With the 2020 election looming, there’s been plenty of talk about the importance of civic engagement, especially among young people. But civic-mindedness goes far beyond what people typically consider, says Antero Garcia, an assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.
“Oftentimes when we talk about civics, it gets boiled down to, ‘You need to do your ‘civic duty,’ which means you need to vote,” he says. “But there’s a larger array of what counts as a civic duty, particularly if we recognize that so many of the students in our schools are too young to vote or may not have the legal status in the eyes of the United States to be able to vote. This doesn’t exclude them from the responsibility of participating in our civic society.”
On this episode of School’s In, Garcia joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about what civic engagement really means and the role schools play in helping young people learn to understand and express it.
Civic-mindedness, Garcia says, is about building a sense of connection to one another and to a community—learning how to understand one another and the world. “To me, this is the fundamental purpose of what schooling should be about,” he says.
He offers ways to infuse civics lessons into all kinds of subject areas: for instance, having students in a math class collect data from their community to explore and question their own civic experience. “Civics needs to happen in every classroom at every age,” he says. “Young people as civic actors play a fundamental role in where our country is going to go.”
The current pandemic presents a powerful but largely overlooked opportunity for meaningful civic learning, Garcia notes. “We've spent so much time focusing on compliance and on [how structures can] operate at a limited capacity during this time that we haven't allowed students to actually question and imagine what this moment means.”
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