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Civic Learning Week Aims to Engage Young Americans in Democracy

Hundreds of virtual and in-person events will highlight the role of civics education in preparing the next generation of citizens and leaders.

By Emily Ronco  |  March 11, 2024

One in 3 American adults cannot name all three branches of government, and 1 in 6 cannot name any, according to a 2023 survey. These statistics may seem particularly relevant in an election year, but civic education and engagement are always the primary focus for iCivics and its upcoming Civic Learning Week event today through Friday.

iCivics was founded in 2009 by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to provide civic education resources to young Americans and their educators. In 2018, she reflected on the organization’s mission, saying, “We must arm today’s young people with innovative civic education that is relevant to them. Bringing high-quality civics to every school in every state of our union is the only way that the next generations will become effective citizens and leaders.”

“This year’s theme, ‘2024 and Beyond: Civic Learning as a Unifying Force,’ positions civic education as a means to combat polarization.”

—Shawn Healy, iCivics

The second annual Civic Learning Week, hosted by iCivics and its CivXNow Coalition project, will offer hundreds of virtual and in-person events on media literacy, civic education in the age of artificial intelligence, and assessing civic readiness, among other topics. (Disclosure: NCSL is a member of the CivXNow Coalition.)

The Civic Learning Week National Forum, livestreamed from Washington, D.C., will feature a conversation with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett on March 12. Overall, the week’s goal is to highlight the role of civic education in sustaining constitutional democracy and elevate the work happening at the state and federal levels. Last year’s event reached more than 100 million people in 21 states and included over 120 online and in-person events.

“This year’s theme, ‘2024 and Beyond: Civic Learning as a Unifying Force,’ positions civic education as a means to combat polarization,” says Shawn Healy, iCivics’ senior director of policy and advocacy. “Civics can be a unifying force for our country, particularly during times of deep division, and Civic Learning Week will provide examples of how educators and communities are finding paths forward to bolster the knowledge, skills and dispositions essential for engaging productively across differences.”

In 2019, the federal government spent about five cents per student per year on civic education, compared with about $50 per student on STEM. The end of 2022 brought a boost in funding when Congress appropriated $23 million to improve civics and history education. According to Healy, the funding expanded the number of combined grants from the American History and Civics Academies and National Activities from seven to 29. “These grants will serve an estimated 4,000 civics teachers and reach 400,000 students,” Healy says. The funding increase came just months before the release of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, which showed that 31% of eighth graders fell below the NAEP basic level.

State legislative activity on civic education has increased in recent years, with policy options including middle and high school course requirements, media literacy standards and civic seal programs that recognize students who excel in the subject. In 2023, at least 38 states and one territory considered legislation related to civic education. New Hampshire enacted a measure last year to define civics as a nonpartisan subject and require dedicated class time for civics in each elementary grade, as well as a semester-long course in both middle and high school as part of graduation requirements. Delaware adopted K-12 media literacy standards in 2022 to bolster civic decision-making skills, including identifying the credibility of sources and recognizing bias and misinformation.

Here’s more about every state’s civics education resources.

Emily Ronco is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Center for Legislative Strengthening.

NCSL’s Civics Education Resources

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