Nothing is more important to democracy than civic literacy

By Kelly Jones Sharp

According to the 2015 Indiana Civic Health Index, Indiana is third in the nation for social connectivity through family relationships and 20th for individual participation in group associations. Yet, only 69 percent of us registered to vote in the last presidential election — putting us at 37th in the country — and our participation in school, neighborhood and community associations has declined, moving us to 44th nationally.

The authors of the report say these measures of civic health act as a kind of “societal checkup,” to identify areas of needed improvement, because “a community with strong civic health is more resilient when hardship hits, has more effective government, and is a better place to live.”

As we approach the 228th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution this Sept. 17, we might consider where civic literacy is taking place. Are children being taught about their constitutional rights at the supper table and at school, or is their learning taking place through whatever major news story is traversing television and the Internet?

It’s important to consider where children are learning about their rights, because so much of what passes for discussion about constitutional rights these days can be misleading and confusing, as in the case of recent political statements over citizenship and the 14th Amendment.

In fact, because nothing is more important to our democracy than improving civic literacy, for the third year the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana will be offering free resources to schools on Constitution Day. We’re training volunteer speakers to present a nonpartisan program about the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights in classrooms in the Indianapolis Metro area. We are also providing educational handouts for students both through the classroom speakers and on our website.

Civic literacy is so important that the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2004 mandating that any school receiving federal funds of any kind provide educational programming on the significance of Constitution Day. We are offering schools a way to fulfill that mandate.

Details about our program are at We encourage schools to sign up for these free resources and attorneys and other professionals to consider using our program to visit a classroom on Constitution Day.

Kelly Jones Sharp is director of communications and education with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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