Having productive and proactive citizens is fundamental to a functioning society and to the growth of young adults into engaged citizens. Students today need to have opportunities to learn how to work with others with different perspectives. Creating engaged citizens through civic education is one way to grow and develop students into high-functioning and responsible adults.

Additionally, students need to learn about the functions of government, how communities operate locally and globally, and social justice issues. Civic education allows for students to create and participate in community projects and to interpret how to contribute to an increasingly changing society. In order to understand why it is important to create engaged citizens, it is important to know what civics education is.

What is Civic Education?

Civic education explores the rights, duties, and system of laws and protections of citizens. Informing students on how to engage others for a better society is part of civic education. Knowledgeable and socially responsible citizens contribute positively to their community and create opportunities for connected and meaningful life.

Another name for civic education is democracy education. Examples of topics that are included in civic education curriculum are The Bill of Rights, voting, public policy, and the impact of individuals on their communities. Learning how to function and contribute to a democratic society creates responsible citizens and communities that can collaborate with each other.

Why is it Important to Create Engaged Citizens?

It is important to create engaged citizens and to develop students who have 21st-century competencies and skills. Creating engaged citizens is important to ensure diverse populations can operate in a society and to empower individuals to build a better community. This can range from understanding how power is divided in the United States government, voting, and how to organize groups for advocacy. Having engaged citizens is important to ensure meaningful roles, discussions, and participation in projects that develop the community and impact stakeholders.

Citizens who are engaged in their community develop soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and accepting personal responsibility. Furthermore, civic education entails learning about the relationship between the government and the people, social justice issues, and community organizing. In the classroom, students who are taught democracy education develop active listening skills, learn how to express opinions, and foster values of tolerance and respect.

Strategies for Encouraging Civic Engagement through Civic Education

There are multiple strategies for encouraging students to learn about civic education and engagement. When implementing instructional strategies for students, it is important to remember the audience and what impact can be made by creating the educational content. These can range from service learning projects, classroom discussions, and extracurricular activities to name a few. To ensure students maximize their learning experience there needs to be high-quality civic learning activities that give students real world examples and the opportunity to apply what they have learned. This will foster growth in students in the areas of personal accountability, communication, and teamwork when building better communities.

Classroom Discussions and Current Events

Civic engagement is important at all age levels; however, for high school students, creating opportunities for them to engage in civics and have real world discussions can be very beneficial. Students need to feel a part of the process in building their own community. Establishing time for current events at the beginning of class or a few times a week is a great way to keep students informed of current events in politics, global development, and social issues.

Classroom discussions about current events can come in the form of a debate, a mock interview, or a speech to practice public speaking skills. There are multiple websites and resources online to find materials to introduce current events in the classroom. Educators often have blogs or resource websites that focus specifically on teaching with the news and current events. Some examples of resources students can enjoy are CNN, National Geographic, US and World News Report, and Newsela. Access to the news and the ability to discuss how events impact students and communities creates a platform for advocacy and change.

Student Government for High School Students

For many high school students, the issues that are within their community are important to their developing perspectives of others and the world around them. One way for students to actively participate in civics is through student and youth government. Furthermore, students need to have the ability to communicate with diverse groups, show empathy for other cultures, and interpret government systems to protect and provide for themselves and others.

Examples of student governments in schools include Student Councils, Model United Nations, the Beta Club, and the debate team. These groups all have elected student body officials and focus on issues such as social movements, global sustainability, and the social-emotional learning in the school building. For students who enjoy hands-on experiences, service learning projects are a great way to incorporate civic education.

Service Learning Projects

Promoting civic education in the classroom can be facilitated by lessons specific to community engagement, problem-solving skills, and voting. Service learning involves classroom instruction that ties academic objectives with community service. These service learning projects involve activities that require teamwork, communication skills, and the ability for students to take action in the community around them. Service learning projects can be a school beautification project, building a house for Habitat for Humanity, or sharing a podcast of students’ experiences with recycling projects around the school and community.

One specific way to format and teach civic education and problem solving is with project-based learning for social justice. Project-based learning in the classroom allows for students to collaborate in groups, problem solve, and develop creative ways to implement solutions. When outside the classroom, these projects also allow for students to apply directly what they have been learning when it comes to civic engagement. These projects allow students to make a direct impact on their community and give exposure to community leaders and organizations that promote the wellbeing of others.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities are an excellent way to enhance the learning experience of students. These outside school activities allow students to apply what they’ve learned to real world situations. An example of an extracurricular activity for high school students includes researching a local law that affects their city or state and then visiting a local city council meeting or the state capital. Students may also explore extracurricular activities by volunteering with groups such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army. All these experiences with civic education develop knowledgeable and socially conscious students that can contribute to a better democracy.