Recently, my young adult children informed me that there are two “taboo” topics that shouldn’t be discussed around the kitchen table or at family gatherings: politics and religion. So, if politics isn’t discussed at these events, then when are future young voters getting the opportunity to engage in purposeful conversation with their peers, their families, and other community members to become informed in local politics?
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, roughly 50% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election. However, less than 20% of young people eligible to vote in the 2014 midterms cast a ballot. CIRCLE also found that, “for all the focus on young people’s engagement with political content online, family remains the most important way for youth to learn about the election and the most influential in their engagement and participation” in the political process.
Civic education prepares young people to be informed, to be engaged, and to be active in civic life. Within K-12 education, one initiative thought to improve civic education is to require students to successfully pass a citizenship test prior to graduating from high school. Unfortunately, the belief that if it is tested, it is taught, is much different than ensuring future voters acquire the skills and dispositions necessary to be able to critically analyze and to apply their civic knowledge to issues presented in local and national political races. The opportunity to educate young people on embracing their rights and responsibilities as citizens is shared: families and schools can reinforce lessons on how government works and how voters can influence their own well-being.
Understanding that I still have a role in guiding and supporting my young adult children in civic engagement, beyond their K-12 education, is essential in fostering the importance of lifelong learning. I want to model and encourage them to use their voices to bring awareness to and propose solutions for problems that affect them, their communities, and our society at-large.
The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools provides specific recommendations for parents, community members, and media outlets to help ensure young adults will have access to high quality civic learning opportunities. Some of these include:
- Engage in conversations that help keep young adults informed about current events and issues that affect them and others.
- Coordinate a plan for how the college student plans to vote. Will the student come home to vote or make arrangements ahead of time to request an absentee ballot?
- Volunteer within the community to increase awareness of issues with health care, educational services, and poverty.
- Volunteer to canvas for a candidate.
- Listen to media outlets and podcasts like NPR that promote fact-based, independent journalism that examines and airs diverse perspectives.
- Attend a candidate forum to hear the issues, meet the candidates, and ask questions.
- Review current civic learning opportunities in schools and bring inadequacies to the attention of local and state policymakers.
Whether you’re a grandparent, parent, an educator, and/or a concerned citizen of any political persuasion, your life will be influenced by civic participation (or a lack thereof) among the young people eligible to cast ballots now and soon. Investing in them, and supporting their exploration of the democratic process, is not taboo. It’s necessary and needed to spur future generations of engaged, informed voters.
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