Wikipedia usually indicates the most widespread and popular understanding of a controversial concept. It defines political literacy as “a set of abilities necessary for citizens to participate in a society's government.” Yet in everyday reality, participation in government is confined to a tiny minority in Western democracies. Even voting in elections attracts barely half of the eligible population in most nations, and marking a ballot every 4 years hardly requires literacy. A better Wikipedia definition stresses “an understanding of how government works and of the important issues facing society.” Yet even this institutional focus reduces citizens to passive onlookers and ignores the idea of a “participatory democracy.”

Drawing on the pioneering work of the British philosopher Bernard Crick and subsequently that of Anna Douglas, political literacy ...

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