Ensuring that young people are both prepared and motivated to be the next stewards of our democracy is a crucial and oft-ignored condition for an improved political system. To remake our institutions and shore up democracy for generations to come, the most impactful place to start is with our educational system.
Many schools have failed to prepare our youngest citizens to become stewards of democracy, possessing the knowledge and skills required for active and engaged citizenship. Statistics demonstrating this failure are plentiful: Only one-third of Americans can name all branches of government, and one-third cannot name any at all.
Only 33 percent of Americans born after 1980 consider democracy essential, while 24 percent of young people consider democracy a bad way to govern a country.
Increased and enhanced youth civics education is often cited as the solution to this problem. Re-prioritizing civics is logical and important. Whereas previous generations often took as many as three government courses before graduating from high school, students today often take one semester, if any. Educators are not taught how to teach civics education effectively, and resources from the federal government, states, and districts alike are sparse on the topic.
We can transform schools into beacons of democracy by ensuring that schools focus on centering education in the communities in which they are located, by constructing classes that are relevant to students’ lives, and by creating a democratic culture within school walls.
The process begins with a greater respect for the community in which school is situated. Students need to understand that the community is a place where citizens make their wants and needs known, and work together to solve communal challenges. Community members need to see the success of young people as relevant to the success of the community.
Read more about the importance of civic participation in schools by Slyvia Rousseau and Scott Warren at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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