CCCE enters a new era of youth civic engagement with the launch of Becoming Citizens, an internship program for University of Washington students who will help facilitate civic engagement projects in schools and community programs. Becoming Citizens interns also support Puget Sound Off, a digital youth commons to connect regional youth in raising their voices and taking action on events and issues that matter in their communities. These initiatives will stimulate on- and off-line forums to give young people better communication skills and greater public voice.
Becoming Citizens: Linking the University of Washington to the Community
In autumn 2006, CCCE launched Becoming Citizens in collaboration with high school civics teachers and community civic organizations. This program began with support from the UW Office of the Provost with the aim of enhancing capacities of classrooms and community organizations to build youth civic engagement and effective advocacy.
Goals of Becoming Citizens
Democratic societies rely on the active and informed participation of their citizens. Several decades of decline in civic engagement and citizen confidence in government force us to ask tough questions of our democracy. We seek to understand why many citizens, particularly young people, often sense that government does not represent them. We seek to find ways to help them find their voices and become more effective advocates for their concerns.
We also note that civic engagement is not equally distributed across society, and declining levels of engagement do not affect all sectors of society equally. For example, in poor, urban communities, where the ability to address collective problems is most needed, young citizens too often lack confidence in their political efficacy and their ability to change the problems they experience every day. Becoming Citizens is particularly focused on civic education in these communities.
The citizenship skills presented to young people in school are crucial to developing an interest in public life. Yet the effectiveness of civic education in schools is not encouraging these days. At the same time, young people are working in many community organizations, from the Mayor’s Youth Council, to performance arts groups, to the YMCA, to address community problems and build the skills necessary for successful engagement with them.
Becoming Citizens places university students in these environments to understand and contribute to this important civic learning process. Interns also work at CCCE on teams to build advocacy tools and skills curricula, and provide training to teens in the community.
Toward these ends, the Becoming Citizens program has the following key goals:
- Better understand and support the role of nonprofit groups in civic education, how they perceive civic engagement, how they work in concert with public schools, what connections are missing, and the skills that young people can learn when they become involved with a nonprofit
- Work with schools to introduce more community experiences and better communication skills into civics curricula and service learning
- Offer a unique educational experience for UW undergraduates who participate in the Becoming Citizens internship program. Becoming Citizens interns learn first hand the challenges and importance of civic engagement for young people.
- Contribute to knowledge about how young people become more effective citizens, and how communities of practice can work together to improve civic engagement for the 21st Century.
Becoming Citizens Resources
Becoming Citizens has several resource documents on civic education that may be of interest to community organizers and teachers.
“Civic Learning in Changing Democracies: Challenges for Citizenship and Civic Education“ W. Lance Bennett, Departments of Communication and Political Science, University of Washington
“Media, Politics, and Democracy: Understanding the expanding array of media that will define civic engagement in the 21st century.” W. Lance Bennett, Departments of Communication and Political Science, University of Washington