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Civic Definitions- What is a Vote - History

Civic Definitions- What is a Vote - History

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Cast Your Vote

Just in time for election season, teachers can now assign pre/post-game quizzes to get insight into what students are learning by playing Cast Your Vote. Learn more about the NEW assessment tool before assigning.

Election Day is coming, are your students prepared to vote? In our completely reimagined Cast Your Vote, students will discover what it takes to become an informed voter &mdash from knowing where they stand on important issues to uncovering what they need to know about candidates.

This new version of Cast Your Vote allows your students to simulate the voting process and:

  • Learn about the importance of local elections
  • Watch candidates discuss important issues in Town Hall debates
  • Identify issues that matter to them and rate candidates' stances
  • Collect their own notes on candidates within an in-game app

For students with visual or mobile impairments: This game offers a keyboard navigation mode, as well as a screen reader to supplement the use of sound effects and voiceover. You can access these tools via the dropdown menu in the top left corner of the game screen.

For English Language Learners: Use the support tool, Spanish translation, voiceover and glossary.

Explore all of our free election curriculum and teaching resources at our Election Headquarters .


House rules require an absolute majority of members voting to choose a speaker.

But this year, instead of simply voting against Boehner on Tuesday, at least two members of the group are vying to replace him.

As she discussed her understanding of the voting rights campaign and how she planned to recreate it, I grew more relieved.

Her focus would be on the three months, January through March 1965, that gave birth to the Voting Rights Act.

She adds that some of the earliest voting booths were stationed inside drinking establishments.

Neither privately owned nor government stock is entitled to voting power.

Nor can other creditors through filing objections to a claim prevent a bona fide claimant from voting.

In due course the news came that the date of voting in the Senate for or against the retention of the Islands was fixed.

A court of equity though may do this, and enjoin a pledgee from voting the stock whenever the pledgor's rights would be affected.

More recently the cumulative system of voting has come into general favor.


Dictionary entry overview: What does civic duty mean?

The noun CIVIC DUTY has 1 sense:

1. the responsibilities of a citizen

Familiarity information: CIVIC DUTY used as a noun is very rare.

Dictionary entry details

The responsibilities of a citizen

Nouns denoting acts or actions

Hypernyms ("civic duty" is a kind of. ):

duty obligation responsibility (the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force)

Hyponyms (each of the following is a kind of "civic duty"):

Why Voting Is Important

&ldquoVoting is your civic duty.&rdquo This is a pretty common sentiment, especially each November as Election Day approaches. But what does it really mean? And what does it mean for Americans in particular?

Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History

Americans Voting

Typically in the United States, national elections draw large numbers of voters compared to local elections.

A History of Voting in the United States

Today, most American citizens over the age of 18 are entitled to vote in federal and state elections, but voting was not always a default right for all Americans. The United States Constitution, as originally written, did not define specifically who could or could not vote&mdashbut it did establish how the new country would vote.

Article 1 of the Constitution determined that members of the Senate and House of Representatives would both be elected directly by popular vote. The president, however, would be elected not by direct vote, but rather by the Electoral College. The Electoral College assigns a number of representative votes per state, typically based on the state&rsquos population. This indirect election method was seen as a balance between the popular vote and using a state&rsquos representatives in Congress to elect a president.

Because the Constitution did not specifically say who could vote, this question was largely left to the states into the 1800s. In most cases, landowning white men were eligible to vote, while white women, black people, and other disadvantaged groups of the time were excluded from voting (known as disenfranchisement).

While no longer explicitly excluded, voter suppression is a problem in many parts of the country. Some politicians try to win reelection by making it harder for certain populations and demographics to vote. These politicians may use strategies such as reducing polling locations in predominantly African American or Lantinx neighborhoods, or only having polling stations open during business hours, when many disenfranchised populations are working and unable to take time off.

It was not until the 15 th Amendment was passed in 1869 that black men were allowed to vote. But even so, many would-be voters faced artificial hurdles like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other measures meant to discourage them from exercising their voting right. This would continue until the 24 th Amendment in 1964, which eliminated the poll tax, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended Jim Crow laws. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, when the long efforts of the women&rsquos suffrage movement resulted in the 19 th Amendment.

With these amendments removing the previous barriers to voting (particularly sex and race), theoretically all American citizens over the age of 21 could vote by the mid 1960s. Later, in 1971, the American voting age was lowered to 18, building on the idea that if a person was old enough to serve their country in the military, they should be allowed to vote.

