In July 2000 as director of the Compact for Learning and Citizenship (CLC), as it was known at that time, at the Education Commission of the States (ECS) we created a set of resources focusing on civic education. Beginning with a position paper titled “Every Student A Citizenship” we made the case for schools, education leaders and policymakers to revitalize education’s civic mission through appropriate and effective pedagogy, assessments and engagement strategies.
We acknowledged the downward trend of youth voting along with low scores across the nation on national and international civic assessments and felt schools had abandoned their civic mission. We therefore emphasized the moral imperative for schools to make civic education a priority and core experience of each student integrated into academic courses, cross-curricular classes and extracurricular activities.
We also created additional resources and recommendations at the local, state and national levels by focusing on a core set of civic competencies students should acquire and enhance to be active and principled citizens. We grouped these competencies into three areas:
- Civic knowledge
- Core knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge to different circumstances and settings
- Understanding of how government structures and systems operate
- Civic skills
- Intellectual civic skills encompassing knowing how to identify, assess, interpret, describe, analyze, and explain matters of concern in civic life
- Civic participatory skills encompassing knowing how to cope in groups and organizational settings, interface with elected officials and community representatives, communicate perspectives and arguments, and plan strategically for civic change
- Civic dispositions
- Interpersonal and intrapersonal values, virtues, and behaviors
- Commitment to balancing personal liberties with social responsibility to others
We believed this combination of civic competencies ensured our youngest generation would effectively contribute to and enhance our democracy; as being knowledgeable or skilled or of a civic disposition were not individually sufficient to be an active principled citizen.
Fast forward to today as the daily loud drumbeats about politics, policies and active engagement of individuals, groups, organizations and networks advocating for change at the federal level are impossible to ignore. I believe this calls for each of us to examine and enhance our civic competencies so that we:
- Understand the current civic issues and their implications for our individual and social responsibilities;
- Expand our intellectual and participatory civic skills; and
- Promote our personal efficacy and concern with the rights and welfare of others.
As we activate our civic competencies and join with others here are some strategies I have found effective in my advocacy over the past 30 years:
- Effectively Communicate: expressing personal and social values and practices so that others fully understand our position
- Efficiently Network: engaging others with similar as well as those with complementary orientations to form greater capacity
- Maximize Leadership: encouraging and supporting leaders to collaborative identify and implement organizing strategies
- Develop Emerging Leaders: identifying future leaders to acquire/enhance leadership skills to lead networks for social change.
These strategies align with President Obama’s farewell address in which he stated: “Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.” We will create and capture the future we desire as we ensure our personal and social civic competencies are activated for the social good our nation and we deserve.