Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To Teach Civic Engagement, Students Have to Practice It in the Classroom

Young people may not have the power to cast a vote, but more and more youth are engaged to make their voices heard in politics. Young people are motivated to see changes in policies and they offer different perspectives that have the potential to move ideas forward. Their participation in politics is invaluable to the future of democracy—and yet “their civic and political commitment is the lowest of all demographic groups, judged by traditional standards” according to the MacArthur Foundation.

At the same time, young people gravitate to social media and other technology that spreads their points of view via peers and influencers. This trend has given rise to youth participatory politics: interactive peer-based acts, which give both individuals and groups the power of voice and the ability to influence laws and policies. As an educator, you can meet your students where they are with new media and social networking by sharing with them the power of engaging civically with the tools and channels they are already using.

The modern phenomenon of youth participatory politics and “e-democracy” has engaged students across the globe to get involved in issues they want to see evolve.  Examples include events like poetry slams or near-peer workshops and forums as well as writing blog posts, sharing political cartoons, participating in mock-voting and sharing petitions. These are all civic engagement opportunities students can do before they are able to vote. 

Moreover, these activities reach large audiences and engage others either in person or on line. A survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers by Pew Research showed that 96% agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience.” Students are empowered to share facts about a cause to start a dialogue that can shape agendas and provide feedback to decision makers. 

When you give young people the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their beliefs whether through the sharing of information, the creation of materials (a blog post, letter to the editor, or informational video) or the circulation of links, petitions or polls you will likely see enthusiasm and excitement in learning because these tools have real time metrics that enable students to measure their influence.

Some suggested activities for young people who may not be able to vote yet are:
·       Get involved locally: volunteer on or start a campaign.
·       Attend a city council or town hall meeting and talk to your council members.
·       Start or participate in a petition. Petitions allow you to voice your concerns with local, state and national issues.
·       Find and research your state and congressional representatives. Who are they? What do they stand for? What bills have they voted for/against? Do these policies best represent you and your community.
·       Learn deeply and share information with you peers. All change begins with knowledge.
·       Use social media to share what you are passionate about and the changes you wish to see.
The American Immigration Council suggests participating in a petition to the White House. Petitions to the White House are an effective way to have voices heard and to have a demonstrated impact. Be a part of history and help us launch the National Museum of the American People (NMAP). It is destined to become one of the greatest and most dynamic immigration history museums anywhere.

NMAP will tell about the making of the American People, our nation’s central story, and will be a must-visit on every school trip to Washington. The museum will focus on all of the ethnic, nationality and minority groups in our nation beginning with the first humans in the Western Hemisphere and proceeding through waves of immigration and migration until today. It can facilitate learning nationwide and help bind us as a nation.

Please go to and sign our petition on the White House web site and provide your name, email and zip code. You will then be sent an email for you to verify your petition signature.

Then, as a further step in participatory politics, you can forward the White House link to your social networks. We, of course, invite you to make this a class project. We want thousands of teachers and students, especially new immigrants, to endorse this museum.

Stay Connected!
We offers free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to teach immigration. We also welcome teacher and student book reviews and contributions to our blog. Email us at and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration

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