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Teachers do not need to shy away from teaching their students the challenges and virtues of democratic self-governance. Democracy can inform how their classrooms operate and how they choose to teach. It is more than a curriculum. It is part and parcel of the learning environment.
While classrooms have traditionally been a place of learning and inquiry, an increased awareness of the dynamics of classrooms, along with their hyper politicization, has suggested that we need a different forum in which to nurture the skills necessary for good civic communication. For thousands of young people across the United States, debate provides a foundation for civic engagement.
Civic learning can take many forms, with research demonstrating that applied civic learning opportunities that actively engage students in informed action have the most beneficial impacts, and the benefits of these experiences extend beyond the individual youth participants, to improve a broad range of youth, school, and community outcomes.
We cannot expect young people to turn 18, be handed a voter registration form, and automatically become informed, engaged, and motivated voters. Civic attitudes and electoral processes must be learned—not just the how, but the why of our democracy, which is only strong and sustainable when all people are educated and empowered to participate.
Americans can be overly focused on national politics, a trend that could be contributing to affective polarization, a sense of frustration with democracy among citizens, and an absence of community buy-in for local democratic outcomes. Universities have a critical role to play promoting local engagement in their specific communities.
Libraries represent some of the last public spaces that are accessible to all people, particularly to those individuals from populations that have been historically marginalized. They are champions of lifelong learning that provide public access to technology and foster opportunities for users to explore new ideas and satisfy their intellectual curiosity.
In February 2022, the National Civic League and Kettering Foundation brought together a dozen mayors from communities that have won the All-America City Award to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s efforts to address the challenge of policing and equity. A common denominator was a focus on engaging diverse voices that typically aren’t heard.
National Civic Review (Print ISSN 0027-9013, Online ISSN1542-7811) is published quarterly by the National Civic League, Copyright © 2022 National Civic League.