The Civic Learning Project
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Near the end of 2018 a group of foundations, led by the Hewlett Foundation and including the Koch Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, launched a project to study the current state of civic education in America. The goal was to provide a comprehensive overview of the civic education space to understand how the work of funders, policymakers, educators, researchers, and nonprofit organizations comes together and interacts to produce our current system of civic education. There is a broad consensus that we need to fundamentally rethink and enrich the ways we prepare young people to be successful citizens in a democracy, but until those of us who work in this space have a clearer understanding of the contours of the space and a way to talk about our goals and concerns using a shared vocabulary, systemic change is unlikely. In order to decide what needs to be done, how it should be done, and how to assess our progress along the way, we first need to bring leaders together around a common understanding of the challenges before us.
Our team reviewed leading research on civic education and social and emotional learning in schools and colleges; looked at civic education policies in all 50 states; attended conferences on civic education and/or democracy building; and also interviewed more than 100 experts who are engaged in civic education. Recognizing that private philanthropy is key to catalyze and sustain the work in this space, we invited more than 40 foundations to participate in a two-day session in September in Washington, D.C. These foundations represent a very diverse group—ideologically broad, geographically dispersed institutions, with interests in different content areas that overlap with this paper’s definition of civic learning. At this meeting the group discussed our preliminary findings and recommendations and identified areas of potential collaboration to build and sustain a field of civic learning. This document presents a synthesis of all of this work.