With these constitutional amendments and legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the struggle for widespread voting rights evolved from the Founding Fathers&rsquo era to the late 20 th century.

Why Your Vote Matters

If you ever think that just one vote in a sea of millions cannot make much of a difference, consider some of the closest elections in U.S. history.

In 2000, Al Gore narrowly lost the Electoral College vote to George W. Bush. The election came down to a recount in Florida, where Bush had won the popular vote by such a small margin that it triggered an automatic recount and a Supreme Court case (Bush v. Gore). In the end, Bush won Florida by 0.009 percent of the votes cast in the state, or 537 votes. Had 600 more pro-Gore voters gone to the polls in Florida that November, there may have been an entirely different president from 2000&ndash2008.

More recently, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by securing a close Electoral College win. Although the election did not come down to a handful of votes in one state, Trump&rsquos votes in the Electoral College decided a tight race. Clinton had won the national popular vote by nearly three million votes, but the concentration of Trump voters in key districts in &ldquoswing&rdquo states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan helped seal enough electoral votes to win the presidency.

Your vote may not directly elect the president, but if your vote joins enough others in your voting district or county, your vote undoubtedly matters when it comes to electoral results. Most states have a &ldquowinner take all&rdquo system where the popular vote winner gets the state&rsquos electoral votes. There are also local and state elections to consider. While presidential or other national elections usually get a significant voter turnout, local elections are typically decided by a much smaller group of voters.

A Portland State University study found that fewer than 15 percent of eligible voters were turning out to vote for mayors, council members, and other local offices. Low turnout means that important local issues are determined by a limited group of voters, making a single vote even more statistically meaningful.

How You Can Make Your Voice Heard

If you are not yet 18, or are not a U.S. citizen, you can still participate in the election process. You may not be able to walk into a voting booth, but there are things you can do to get involved:

  • Be informed! Read up on political issues (both local and national) and figure out where you stand.
  • Get out and talk to people. Even if you cannot vote, you can still voice opinions on social media, in your school or local newspaper, or other public forums. You never know who might be listening.
  • Volunteer. If you support a particular candidate, you can work on their campaign by participating in phone banks, doing door-to-door outreach, writing postcards, or volunteering at campaign headquarters. Your work can help get candidates elected, even if you are not able to vote yourself.

Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of American life. Many people in countries around the world do not have the same freedom, nor did many Americans in centuries past. No matter what you believe or whom you support, it is important to exercise your rights.

Typically in the United States, national elections draw large numbers of voters compared to local elections.

Alternative vote

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Alternative vote (AV), also called instant runoff, method of election in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If any single candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, that candidate is deemed elected. If no candidate clears this hurdle, the last-place candidate is eliminated and that candidate’s second preferences are reapportioned to others and so on until a candidate clears the threshold of 50 percent of the vote plus one.

Unlike the single-transferable-vote method used in places such as Ireland and Malta, where each constituency elects multiple members, districts using the alternative method elect only a single candidate. Voters may rank any number of candidates they like, from selecting only one candidate to rank ordering all candidates. AV is used in parliamentary elections in Australia and Papua New Guinea and for presidential elections in Ireland. A variant, the supplementary vote, in which candidates may rank order only their top two choices, is used in mayoral elections in London and other British cities. Another variant, the contingent vote system used in elections for president in Sri Lanka, allows voters to rank their top three candidates if no candidate wins a majority, only the top two candidates go to a second round of counting, with the preference votes of eliminated candidates being reapportioned.

Several political parties, including the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada and the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom use alternative vote for the election of their party leaders. Following the indecisive 2010 general election in the United Kingdom, the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a coalition government with the Conservative Party on the condition, among other things, that a referendum be held on changing the British electoral system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) in favour of AV on May 5, 2011, however, more than two-thirds of British voters rejected AV.

Advocates of AV claim that it enhances parliamentary representation by ensuring that all representatives have the support of at least a majority of their constituents (in some elections in Britain, for example, some two-thirds of MPs were elected with only a plurality of the votes) and requires candidates to appeal to a wide cross section of voters rather than to just a narrow segment of the electorate. They also argue that it encourages political moderation, as extremist political parties will rarely be a second or third choice among most voters, and that it will discourage tactical voting (i.e., not voting for your preferred candidate if he has little chance of winning) in favour of voters expressing their sincere intention.

Critics of AV, who tend to favour FPTP, maintain that AV is overly complicated and eliminates the simplicity and transparency of a system in which the candidate with the most votes wins. In contrast to the claim of AV’s supporters that AV encourages moderation, they also argue that the second and third preferences of supporters of extremist parties could decide the final results.

