Civic Literacy is knowledge about the shared community environment. It is the ability to identify and understand what government and citizenship are and how they affect all of us.  

In broader terms, it is the body of knowledge, skills and values that constitute our ability to understanding our civic environment and learn the basic rules and tools of participation in a political system such as ours.

As an academic study, civics or political science is the main conveyor of civic literacy-it is the study of government, politics (who gets what, when, how) and citizenship. It is the branch of education that deals with civic affairs and the duties and rights and meanings of citizenship.

Civic Literacy Requires

  • A basic, objective understanding of the civic history of the nation
  • A basic understanding of the institutions and roles as they have evolved in this political system
  • Understanding of political thought and values and how they interact
  • A perspective on the relative role of the Individual and the polity
  • An understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizen participation in a democracy
  • An understanding American political institutions in a comparative framework
  • Understanding of political economy and its structures
  • Understanding of international geography, politics and interdependence
  • Understanding of tools and consequences of political change
  • Knowledge of basic logic, fact and bias recognition and media-savviness
  • Learning and practicing the skills of critical thinking


Civic Literacy Matters for Democracy

American democracy depends on informed and active citizens. Without a critical mass of public-minded citizens with the skills and knowledge to vote knowledgeably and impact public policy effectively, democracy will wither and die

Civic Literacy Matters for Businesses and Entrepreneurs

“It’s the economy stupid” is a phrase that was coined by James Carville in 1992. Knowledge of government policy and impact about money, taxes and credit is one of the main components of civic literacy. It affects who gets what, when and how because businesses, government policy makers and consumers all intertwined. Responsible corporate leadership can foster volunteerism and community engagement among employees and civic association members. It is an excellent way for businesses or civic associations to build relationships and increase brand awareness and visibility.

Civic Literacy Matters for Flourishing Local Governments

Citizen engagement in local government is fostered by civic literacy. It enables all community stakeholders to work together to address public needs for the benefit of all. It encourages and empowers citizens to influence local policy, values, and public priorities. This, in turn, leads to a higher level of trust, stronger, more resilient communities, provides volunteers for boards, commissions and local offices and creates agency among residents who are often overlooked and underheard. 

Civic Literacy Matters for Nonprofits and Philanthropy

Democracy requires communities to strengthen civic knowledge and participation Nonprofit organizations provide vehicles for people to work together for the common good, and put their values into civic action. 

Civic Literacy Matters for Schools, Colleges, and Universities

American democracy has always depended on citizens who understand its premises and promise, who seek out diverse perspectives and ideas, respect each other’s differences, and believe in the common good.  As one of the few social institutions present in virtually every community, schools, colleges and universities are catalysts to increased civic literacy and engagement. They provide the framework and critical thinking skills to promote the knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors needed to participate in civic life.  From pre-K to advanced degrees and lifelong education, our educational institutions provide the research, scholarship and forums for practical knowledge about civic engagement.

This essay is inspired by and borrows phrases from a publication by Florida Civic Advance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *