy?
  • Why have previous efforts to improve civics education failed? What social or structural incentives might lead to more long-lasting and robust results?

In the near future, we plan to unveil a web-based clearinghouse for research done by the Center and others working on these issues, convene our first annual conference, and begin issuance of a variety of planned publications, including but not limited to a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal.

The Center is an interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars in public policy, business, religious studies, history, social work and education; it is housed at Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute, a well-respected venue with significant experience in innovative social science research.

If you are interested in learning more about the Center, please contact us via our new website:

Rachel Thelin
Sheila Kennedy
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