America is a country long touted for its high levels of political vitality and civic engagement. Unfortunately, many young people in recent years have shown precious little inclination to take part in the democracy that makes this country so great. It is imperative that the education system encourages young people to be civically engaged and socially responsible. Researchers have investigated how this can be done.
High schools typically offer plenty of ways for students to get involved in their communities and practice civic responsibilities. Student governments, civics-related clubs, and volunteer organizations all give teenagers the chance to step into their communities as engaged, active members, which will then lead to an involved life in adulthood. The problem, however, is that these programs are all optional and few students actually choose to take part. Schools must seek ways to encourage increased participation.
There are a number of programs that have proven successful in promoting civic engagement among teenagers. Service-learning programs, in which students practice social responsibility by volunteering outside the school, have produced positive results. Unfortunately, they are not usually mandatory. If these programs were included as a part of the actual school curriculum, there would be a much greater overall effect.
Programs that promote voting can also engender greater civic engagement. Many students turn eighteen and yet fail to take up the basic duty of voting. They may feel uninformed or unprepared for participation in American democracy. By calling on students explicitly to vote, programs encourage them to get involved and take an active role in the democratic process.
It is important to remember that increasing teenage civil engagement requires a multifaceted approach. Students all come from different backgrounds and have distinct needs, meaning that different types of programs are required to serve them all.
It is also essential that programs take a long term approach. A single volunteer outing will do little to instill in a student a feeling of civic responsibility. A multi-year service-learning program, however, will likely result in the student forming long term habits.
Civic engagement is vital to a healthy democracy. For the American project to continue its success, active and involved citizens are required. The younger a civic attitude is attained, the better.