Why I believe in the power of voting

After my father retired from his job as supervisor at a tannery, he often worked the polls in Hardeman County. He knew all the elected officials, and they knew him. His younger sister, my Aunt Ora, also was an avid voter and poll worker.

After leaving Tennessee in the early 1950s, she worked the polls in Chicago, and then registered voters and worked the polls in Dayton, Ohio, until she reached her late '80s.

My father and aunt, and all their siblings, realized the sacredness of voting. They lived through an era when Black people were disenfranchised and discouraged from going to the polls. A time when Blacks were intimidated, threatened, endured poll taxes and literacy tests or had to count beans in a jar before they were allowed to vote, if they were allowed.


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Fortunately, they owned their own property, so they were not put out of their homes, or off farms or lost jobs, as many Blacks experienced because they had the audacity to vote.

As Stacey Abrams, founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, has said, “The right to vote should never be taken for granted – and that is especially true this year.”

The Insufficiency and Abuse of Election

Dictatorships make evident the notion that the holding of an election, in and of itself, is insufficient to establish or sustain democracy. Elections are the sine qua non of democracy, but without democracy's other essential elements — such as constitutional limits , the protection of basic human rights and minority rights , accountability and transparency , a multiple party system , economic freedom , and the rule of law — elections are not a guarantee of freedom. Indeed, the holding of elections absent other democratic rights means that those elections cannot be considered genuine and are simply a means of political manipulation by those who seek absolute power (country studies of “not free” countries in this and other sections linked above).

Lesson Plans

Why is voting an important responsibility for citizens?


  • Analyze the efficacy of messages encouraging people to vote
  • Examine the history of voting regulation since the Civil Rights Act of 1965
  • Analyze voting regulation between the states and the federal government
  • Analyze the potential power of the Latino vote
  • Evaluate the importance of voting


For many Americans, voting is not a “prime time” event. Less than 60 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2012 general election. Yet, for other Americans, voting is a very meaningful, almost sacred duty. In this lesson, students will view three short films that explore the importance of voting. Each film/activity examines the topic from a different, thought-provoking perspective. Show each film in sequence and follow with the discussion questions or activity provided. Culminate with an activity that revisits students’ initial ideas about the importance of voting.


  • We The Voters film “First Time Voters”
  • We The Voters film “So You Think You Can Vote?
  • We The Voters film “Citizen Next”
  • Copies of Student Handouts:
    • Handout #1: Importance of Voting Survey
    • Handout #2: “So You Think You Can Vote?” 3-2-1 Strategy Chart
    • Handout #3: “Citizen Next” Graphic Organizer


    Day 1: The Importance of Voting

    Opening Activity: Organize the class into small groups. Distribute Handout #1: Importance of Voting Survey to each group. Ask them to review several websites that provide reasons for voting (examples are listed on the handout) and complete the chart. Have students meet as a class and discuss the reasons the websites were effective in encouraging voters to vote.

    Film Viewing: Keep students in their small groups and have students watch the We The Voters film “First Time Voters,” more than once if necessary, and then discuss the post-viewing discussion questions below.

    Film Summary: A farcical tale of José, a first-time voter, who sends a mixed message to his friend Olivia about his first time voting. The couple end their conversation still in confusion and José begins his journey to the polls. Suddenly, he is confronted by a middle-aged Agent of Negativity, who tries to convince him that voting is a waste of time, especially for millennials. The two debate the merits of voting all the way to the polling place. Olivia is there explaining to José that she’s reconsidered his proposal to vote for the first time. Suddenly the two young people discover the Agent of Negativity’s motivation for discouraging them from voting.

    Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:

    Discuss the following questions with students either in small groups or as a whole class.

    • What is the main message to José sent by the “Agent of Negativity”?
    • What are some of the arguments that José gives in response to the Agent’s claims?
    • Explain how any of the following issues mentioned in the film might directly affect you: education healthcare immigration minimum wage, environment, policing, foreign policy?
    • The film cites the statistic that millennials are one-third of all eligible voters—83 million people. How might this voting group have a big impact on the next election?

    Day 2: Challenges to Voting

    Film Viewing: Distribute Handout #2: “So You Think You Can Vote?” 3-2-1 Strategy Chart. Then, show the We The Voters film “So You Think You Can Vote?” more than once if necessary. Then organize a “four squares activity” with a quarter of the class in each of four corners of the room. Have students share things they learned from the film and one of their questions about the film’s content with at least two people in the other groups.

