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Citizenship and Civic Education

Citizenship is changing. Younger generations are developing different political values and attitudes about their responsibilities in public life. Members of the up and coming "DotNet" generation prefer charting their own individualized political paths through consumer activism, loosely knit issue networks, volunteerism, and participation in a growing global political scene through campaigns and social forums. While these are all positive civic activities, the DotNets are inclined to look away from government for solutions to important concerns. They are also less likely to see good citizenship as including the responsibility to participate in government through activities such as voting. The challenge for educators and policy officials is to recognize changing citizenship styles, and to fashion educational and social experiences that help young citizens maintain their identities while bridging the gap with government, elections, and leaders. CCCE Director Lance Bennett provides an overview of these issues in "Civic Learning in Changing Democracies: Challenges for Citizenship and Civic Education."

We believe that educators and policy makers can recognize these generational changes and reach out to classrooms and community youth organizations using the vast potential of multimedia and the digital information technologies to provide a rich, interactive atmosphere for civic education. Not surprisingly, young people prefer to consume information and interact in ways that combine online and face-to-face communication. Taking advantage of this preference can produce better informed and engaged young citizens. It is important that students be skilled at sorting and using the volume of online information. At the same time, conventional media literacy skills must be cultivated to navigate the various commercial media that deliver entertainment, lifestyles, and political information. Toward this end, we have produced a media and election guide with Threshold Magazine, a publication of Cable in the Classroom.

One cause of the declining interest in conventional politics is a decline in civic education programs in schools. Even where civics courses are offered, they are often focused so strongly on the conventional aspects of government and citizen engagement that students find little room to explore and give voice to more personalized values and concerns. The Seattle Student Voices project was launched in 2001 by the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement with sponsorship from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, The Annenberg Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Student Voices is now a free-standing program that continues to capture the momentum of change in modern citizenship and enables Seattle area students to find their voice and realize their responsibilities in the public sphere. In this process, students are encouraged to define and develop their own distinctive political standpoints on issues affecting their communities and social networks. Participants survey their community on salient issues and engage in debates on these issues within their classrooms. As they develop their public voices, students research their chosen issues and create policy proposals that address their concerns. The resulting ideas and findings are then presented to community leaders. Meetings with politicians, government officials, and community leaders help bridge the gaps between government and young citizens. Many of these student led forums appear as television programs and webcasts produced with the Seattle Channel.

By connecting students to their political community through digital communication technologies and direct contact with leaders, Student Voices helps young citizens develop confident public voices and more positive attitudes toward government.

In order to help scholars and policy makers see the lay of the civic education landscape, we have also assembled a National Civic Education Resource Guide.

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. We also envision a Seattle Youth Commons to connect regional youth in reporting 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.