Amplifying youth voices.
Transforming Democracy.

The Challenge:
Our democracy is broken.
Our young people can fix it…
if we give them opportunities to lead.

Nearly everyone in this country can agree that our political process is in serious disarray. As politicians sit in gridlock,  the public increasingly checks out.  With a renewed focus on our nation’s youth, this cycle can be reversed.

American democracy is at risk. The risk comes not from some external threat but from disturbing internal trends: an erosion of the activities and capacities of citizenship. — Democracy at Risk

Underlying this Challenge is …

…The Disappearance of Civic Education

  • Traditional civic education is boring and ineffective, focusing on the basics of our political system without developing students’ abilities to participate in and improve the system.1,2,3
  • Civics has been pushed out of schools in the high-stakes testing education climate. While all schools have social studies standards, only nine require passing tests in social studies to graduate from high school. What assessments do exist are narrowly focused and do not require students to demonstrate civic skills.4

…The Civic Empowerment Gap

  • While the entire country faces a civic education deficit, the problem becomes worse in low-income communities. Often valuable civic education and empowerment opportunities are unequally distributed, leaving the most marginalized youth the least prepared to participate.5,6,7
  • Disparities in civic knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes between low-income, minority youth and wealthier white youth have been termed the “civic empowerment gap.”7,8,9

…The Marginalization of All Youth Voices

Adultism is the power and practices that adults have and use over the lives of young people.10 Adultist attitudes are characterized by assumptions that young people are not capable, have limited knowledge about the world, and generally lack the tools to be productive and respected members of society. Attitudes of adultism prevail in our society and must be dismantled to meaningfully engage youth in their schools, communities, and citites.


For more quick facts about civic education in the United States




1       Malin, H. (2011). American identity development and citizenship education: A summary of perspectives and call for new research. Applied developmental science 15(2): 111-116.

2       Campbell, D. E., Levinson, M., & Hess, F (Eds.). (2012) Making civics count. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

3      Youniss, J. (2012) How to enrich civic education and sustain democracy. In D. E. Campbell, M. Levinson, &  F. Hess (Eds.), Making civics count. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

4       Godsay, S., Henderson, W., Levine, P., & Littenberg-Tobias, J. (2012). “State Civic Education Requirements,” CIRCLE Fact Sheet. Medford, MA: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (September). Retrieved on January 3, 2012 from:

5       Ferman, B. (2012). Educating for democracy: Reflections from a work in progress. Journal of Political Science Education, 8(3), 231-250.

6       Levinson, M. (2012). No citizen left behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7       Pope, A., Stolte, L., & Cohen, A. (2011). Closing the civic engagement gap: The potential of action civics. Social Education, 75(5), 267-270.

8       Levinson, 2012, p. 32

9       Circle Staff. (2010). “Civic Skills and Federal Policy,” CIRCLE Fact Sheet. Medford, MA: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (April). Retrieved on July 18, 2013 from:

10    Tate, T. F., & Copas, R. L. (2003). Insist or enlist? adultism versus climates of excellence. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 12(1), 40-45.