Center for Civic Education

Civitas: Engaging Youth around the World in Grassroots Democracy

Lead Organization

Center for Civic Education

Calabasas, California, United States

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Project Summary

Democracy is in crisis worldwide. Autocrats are threatening freedom and human rights. Even long-standing democracies have been shaken by political corruption, polarization, the decline of democratic norms, the crisis of immigration, and populist, xenophobic leaders. To solve these problems, we propose the worldwide engagement of youth in grassroots democracy. The Civitas Program will work with local and national organizations around the world to improve civic education. Using networking, online tools, and evidence-based curriculum and methods, the Civitas Program will provide training to educators and young people that will improve their knowledge of democratic government, build their participatory skills, and engage them in improving public policy in their communities and nations.The Civitas Program will change lives of marginalized people by (1) providing them with knowledge and skills to identify and propose solutions to problems they face and (2) connecting them with other stakeholders and leaders.

Problem Statement

Liberal democracy is under siege in many parts of the world. The rule of law, fundamental democratic rights, independent media, and civic participation are being suppressed, and autocratic regimes are on the rise. Freedom House's 2018 report on freedom in the world noted that democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades. The erosion of the basic tenets of democracy and freedom around the world affects everyone and has particularly harmful effects on minorities and groups that do not currently wield power in their political systems. In order to effect political change and uphold the rights of everyone within a political system, all actors need to be involved. People young and old need to understand the basic tenets of democracy and how to responsibly and collaboratively participate in government in order to solve the problems that plague their communities and nations.One crucial lever to effect change is through the educational system, where teachers work with young people and can help them develop the knowledge and skills needed to become effective democratic participants throughout their lives. Schools and educators can also reach out to the community, involving parents and local leaders in the educational process. In nations with considerable youth populations, the educational system is an important mechanism to reach a significant portion of the population.

Solution Overview

Widespread civic education increases participation in the political process by people who are more knowledgeable and committed to the realization of fundamental values and principles of constitutional democracy. The Civitas Program will empower educators and young people to responsibly and democratically participate in government and their communities. These young people will propose solutions to problems they identify in their communities and nations and help construct institutional guard-rails against despotic and autocratic tendencies. The program will begin by energizing the Civitas network of organizations, establishing regional training sites, and providing initial training support to subgrantees in more than fifty countries. These subgrantees will train and support teachers to implement the Project Citizen grassroots civic education program with students. Each year, the network will expand in the number of countries reached and the depth and quality of civic education program offerings. Dr. Diana Owen of Georgetown University will serve as independent evaluator to identify the qualitative and quantitative impacts of the program on the political understandings, skills, and attitudes of program participants in participating countries.During the five-year program, Civitas network colleagues will work with local and national educational leaders to deepen their knowledge of civic education and attempt to institutionalize civic education curricula and professional development programs in local and national school systems. As more teachers are trained, more students will be impacted, reaching a broad population. Young people, through active civic education, will engage their communities in solving problems and use traditional and social media to increase impact.

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Project Funders

  • U.S. Department of Education

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