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Center on Representative Government to enhance civics education with $5.7M Defense Department grant

For Immediate Release Oct 3, 2023

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Indiana University Center on Representative Government has received a three-year, $5.7 million cooperative agreement award from the U.S. Department of Defense to enhance civics education and expand student interest in public service careers.

A protestor holding a placard in front of the US Capitol Building The center will use the funding to develop “Democracy Quest,” a virtual-reality-based interactive learning tool. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The center, which was founded by former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, will use the funding to develop “Democracy Quest,” a virtual-reality-based interactive learning tool. Democracy Quest is designed to engage high school students in the workings of representative government, help them better understand the nation’s political institutions, and strengthen their civic skills and literacy.

The center will receive the Department of Defense award through the department’s National Defense Education Program’s Civil Society program. The program authorizes federal support for the development of innovative curricula related to civics education, including critical thinking and media literacy; voting and advocacy; understanding of U.S. law, history and government; compromise and consensus-building; and interest in public service employment.

“At a time when proficiency in U.S. history and civics among eighth-graders is declining, the IU Center on Representative Government, with the support of our nation’s government leaders, is addressing the need for greater civics education in a head-on and innovative fashion,” IU President Pamela Whitten said. “We are extremely grateful to the Department of Defense for its generous support of the new Democracy Quest project, which will help ensure students are fully prepared to participate in our democracy by expanding their knowledge of the core tenets of representative government, strategies for compromise and problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills.”

“Since 1999, the IU Center on Representative Government has seamlessly integrated traditional civic values with innovative STEM tools to elevate civic engagement,” U.S. Sen. Todd Young said. “Democracy Quest isn’t just any new program; it’s a mission to rekindle America’s commitment to its foundational principles and help informed citizens navigate our dynamic society.”

The Center on Representative Government, which is part of the IU Office of the Vice President for University Relations, is a nonpartisan educational institution. It has developed an extensive array of free civics education resources, training sessions and other activities to improve the public’s understanding of a citizen’s role in representative government, strengthen civic engagement and teach the skills that are essential to sustaining the nation’s form of representative democracy.

Established in 1999, the center grew from Hamilton’s recognition, during his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, of the need to improve the public’s understanding of Congress, including its strengths and its weaknesses, and its everyday impact on the lives of ordinary people.

The center has since expanded on this mission to teach about the inner workings of all three branches of U.S. government and how citizens can have a meaningful impact on government action on a local, state and national level. It has received grants from the Library of Congress, the Annenberg Public Policy Center and other organizations in support of this work, which has generated free web- and app-based civics learning tools that are used in over 3,000 classrooms across the U.S.

These tools include the award-winning Engaging Congress app, which explores the basic principles of representative government and the challenges it faces in contemporary society, and Action Citizen, which provides content and an approach for participation in our democracy. The first module of Action Citizen focuses on the environment and how individuals’ actions shaped important legislative acts in such areas as clean water, endangered species and environmental protection.

Like its other interactive learning tools, which are accessible on the web and for download on the App Store and Google Play, Democracy Quest will combine analysis of primary source materials, most of which are housed at the Library of Congress, with interactive elements designed to encourage and enhance creative thinking, research, inquiry, media literacy and real-life skill building.

The center will partner with several educational institutions to pilot Democracy Quest, including Indiana-based Noblesville Schools and Ivy Tech Community College, as well as Walters State Community College in Tennessee and Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida.

To develop the interactive learning tool, the center will once again partner with Half Full Nelson, an IU-alumnus-owned design and game development company based in Indianapolis.

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