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Beyond the Election: 3 Ways to Incorporate Civic Education

Friday, November 4, 2016 -- Ana Dowling

With a much-publicized presidential election just around the corner, politics, citizenship, and civic engagement are top of mind right now. But, these topics deserve the spotlight far more often than once every four years! With that in mind, let’s dive into the subject of civic education and all of the forms it can take.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the definition of civic education is “all the processes that affect people's beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities.” What exactly does that mean? It means that civic education will prepare children to become conscientious citizens.  The ultimate objective of engaging students in civic participation is to help young people learn the skills necessary to be responsible members of society. Our country’s future depends on the civic participation of its citizens. Here are some simple ways you can help your students learn and participate:

Home: Civic participation often begins in the home. Parents may work with Habitat for Humanity®, volunteer in soup kitchens, or help with road cleanups, all of which are service-learning activities. Not only can parents serve as great examples to their children and to others, but they can also encourage childrren to participate in service-learning opportunities themselves.

Internet sites: Numerous Internet sites have been created to assist youths in understanding how our government works. iCivics is one such program set up by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009. She created the program with the goal to help bring back civic education in the schools. iCivics teaches students how government works by having them experience it directly. It’s fun and comprehensive!

School: Civic education is often taught at schools. Students in middle and high schools are learning the purpose of being a conscientious citizen and why community awareness is important. Programs such as National History Day help students focus on researching, interpreting, and expressing historical topics. Students from 6th to 12th grade learn to creatively express their understanding of history by using a variety of media, such as blogs, films, and plays.

Other programs like National Model UN, Project Citizen, National Youth Leadership Council, and 4-H  all promote the civic participation of young people. Students learn how to interact with others and solve problems as a community.

Mock elections and mock trials are also effective activities to help students understand the political and justice systems. Both elections and trials teach students how to express themselves more effectively and help them learn valuable research skills.

Every student deserves to understand that he or she has a voice within our society and a vote that makes a difference. Teaching students about the structure of our government and promoting community involvement through civic education is a great place to start. After all, every time a person participates in the community, whether it’s by voting, attending a town-hall forum, or helping clean up a park, he or she becomes part of the solution—and that makes a big impact on the community, town, city, and ultimately, the country.

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s online solutions to support civic education? Check out our brand-new social studies curriculum!