    Film Summary: Despite what you might have been led to believe, there is no “right to vote” in the Constitution. The film tracks the history of voting rights in the U.S., leading us to a newfound understanding of what obstacles might prevent us from casting our vote in future elections. Armed with that knowledge and a motivation to right that wrong, this film explores just what it would take to amend the Constitution today.

    Bring the class together and have students ask the questions they generated in the second section of the chart and share their most memorable moments of the film.

    Go a little deeper into the film’s rich historical content. Divide the class into six groups and assign one of the following key points from the film to each group. Have students conduct quick research on their topic question using the resources listed below and others. (This can be done as a homework assignment.) Have students prepare their findings and present them to the class.

    • What does the Constitution say about who regulates voting? (See Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, U.S. Constitution). What do the following Amendments to the Constitution say about voting? The 12 th , 14 th , 15 th , 19 th , 24 th , and 26 th amendments (, )
    • How have some states, particularly in the South, placed barriers to voting? (
    • How did the 1965 Voting Rights Act help African Americans overcome legal barriers that prevented them from voting in some state and local elections? ( , LBJ speech before Congress , key excerpts from the speech and Impact of the Voting Rights Act
    • Describe the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder and explain how it overturned a key provision in the Voting Rights Act. Review the dissenting opinion. (Oyez , FRONTLINE )
    • What are voting ID laws and what is the controversy that surrounds them? (FRONTLINE: Voter ID Laws, and ) How have some federal courts responded to these voter ID laws? ( )

    Discussion Questions

    Discuss the following questions with students as a whole class, with each group contributing their findings to the discussion.

    • Why do you think the Constitution left to the states the authority for regulating voting? Throughout history, what have been the pluses and minuses of this for some voters?
    • What were some of the voting “tests” Southern states devised to restrict African Americans from voting? How did the Voting Rights Act take some of this authority away from the states, and what were the results?
    • Describe the effect the decision in Shelby v. Holder had on the Voting Rights Act. What was the Court’s reasoning in the majority decision? What was the dissenting position? Which side do you agree with and why?
    • Describe some voter ID laws that were enacted in some states and how recently federal courts have responded to them. Do you agree or disagree with these courts’ decisions and why? Because of these states’ actions and the federal courts’ decisions, do you think the Supreme Court should reconsider the Shelby case? Explain.

    Day 3: Expanding the Right to Vote

    Film Viewing: Distribute Handout #3: “Citizen Next” Graphic Organizer and have students watch the We The Voters film “Citizen Next,” more than once if necessary. Working in small groups, have students complete the handout. To promote good question writing, have students use the summarizing points and their film notes on the organizer to formulate questions they are most curious about. Bring the students/groups back to a whole class discussion after viewing, having students pose their questions to the class.

    Film Summary: Immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, face many challenges to becoming U.S. citizens: the cost, the difficulty learning English, anti-immigrant sentiment, and more. Immigrants may want to become American citizens for many reasons: the United States is their home, the time is right, they want to benefit their families, with citizenship comes civil and legal rights, with citizenship comes the right to vote and have a voice. The film concludes at the citizenship ceremony where the new citizens testify to why they became so.

    Article Investigation: To provide students with some background on the potential of Latino and particularly millennial voters, have students read the PBS NewsHour article, “Latino millennials could be major voting bloc—if turnout is high enough.”

    Post-Reading/Viewing Discussion Questions

    After reading the article and viewing the film, have students discuss the following questions either in small groups or as a whole class:

    • What potential voting power do Latinos have in the United States?
    • According to the article, why does the Latino millennial population have the lowest voter turnout—behind African Americans and whites?
    • Why might lower voter turnout in key “toss-up states” change the outcome of this election?
    • The article was written in January 2016, before each major party had nominated its candidate. How might Latino voters respond to the two current presidential candidates? Have students discuss their preference for the two candidates running for president and their reasons why.

    Culminating Activity: Have students return to the opening activity in this lesson where they took the “The Importance of Voting Survey.” Ask students to reflect on what they’ve learned since taking the survey and explain if any of their survey answers would change. Has their initial answer to the question, “What value do you see in voting?” changed? If so, how? If not, why not?

    Why Civics Is About More Than Citizenship

    Amid stagnant performance on civics exams and abysmal youth voter turnout, one group has endeavored to make the U.S. citizenship exam a high-school graduation requirement in every state.

