It’s undeniable that this is a volatile election cycle. No matter which side of the aisle, voters feel strongly about the candidates, whether it’s for or against them. Party affiliations seem to be crumbling, and it’s possible that there may be a strong showing for independent candidates come election day.
It’s an interesting case to think about as it relates to civic skills. What does it mean that so many people are abandoning their parties and entertaining the idea of voting for a third party? In my opinion, it means people are taking their civic duty seriously.
Simply put, civic skills are “the skills required to participate as a responsible citizen.” At Earth Force, we define civic skills as problem-solving, critical-thinking, research, collaboration, evaluating information, decision-making, etc.. Society is starting to recognize the importance of ‘noncognitive skills’ like this in both academic success and personal success. They also come into play when processing what can be complicated political language during election season. What does each candidate stand for? How will their proposed policies affect my life? Where can I find unbiased information?
According to the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of voters now identify themselves as independent. To me, that means more and more voters are using these critical civic skills to make educated decisions about candidates. They aren’t aligning with the left or the right ‘just because.’ They’re taking time to understand the issues and the specific positions candidates hold.
We want our young people to be able to make educated and informed decisions when they become of voting age. And that process starts now. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement recently released a study that found “only a quarter of young people reach “proficient” on the NAEP Civics Assessment, and White, wealthy students are four to six times as likely as Hispanic or Black students from low-income households to exceed that level.”
This is a startling statistic if you want to think about how well we’re preparing the future generation of voters. On the bright side, the study also notes that students who had a positive civic education experience are more likely to be engaged long term. Service-learning can be one avenue.
At Earth Force, our Community Action and Problem-Solving Process is an interdisciplinary approach to civic engagement, meaning it can overlay any subject matter. Traditionally, it connects science content to social studies concepts and math skills. A key component to true civic engagement is allowing students to lead the process through inquiry. They need to be able to investigate what interests them and be supported in uncovering the answers to their own questions.
This is surely not the last election that will have people scrutinizing what typically is ‘the norm.’ That means it’s even more important that we’re arming young people now with the skills and knowledge to be informed decision-makers into the future. I believe most will agree that casting an educated vote is more important than choosing between an elephant or a donkey. So, as President Obama recently implored, “Don’t boo. Vote.” After all, it’s our civic duty and a hard fought right for many.
Author: Kristen Mueller
Kristen Mueller leads national communications, creating engagement and excitement around Earth Force, and its partners’, hands on, minds on programming. Specializing in traditional media and social media relations, she brings youth voice and leadership to the forefront of the environmental education field.