IU research center trying to remedy ‘civic deficit’

Only 36 percent of Americans know there are three branches of federal government.

Many don’t recognize “We the people…” as the preamble to the Constitution.

These are signs, says IUPUI professor Sheila Kennedy, of America’s “civic deficit,” and her fledgling research center at Indiana University, the Center for Civic Literacy, is looking for new ways to close that gap. The center will open its first public conference Aug. 22 with the goal of connecting scholars and practitioners in the fields of education, business, not-for-profits, media and government.

Kennedy said IU’s center, launched quietly three years ago, is unique in its interdisciplinary approach. Most research in the field is around school curriculums and political science, she said.

Kennedy and her co-principal investigator, Indiana University Kelley School of Business professor Anthony Cox, are interested in the broad-based implications of Americans’ ignorance about our democratic institutions. Cox, for example, is concerned that entrepreneurs will be hampered by not understanding the workings of government, which may regulate their businesses.

“What our mission is, is to figure out, why are we so stupid?” Kennedy said. “What are the consequences of the ignorance we see around us?”

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