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Only one in three Americans can name all three branches of government. Nearly two in three Americans would fail the basic citizenship test immigrants are required to take to become naturalized citizens. And a mere one in three millennials think it’s important that we live in a democracy.
Statistics such as these point to a troubling fact: The U.S. is in the midst of a civics crisis, and the implications for our society are enormous.
From rising polarization and low voter turnout to decreasing levels of social trust and the gradual breakdown of civil discourse, the consequences of civic illiteracy threaten not only the American political system but the economy as well. That’s why, last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched Civics Forward, a national campaign that brings together leaders in business, education, and government to discuss how we can prepare the next generation of responsible citizens.
To help businesses lead in reimagining our country’s civics education, the Foundation invited experts to offer their ideas for a richer, more interactive school curriculum and innovative ways for Americans to sharpen their civic knowledge long after graduation. And in the coming days, we have published the definitive business case for civics in partnership with the Harvard Business Review.
Our report details the close connection between a robust body politic and a thriving economy. As Dr. David A. Moss of the Harvard Business School explains, “GDP is highest in countries that … have the most stable political systems,” and civics education is essential to achieving that stability. Strong civics education cultivates a responsible citizenry, which leads to a healthy political environment capable of providing businesses with the certainty they need to hire, invest, grow, and create opportunity for all Americans.
Civics education also engenders virtues that help people succeed in the workplace. Beyond imparting basic knowledge of how our government operates, civics fosters soft skills that are in high demand by today’s companies. According to a Harvard Business Review survey of 503 executives, 88% believe that teamwork and collaboration are critical to their organization’s strategy. Civics education encourages these values and puts them in the context of American history and culture. That’s why former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, a contributor to our report, calls free enterprise, democracy, and civics “kissing cousins.”
Revitalizing civics education will strengthen civil society and give Americans the vocabulary and resources they need to bridge their philosophical divides. To that end, the U.S. business community will continue working to empower people of all ages to become active participants in our democracy.