Boosting civics education is critical for a healthy, stable economy

Blog post by Whitney Harmel

Whitney Harmel is the executive vice president of the Maryland Chamber, executive director of the Maryland Chamber Foundation, with expertise in small, large, local and international business. She is passionate about sharing the Chamber’s vision with the Maryland business community because the transformational work we do in economic development and grassroots advocacy and through the Maryland Chamber Foundation will make Maryland a stronger state for everyone.




When you hear the word civics, exercising your right to vote or serving on a jury may be the first things that come to mind. In fact, civics is a much deeper concept with broader impact on our community and on our businesses. Civic engagement is vital to the health of our democracy and therefore, the prosperity of our economy. At the Maryland Chamber Foundation, we are taking steps to ensure our young people are literate in civics and can master the skills needed to be engaged citizens and community leaders. 

This year, the Maryland Chamber Foundation has the honor to be a part of the pilot program for the National Civics Bee. Through this competition, we will engage our Maryland middle schoolers in a civics essay contest, and ultimately reward the top winners at a live quiz-style competition on May 7th. This initiative, organized by The Civic Trust of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, will teach middle school kids the importance of American democracy, to engage respectfully and constructively in the public square and to build greater trust in others and institutions.  

Now more than ever, civics education deserves our focus. Unfortunately, civics education around the nation is on the decline. According to the 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education, in recent years, reading and math scores have risen but civics knowledge has not increased. Although 42 states and the District of Columbia require students to take a least one civics-related course, few states actually prioritize the curriculum with robust service-learning opportunities. The skills that modern civics education develops are foundational to help our young people blossom into Americans who can debate their differences in a healthy, civil way and who embrace diversity of thought as an opportunity to grow and learn. These are the core values that strengthen our democracy and our communities. 

CivXNow, a bipartisan coalition of over one hundred academic and research institutions, learning providers, and philanthropic organizations, argues that civic education must include a focus on three core pillars: 

1) Civics knowledge and skills – learning the history of the processes of government, prevalent political ideologies and our civic and constitutional rights 

2) Civic values and dispositions – gaining an appreciation for civil discourse, free speech and productively engaging with perspectives different from one’s own  

3) Civic behaviors – learning about civic duties like voting, volunteering and engaging with your community 

Through the teaching of these three core ideas in middle and high school, our young people will be poised to be productive and active members of our society and communities as adults. 

Our Maryland businesses recognize the importance of this issue, but we need to be ready to do more to support civics education. As a global community, we have historically seen healthy democracies and well-functioning private sectors go hand in hand. If our democracy falters, so will our free market economy. Educating our young citizens on civics values, knowledge, skills and behavior is vital for our local and national economy, and to set the stage for a stable and bright future. 

In February, Maryland Chamber Foundation Executive Director Whitney Harmel appeared on the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s webinar The Competition Series where leaders convened to discuss combating political polarization and making the case for constructive conversations between business and government and civics education. Click below to watch this wonderful discussion on civil engagement.

Questions? Contact us at or (410) 269-0642.





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