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2013 Civic Data Challenge

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) has recently launched its second annual Civic Data Challenge, a national competition to transform raw data on the nation’s civic health into applications and visualizations that can be used by community leaders and engaged citizens. Because the applications are meant to be of use in actual communities, each entry must have a community partner to ensure that the product is meeting a real community need. This year, the challenge has been divided into three phases: ideation, creation, and implementation.

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What would a national civics standard look like?

In The Atlantic, Robert Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst, suggests that a ground-floor civics standard that must be met by all graduating students from high school is in order—and that the US Citizenship Test is just the place to start. Writing shortly after the release of his white paper for the Pioneer Institute (coauthored with Gilbert T. Sewall and Sandra Stotsky)—“Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools”—Pondiscio laments the crisis in civic education and civic knowledge today, but thinks that setting a modest standard like the Citizenship Test would be more helpful than establishing more high-stakes testing or overhauling state standards.

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Renewing the social compact

Yesterday, Massachusetts state Senator Richard T. Moore took to the opinion pages to promote a new civic education report in Massachusetts by the Special Commission on Civic Engagement and Learning: “Renewing the Social Compact.” As Moore writes, “if our government, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,’ as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, we, the people, need to learn about how our government works, understanding our role as citizens in our own government, and how to become civically engaged. As citizens of our town, state, and country, we have more to do than just voting.”

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Civic responses to Newtown

Over at his blog, CIRCLE director Peter Levine looks at the tragic Newtown school shooting and discusses some of the different kinds of civic responses that are available. “Addressing a brutal threat together,” he notes, “is civic work that can help repair the torn fabric.” And there are many ways that citizens can come together and engage in this important work of self governance.

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The crisis of American self-government

In the Wall Street Journal‘s weekend interview, Sohrab Ahmari sat down with Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, to discuss the “crisis of American self-government.” This year marks Mansfield’s fiftieth year teaching politics and political theory at Harvard, where he has authored such books on government and democracy as Spirit of Liberalism (1978), Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (1993), America’s Constitutional Soul (1993), and a new translation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (2000).

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Civic education and voter turnout

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently raised the interesting question of whether civic education laws affected youth voter turnout in the 2012 election. To explore the answer, CIRCLE “compared youth turnout (for citizens between the ages of 18 and 29) in three groups of states[…]. The first group had strengthened their requirements for high school civics or American government courses or statewide tests in civics. The second group already had some requirements in place and did not change them between 2004 and 2012. The third group weakened their course or testing requirements between 2004 and 2012.”

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Economists and Res Publica

In the third in a series of policy briefs by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, Steven E. Rhoads, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and author of The Economist’s View of the World: Government, Markets and Public Policy, explores the virtues and limits of thinking like an economist when it comes to matters of citizenship.

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Event watch: Civil society and the future of conservatism

Next Tuesday, November 27, the Hudson Institute is hosting a timely and much needed conversation about the role of the citizen and civic space in modern American politics. Here is the event description:

National Affairs magazine editor Yuval Levin, writing in the October 8, 2012 issue of The Weekly Standard, noted that this year’s presidential election seemed to have deteriorated into a contest between a “simple-minded and selfish radical individualism,” on the one hand, and “a simple-minded and dangerous radical collectivism” on the other.

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The case for citizen engagement

Writing before the election at NonprofitCommunity.com, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and author of the forthcoming book Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table, makes the case for more direct citizen involvement in governing decisions. Worried that part of the cause of our current political dysfunction is a hyper-partisan form of politics, Lukensmeyer believes that citizens themselves can—and should—come together and “make the important decisions that need to be made.”

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Post election analysis

We’ll leave the real post election analysis to the experts, but do want to point out just how incredible the act of voting is. Writing yesterday morning in The American after waiting in line in the cold to vote, AEI’s Michael R. Strain poses the excellent question: “What in the history of mankind would make you think that such a thing was possible?”

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Broken cities or civic renewal?

Tomorrow, Friday, October 26, the Bradley Center at the Hudson Institute is hosting a panel discussion to explore how problems in government can open the way for an active citizenry. The event, “Broken Cities or Civic Renewal?”, begins at 12:00 PM at the Institute, but can also be livestreamed here.

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Democracy at risk?

In the Huffington PostAlex Wirth, part of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, discusses the results of a new poll by the Project that finds that youth voter (defined as voters ages 18-29) turnout this November could be the lowest on record.

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Education for a civil society

Writing at the Harvard Education Publishing blog, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine argues that the results of the recent CIRCLE study of each state’s civic education standards and course requirements–which we highlighted here–are not as dire as they may seem. (One such discouraging note from the study is that only eight states nationwide have statewide tests specifically in civics or American government.)

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The real problem with televised debates: The viewers

In his latest Time Ideas column, Eric Liu, author of The Gardens of Democracy, takes on what he sees as the real problem with televised presidential debates: us, the viewers. As tonight’s debate between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney nears (it begins at 9:00 PM EST), Liu has some advice.

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The Tocquevillean moment

In the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Wilfred McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, has an essay about “the Tocquevillean moment…and ours.” This moment, McClay writes, is “when social change arrives at a crossroads, and awaits further direction. [… It] involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.”

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Civics in an election year

The election season reminds us of the primacy of American self-government. As both candidates have noted, the choice between them ultimately lies with the American people, whose duty it is to inform themselves about the candidates’ different positions and policies, to deliberate upon them, and to cast their vote. Their decision will shape at least the next four years in American politics. Yet, as important as these responsibilities of citizenship are, they are too often neglected in our schools.

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Civic health and unemployment II: The case builds

Last November, we covered a report by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC)–whose annual national conference, by the way, is today and can be live streamed beginning at 1:00 PM EST here–that made the case that a community’s level of civic engagement was related to its economic success. On Wednesday, NCoC released a follow up to that report: “Civic Health and Unemployment II: The Case Builds.”

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Are entitlements corrupting us?

Writing in The Wall Street Journal‘s “Saturday Essay,” AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt raises the question of what will happen to the American character as the United States increasingly becomes “a nation of takers.”

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America’s generosity divide

According to a new report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans across the country and in different income brackets have surprisingly different levels of charitable giving. The study, “How America Gives,” looked at IRS records from 2008 for taxpayers who itemized their deductions and who earned $50,000 or more that year. The authors found that these Americans donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income to charitable causes. The picture becomes more interesting, though, when you compare the data by region, income level, etc.

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More on mandatory voting

We’ve covered before some recent arguments for and against the idea of making voting in some way mandatory for American citizens. Joining the debate now is Eric Liu, author of The Gardens of Democracy, who wrote earlier this week in his Time Ideas column in favor of mandatory voting.

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