    Only one in five Americans aged 18 through 29 cast a ballot in last year’s elections, marking 2014 as having the lowest youth voter-turnout in 40 years. Some reason that young Americans are apathetic about public affairs. Others argue that cynicism about the electoral process is what’s keeping young adults from the polls: They’re so disillusioned with politics they’ve simply given up on it.

    Given Millennials’ lifestyle habits and the general public’s ever-growing skepticism of people in power, perennially low voter turnout may seem inevitable. But perhaps schools are largely to blame for the rather pathetic participation numbers perhaps young adults’ ignorance of civic affairs helps explain why so few of them cast their votes. Perhaps that means change is possible.

    “The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be civically engaged,” the Fordham Foundation’s Robert Pondiscio said in a recent seminar with education reporters. It seems that the country’s public schools are failing to fulfill one of their core founding missions: to foster and maintain a thriving democracy.

    This is the stated mission of the Joe Foss Institute, a nonprofit that has been making headlines for its particular civic-ed strategy. The non-partisan institute is on a mission to make passing the U.S. citizenship exam—the one that immigrants have to take to become naturalized citizens—a high-school graduation requirement in all 50 states by 2017. Officially, the exam is designed to comprehensively assess one’s familiarity with American fundamentals, drawing 10 questions or prompts at random from a total pool of 100: “What is the supreme law of the land?” for example, or “Name a state that borders Canada.”

    Even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia technically require some civic education, advocates say many districts don’t take those policies very seriously, and few states actually hold schools accountable for students’ civics’ outcomes. Just about a fourth of high-school seniors in 2014 scored “proficient” on the federal-government’s civics exam. Proficiency levels were equally lousy for eighth-graders. “U.S. performance has stayed the same. Or should I say: Scores have stayed every bit as bad as the last time the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) took the pulse of history, civics, and geography in public and private schools,” wrote the Washington Post Writers Group columnist Esther Cepeda, who hosted the aforementioned seminar with reporters, earlier this year. As with standardized tests in general, the NAEP exam certainly isn’t the ideal way to gauge proficiency but it’s the only source of nationwide data. And ultimately, surveys of American youth suggest that these test scores paint a pretty accurate picture of their civic literacy: A 2010 Pew Research study found that the vast majority of young adults struggle with basic questions about politics—who the next House speaker would be, for example. On a day like today—national Constitution and Citizenship Day—that makes for an especially discouraging reality.

    Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, suggests that these low proficiency levels correlate with turnout stats. According to a 2013 CIRCLE survey of young adults, about 60 percent of the respondents who said they’d studied voting in high school cast ballots in the 2012 election, compared to only 43 percent of those who said they hadn’t just 21 percent of the respondents said they knew their state’s voter-registration deadline.

    Given those circumstances, the institute’s initiative may seem like a large undertaking—especially in a country whose politicians are nearly a decade overdue in rewriting the omnibus federal education law. Yet the citizenship-exam law has already passed in eight states, among them Arizona—where the nonprofit and much of its leaders are based—Louisiana, and Wisconsin. Moreover, another 11 state legislatures considered the proposal this year, and the group intends to get 20 additional states on board in 2016. Advocates are confident all will go according to plan.

    The question is whether that goal will actually achieve the institute’s pledged mission of civic know-how among America’s future adults. The initiative has also raised concerns about what it represents. “It’s an empty symbolic effort,” said Joseph Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College who oversees the Civic Engagement Research Group and is a vocal critic of the Foss Institute’s plan, in the seminar. “There’s not any evidence base to show that this will be effective … It’s something state legislators can pass and feel good about.” In a recent piece of commentary for Education Week, he argued that testing approach to civic ed is the equivalent of “teaching democracy like a game show.”

    Aside from Kahne, critics have been scrutinizing the initiative for a range of reasons, both educational and political. For one, it comes with even more standardized testing for kids who are already overwhelmed by the stuff. For another, it sends the message that a multiple-choice exam is the key to being a successful citizen. In other words, it uses an arguably one-dimensional tool as a proxy for an idea of nationhood that, to many critics, is precisely the opposite—what should be a “continuum,” as Louise Dubé, the executive director of iCivics, explained, that emphasizes “quality and not just facts.”

    Indeed, civics is an abstract concept that means different things to different people, as does civic education. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines civic education as “all the processes that affect people's beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities.” The Center for Civic Education’s Margaret Stimmann Branson offers something a little more concise: “education in self-government,” which, she specified, requires that citizens are proactive. “They do not just passively accept the dictums of others or acquiesce to the demands of others,” she continued. And then there’s the Joe Foss Institute’s interpretation: the teaching of “how our government works and who we are as a nation, preparing them to exercise their vote, solve problems in their communities, and engage in active citizenship.”

