Benefits of Civic Literacy and Action Civics



The Need for Civic Education

"Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years.1 Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent2 and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996.3 Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy. Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become engaged and knowledgeable citizens." - The State of Civic Education, Center for American Progress, 2018. Click to learn more. 


Additional Research on the Need for Civic Literacy In Schools:

A Report Card on New York's Civil Literacy

Civics Illiteracy in America, Harvard Political Review.

American Bar Association Survey of Civic Literacy. 

Why Speech and Debate?

Speech and Debate is the most rigorous program for civics literacy and action civics. Students study different current events topic every month. Current events range from economics to global issues to philosophy and political science. Speech and Debate exponentially increases civic education learning time with weekend tournaments, summer speech and debate institutes, and after school speech and debate practices. But most of all, speech and debate encourages students to pursue passions and careers in government, law, and public service. A survey by the National Speech and Debate Association shows that 64% of the Members of the United States Congress competed in debate or speech in school. Indeed, a Bronx high school debater by the name of Sonya Sotomayor was encouraged by her Debate Coach to become a lawyer and the rest is history. Sonya Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice of the highest court in the land. 

Benefits of Civic Education and Action Civics 

Increased Civic Participation

  • “By giving students the experience applying 21st century skills to bring about change in their own lives and communities, Action Civics helps schools fulfill both their academic and civic missions.” [5]

  • Students who learn about current events in the classroom are more likely to have civic skills and be civically engaged after they graduate.[6]

  • “Through this model, students do civics and behave as citizens by engaging in a cycle of research, action, and reflection about problems they care about personally while learning about deeper principles of effective civic and especially political action... These steps clearly encourage students to take ownership of a civic challenge that they care about, support their acquisition of the knowledge and skills needed to take meaningful action, expect students to take that action - to learn through citizenship and not just about citizenship - and then challenge students to reflect upon the experience as a means of consolidating their learning and empowering them to take effective action in the future.” [7]

  • Extracurricular activities have been shown to encourage participants to be more politically active later in life. In particular, activities concerning community service, representation, and speaking in public forums have been shown to have the largest positive influence on future political participation.[8]

Increased Academic Achievement

  • A national study uncovered that low socio-economic status students who participate in service learning or community service have better grades, better attendance, and feel more bonded to school than their peers.[9]

  • Civic engagement in high school significantly increases college graduation odds, even when controlling for socioeconomic and demographic factors. By becoming engaged in their communities, students grow to understand the relevance of their education, which increases their academic motivation.[10]

Closing the Civic Achievement Gap

  • “[Research] suggests that opportunities carefully orchestrated yet not overly structured that invite [youth from challenging urban and educational environments] to apprentice into the world of civic and political engagement can have tremendous results. These opportunities [...] appear likely to impact the youth’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions in enduring ways. They even appear to have impacted the civic engagement of the [participating] youths’ families and the civic life of their communities in many cases.” [11]

  • “The evidence does suggest that these interventions do have significant potential to reduce the civic empowerment gap by setting youth on a path to engagement that they wouldn’t have found on their own but will continue down once they’re on it... [it] seems that initial interest can be certainly be made rather than born: in other words, if young people are led or even forced to participate in guided experiential civic activities that are engaging, they may well become more civically engaged in the long run.” [12]

  • A longitudinal study of 4,000 CPS students determined that in-class civic learning opportunities and service learning experiences have the greatest impact on students’ commitment to civic participation of any other influence – including school, family, or community.[13]

  • By teaching civic skills and increasing civic motivation through student-centered, action-oriented, community-based learning, Action Civics may help close the civic engagement gap.[14]

Social Emotional Learning

Environmental Education

  • Earth Force’s Impact Report on how action civics affects youth, educators, and the environment

Youth Activism and Leadership

  • Boston Student Advisory Council. “We Are the Ones in the Classrooms — Ask Us!” Harvard Educational Review 82.1 (2012): 153-62.

Public Speaking Skills and Confidence 


Educating for Democracy 

Educating for Democracy

Education Paves the Road for Sustained Democracy

Young Voices at the Ballot Box


Contact Us

Feel free to chat with us at anytime by clicking on the chat icon on the bottom right or if you prefer to email us below. 

Get Email Updates

© 2020 by the NYC Elementary School Debate League |  Terms of Use  |   Privacy Policy