Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Civic engagement is the core of our society. It’s what drives our laws, our functions, our capabilities. However, declining youth civic engagement has become a huge problem in the U.S. over the past decades. There is a veritable divide between youth and adult populations’ political and community involvement. There are several factors that play into this, one being education. In the United States, people with higher levels of education have historically participated in electoral politics and the civic affairs of their communities more than those with less education (Verba, Burns, & Schlozman, 2003). This civic divide has supposedly increased in recent years. The increasing separation between lower, middle, and upper class in economy impacts the education young teens are receiving.
Youths in poorer communities are less likely to be civically engaged, as well as youths with uneducated parents and minorities. Scholars suggest this is because the engaged youths have had more opportunities, support, and advice regarding the key civic tenets: voting, volunteering, and political discussion. In NCBI’s thirty-year study, the division in youth is recent. Up till 1990, civic participation and engagement was consistently high, recording an 83-90% of youths who had plans to vote. However, in the past two decades, high school seniors have been less likely to endorse civic activities and political discussion. Ironically, their numbers for volunteering have been at an all-time high.
When examining the reasons behind these results, one stands out. Colleges value volunteering, and students geared toward college-degree related careers are using volunteer hours to enhance their applications. Additionally, most high schools have certain hours-requirements for their students to graduate.
When trying not to fall into this cycle of target-based civics, ask yourself certain questions.
Why am I doing this?
Am I passionate about the opportunity, or am I trying to satisfy an arbitrary requirement?
Am I trying to contribute to my community or my future college application?
Am I feeling a sense of accomplishment through this work, or feeling drained and stressed out?
The next time you find a volunteering opportunity, ask yourself these questions.
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