WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has launched The Civic Trust, a new initiative that will promote a broad range of efforts aimed at improving understanding of and involvement in American civic life. Among its first programs is the inaugural National Civics Bee, which will be piloted in six locations across the nation to encourage more young Americans to engage in civics and contribute to their communities.
The Civic Trust aims to energize and modernize America’s civic life by changing the conversation and perception of civics in classrooms, board rooms, on social media and through other platforms. It will support and engage leading national and local stakeholders in its areas of programmatic focus, including civic literacy and civics at work.
“The Civic Trust emerged from our recognition that a healthy democracy relies on citizens who are well informed about their history, government and public issues and who are motivated to engage constructively in shaping the vibrancy of public life in their communities, their states and their nation,” said Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “The business community understands it has an enormous stake – as well as a unique and effective role to play – in strengthening American civic life.”
The first National Civics Bee competitions will take place in early 2022 in Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming. Supporting partners include the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, the Maryland Chamber Foundation, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, and the Thermopolis-Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, respectively. In addition to funding from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the National Civics Bee is made possible with the generous support of the Daniels Fund.
Each competition will recruit local middle school students to take part in a first-round essay competition on civics. From those participants, local judges will then select 10 to go to the final round: a live quiz event to test their civics knowledge. Winners will be recognized in their communities and receive prizes selected by the local organizers.
Modeled on traditional spelling and geography bees, these competitions are designed to help young Americans become better informed about American democracy, to engage respectfully and constructively in the public square, and to build greater trust in others and institutions.
Studies have shown a decline in civics education nationwide in recent years that has coincided with waning civics literacy, dwindling trust in a range of public institutions and an intensifying polarization among various segments of Americans. Research by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, for example, showed that adults who reported to have taken high school civics “were more likely to know the answers to six survey ‘knowledge’ questions, including naming the branches of government.” Overall, the survey reported that only 56% of Americans could name all three branches of government. A shocking 20% could not name a single branch.
The Civic Trust builds on a portfolio of work in this area that began in 2019 with publication of The Business Case for Civics Education, a white paper by Harvard Business Review sponsored by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.
In the coming months, The Civic Trust will unveil innovative programs focused on civics literacy, work skills, and the importance of democracy to national prosperity. For more information about The Civic Trust and the National Civics Bee pilots, go to civics.uschamberfoundation.org.