Transforming Civic Education

We can all recall what happened just a few weeks ago:

UAW Strike at UCSC on April 2nd-3rd

UAW Strike at UCSC on April 2nd-3rd

Strike activity may be a little ho-hum in Santa Cruz, but the UC Union strike is nonetheless a reminder of the few instances of youth political uproar.

But the event brings up the question of just how does our generation participate in government, at least in the few instances we bother to participate at all. Take, for example, voting in the U.S., one of the many ways in which our generation passively disengages. Despite our growing numbers and the immense potential for political leverage, as of the 2012 elections only 29% of the 46 million eligible young voters (ages 18-29) actually voted (civicyouth.org).

Youth Protests in Ukraine

Youth Protests in Ukraine

What happened to the impressive youth political activism that our predecessors, and even international counterparts, embody? Of course, there is the obvious argument of youth summoned by fast-paced media: the only way of truly gaining our attention is by shocking us, from provocative soundbites, graphic-saturated memes, and chant-worthy catchphrases.  (CHANGE, FORWARD, HOPE!)

But perhaps our education – or lack thereof – of how to engage politically is another fundamental, and often overlooked, reason for our political apathy. Growing up we are frequently told that America is a democracy and we hold the power for change.  But we aren’t guided in how to actually bring about change, or taught why it’s important to be active in our communities.  Without encouragement or experience in political engagement, along with the continual discouragement by our faulty systems, we are left inclined to act on whatever measures may seem viable, which oftentimes happen to be the same buzz-worthy tactics used in media today – provocative and misleading headlines,  below-the-belt alternatives and methods, and fad social media campaigns (‘Kony 2012′ anyone?).

There is hope, however, in a new emerging movement to shift our education paradigms towards interdisciplinary activism within our younger generations. Civics For All is a Seattle K-12 program planned to boost students’ academic achievements, civic knowledge, and community engagement by empowering students with lessons in all academic disciplines presented in civic/ethical/political frameworks. Specifically, the program proposes revisions and extensions to the classroom, including:

  • Creating mock elections throughout elementary and secondary schools concerning school-specific and local issues,
  • Aligning common core history and social studies courses towards current civic engagement opportunities,
  • Implementing “media-literacy” electives to promote advanced knowledge in communications, productivity and engagement,
  • Instilling interdisciplinary problem-solving and relationships across subjects.

Such changes in our educational system could also create a parallel shift within the younger generations towards higher productivity, communication, and activism — developments that are needed in our changing, interconnected world. The growing case for such action to take place in formal education is undeniable.  After all, political engagement and community involvement is a learned process—one that should start in the early stages of our education, not just a semester of high school.

Help start the movement now by learning more voting on Santa Cruz’s own pilot program for civic education Here.

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