Why Civics Matters

By Matt Chick

I remember learning about “deliberative democracy” for the first time as an undergraduate student in one of my first political theory classes. After initial skepticism, I slowly became convinced. The more I read, the more I thought that this was something that could work. Citizens do need to be involved in their governments and their public policy making, I thought. Moreover, when talking to and working with each other, citizens could make a better world through the building of communities, the cultivation of respect for each other, and the development of their own intellectual capacities.

I became so enamored with the idea that I decided to attend graduate school in political theory—in search of a better world through democracy, deliberation, and citizenship. It is in graduate school that I have found a home for many of my views in civic studies and civic education. This is what is at the heart of civic studies: making the world better. I have a more positive view of academia than most—I believe that at the core of every discipline, is a notion that its work can make the world better. No academic discipline though, is as explicit about, committed to, or actively engaged in improving the world than civic studies. Civic studies consists in a variety of social scientists, political theorists, philosophers, and practitioners. They can be hard to find right now because they aren’t all in the same department, building, or even the same campus, but the discipline does exist and is gaining momentum.

The study of civics and a civic education are as crucial now as they ever were. They teach us about the problems in the world, but they also teach us that we can solve them. Our problems are shared projects that can be overcome, not impossible barriers. For civic studies, the goal is nothing less than improving the world and improving our lives.

Matt Chick is a graduate student in political theory at the University of Maryland, specializing in deliberative democracy, democratic theory, ethics, and epistemology. He is also an assistant managing editor for the academic journal, PEGS (The Political Economy of the Good Society), which is committed to linking democratic theory to practice and to civic studies more generally.