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IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy

Self-government in a democratic state requires a civically literate citizenry. But survey after survey confirms that Americans, on average, are civically illiterate.

Despite this overwhelming evidence of a public deficit in basic constitutional and civic knowledge, the nation has not previously had a research center devoted entirely to studying issues surrounding civic knowledge. But we do now.

The  Center for Civic Literacy at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)–an ADP campus–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 it wants 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?

This center, the first of its kind in the U.S., is housed in the IU Public Policy Institute and will publish an online journal, convene a national conference, and conduct research projects that result in peer-reviewed journal articles. The Center received funding from IUPUI’s Signature Centers Initiative and is due to attain IUPUI Signature Center status in 2015.

In the near future, there are plans to unveil a web-based clearinghouse for research done by the Center and others working on these issues, convene its 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.

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