    What makes the subject challenging to apply in schools, though, is that things can get complicated once the basic facts and figures are peeled away. Teaching how a bill becomes law? Fine. Using a current piece of pending legislation to illustrate that lesson? Tricky. Asking students to think critically about that legislation and opine on its merits as if they’re the lawmakers determining its fate? Risky. Indeed, civics inherently intersects with polemical topics that some teachers are uncomfortable discussing in the classroom—often because they’re worried, perhaps for good reason, about losing their jobs. As Cepeda noted in the seminar, efforts to ramp up civic education in schools may have floundered because the subject is “a very politically touchy issue,” something with which politicians are wary of dealing.

    In a way, that’s one reason why the Joe Foss approach makes sense: As a multiple-choice test about facts, it is by definition as objective as these things get. And the exam itself is, arguably, so easy that debating the merits of it as a required exit high-school exam almost seems silly. Pondiscio even went as far as to say that the exam is too easy to make sense as a high-school requirement “it should be an exit exam” for elementary-school students, he contended. (To be sure, not every elementary-school student is going to be able to ace the test. No. 67, for example, asks applicants to name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers.)

    Acknowledging the exam’s limitations, Lucian Spataro, a former president of the Joe Foss Institute who continues to serve on its board, reasoned that it simply serves as a first step toward getting kids’ civic literacy to an acceptable level. It’s part of what will inevitably be a long-drawn-out and challenging process. Spataro used similar logic in justifying the testing approach: It incentivizes teachers, he suggested, to give the subject more attention. “If it’s tested, it’s taught,” he said. (Ironically, this teaching-to-the-test reasoning is one of the main reasons No Child Left Behind is so unpopular.)

    Sparato, a former educator and an engineer by training, lamented what he said is a disproportionate emphasis on STEM in America’s classrooms. “You’re going to have to have all the disciplines on the frontburner—not just the STEM disciplines” in order to retain “the United States’ competitive edge,” he said. “You need to be a well-rounded student to be a well-rounded citizen … This can no longer be the quiet crisis in education.”

    Few would doubt Sparato’s characterization of the civic-ed problem as a “quiet crisis”—a term coined by the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (who, coincidentally, founded iCivics) and regularly included in the Foss Institute’s promotional materials. But the citizenship-test strategy “is the exact opposite of what we want,” says iCivics’ Dubé, who got involved with the organization after her own son participated in its educational activities as a fourth-grader. In contrast with the Foss Institute, iCivics—which O’Connor founded in 2009—sees itself as a technology-focused endeavor, giving teachers free access to interactive, role-playing games and activities to use in the classrooms. The program, according to Dubé, reaches an estimated 3 million children annually and is used by roughly half of the nation’s public middle-school teachers. iCivics, Dubé stressed, based on a four-pronged definition of civic ed: “skills,” like teaching kids how to write effective argumentative essays using primary sources “knowledge,” which has to do with facts and understanding how the system works “dispositions,” such as being able to engage in dialogue about difficult issues while managing their socioemotional behaviors and “actions,”—putting these tools into effect by going to the polls, for example. In other words, the Joe Foss emphasis—what iCivics would probably define as “knowledge”—seems to highlight a small, though important, fraction of that endeavor. “Some of the things happening politically are a result of people not knowing,” how to make a difference, Dubé said. “It’s important that we show [students] that that big machine that seems like it has nothing to do with you matters more than you think.”

    “Any movement for civic education,” she continued, “is a good thing.”

    The two biggest challenges to civic literacy among today’s young adults, according to Dubé, are quality and equity. To improve the outcomes, educators need to show students that the information is relevant and easy to digest, she said. They need to know it will make a difference in their lives. And, she argued, iCivics’ effectiveness has to do with its focus on gaming it’s about employing the element of mystery and playfulness, encouraging kids to compete and discover. That, she said, is “what might overcome that disaffection.”

    In general, disaffection seems to be a major obstacle in Arizona. Home to one of the highest rates of undocumented immigrants, the state is notorious for its harsh treatment of those believed to be in the country illegally. It’s also one of the few states where high-school dropout rates have actually increased, a trend that’s been largely attributed to specific districts, such as Tucson and Mesa, and the high percentage of Latino students.