In many cases, for students, discussing civic duty is often framed in terms of the future, rather than what they can do right now.
Early learning examples show that even at a young age, children can begin to understand the importance of their rights and responsibilities as a citizen of any age. They may not be of a voting age and may not have lived through experiences that taught them about their ability to change or influence public policy, but they can understand the ramifications of actions.
Classroom lessons go a long way towards teaching the principles of governing bodies and the practices they use to work through civic engagement. Teachers have a unique and powerful opportunity to raise awareness of local government functions and policies as part of their social studies and lesson plans.
Regional news and pop culture may focus so much on the federal level of government that it may be seen as less relevant when compared with more local elected officials and ballot measures. Using these more immediate examples of how public policy is shaped by the constituents who share the same locale as students help them see the impact more directly.
Tours of government facilities and related events can help supplement the lessons learned in the classroom. These help students become familiar with how to navigate civic activities and what to expect from political gatherings. Making tangible, real connections between students and the governing bodies and buildings they operate in empowers them to feel confident about reaching out for these resources when it’s time or when they need to exercise their rights.
Balancing local action with global civic engagement helps to put it all into perspective and highlight the fact that despite significant strides in human rights, exploitation and emergencies can still happen at home and abroad. Teaching students what universal expectations of democratic and just governance and representation should be at an early age help them develop the fundamental understanding they’ll need as informed, active voters in adulthood.
How actively parents encourage their children to engage with their civic duties plays a critical role in raising educated voters, too. The personal values that shape each person’s political will begin at home and strengthen through the community around them. Helping children learn to navigate cooperatively and respectfully will teach them necessary skills for debating and discussing their point of view as they mature.