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Crisis in civics ed? Revival is under way.

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•Texas Christian University in Fort Worth has established a Center for Civic Literacy, which brings together students, faculty, and community members to shape local public policy.

•The School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, recently joined a number of elite law schools by expanding its loan-forgiveness program for graduates who take public-service or advocacy jobs. The program covers up to $100,000 in debts for qualifying students.

•The New School, a university in New York City, just launched the Riggio Writing and Democracy Program. Undergraduate students in one of the courses next semester will write constitutional amendments and argue their merits before the class.

The latest group to examine college students' grasp of civics is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit in Wilmington, Del., that promotes education about the nation's "founding principles." In a test of 14,000 college students, freshmen and seniors on average answered only half of the 60 multiple-choice questions correctly. The report recommends that more universities require such core courses as American history, political science, and economics. And it notes that students who take such courses are more likely to vote, volunteer, or join political campaigns.

"The study of the practice of democracy in our country ... is a foundational study that needs to be assured for every [college] student," says ISI senior vice president Michael Ratliff, a retired US Navy Rear Admiral. "We don't want a federal fiat that requires 'X' course ... but colleges and universities need to engage and ensure a balanced education."

Some educators, however, argue that the focus shouldn't be on multiple-choice tests, but on what citizenship skills students are taught that will last a lifetime. "There's nothing inherently wrong or right with core courses; it just depends on how they're conceived. If it's just simply throwing names and dates at them, most of that's going to disappear by the time they graduate," says Robert Polito, director of the Writing and Democracy Program at The New School.

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