Service and Action Civics for Youth:

Current Local League Efforts to Support Civic Education for Youth

What is Action Civics? We all know about the usual civics class: learning about the U.S. and state constitutions, Congress and state legislature, how a bill becomes a law, three branches of government, etc. Action civics adds a little something extra: ACTION.

From the National Action Civics Collaborative comes this definition: “Action civics is designed to create: an engaged citizenry capable of effective participation in the [civic] process, in their communities and in the larger society.” Action civics combines traditional civic education, guided experiential civic education, and youth leadership development.

At one of the workshops at the LWVMA Convention in May, Terry Yoffie, LWV Newton and Karen Mazza, LWV Cape Cod Area Service shared their experiences building partnerships with the community to support civic education grants to schools and offer action civics and service opportunities in our schools. Handouts included information about the Cape Cod Foundation.

Cited in the workshop was the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Civics and History showed that just 25% of students had a proficient understanding of civics and American history. This year was worse: only 18% of the students are proficient in history, and less than a quarter are proficient in civics. State law requires the teaching of American history and civics in all public elementary and high schools. This is “for the purpose of promoting civic service and a greater knowledge thereof, and of fitting the pupils, morally and intellectually, for the duties of citizenship.” [M.G.L. Chap. 71, Sec. 2]

Action civics encompasses support for current classroom civics classes; help for students to identify the issue that they are interested in; students doing research into their issue of interest; outside activities such as working at the polls or in the local election office on election day, interviewing local organizations and community leaders, attending meetings of the school board, board of aldermen or city council; learning about legislation about their issue currently being discussed; interview legislators at all levels.

Grants are available to develop an action civics program. Examples for grant applications include: field trip money, entrance fees for students, consultant fees for leadership development for students, fees for a special program for students, a professional development experience for teachers that will help them offer action civics curriculum.

Elizabeth Davis