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For the Students, By the Students: Redirecting Civic Education through the American Trustees Project
Unformatted Document Text:  Comments related to optimism • “I think that people who have made a difference in their communities are powerful examples of citizenship. Prior to this project, I was a bit more skeptical of their ability to engage young adults and make them exited about civic participation. However, watching all of the group’s videos and hearing about what these people have done is empowering to me and probably to young adults who are younger and older than me.” Comments related to power • “After completion of our American Trustees project, my idea of citizenship definitely had new aspects. For example, I now strongly advocate joining a cause where citizens share your same beliefs. I believe this is an excellent way to create change and exercise your power as a citizen.” • “The AT project influenced my feeling of power as a citizen. For me our trustee has made having a positive impact more tangible, increased my feeling of responsibility within the community, and has changed my definition of what it means to be a member of society. I now see citizenship as a means for connection and contribution.” • “Everyone has something to offer, everyone can make a difference, everyone can see the impact, and everyone has the ability to be a responsible citizen.” • “If everyone cared, imagine just how incredible that would be. Everyone has such potential. The system is already set up. It is flawed, and it is wrong, but it is up to us to change it. To protect the liberties and rights that you have and making sure that tomorrow is as good as today if not better.” • “The American Trustee project taught me how to make a difference and sparked my interest to act on it.” In their final presentations, students were asked to self-reflect on (1) their approach to citizenship (especially with regard to strengths and limitations of their definition), and (2) how their Trustee videos might inspire high school and college students (and what might need to be changed to be a more powerful piece of persuasion). Concerning the former, most students spoke supportively of their approach to citizenship and explained the perspective with greater nuance having had the experience of connecting an abstract approach with a role model. With regard to the latter, students applauded their projects for featuring three message properties that rarely appear in civic engagement materials created by adults (for their consumption). These message properties include honesty and realism (emphasizing what young people can and probably cannot do), the importance of small impacts (calling attention to incremental change in a student friendly way), and the power of the student vernacular (encouraging young people to encourage other young people to get involved). ConclusionAt the dawn of the 21 st century, there is reason to worry about American democracy. By almost every civic measure, today’s youth pale in comparison to the knowledge, engagement, and participation of their forebears when they were their age. While older folks have always been concerned about younger people, there are unprecedented reasons to be anxious about the civic disengagement of America’s youth. Specifically, young people today are less trusting, less interested in politics, less knowledgeable about political life, less likely to follow the news, less likely to participate in electoral politics, less likely to join community groups geared toward solving public problems, and less likely to see connections between volunteering and collective forms of engagement than were their parents and grandparents at the same age (CIRCLE, 2006; Delli Carpini, 2000; Galston, 2001). Wattenberg’s www.annettestrauss.org | 10

Authors: Jarvis, Sharon. and Han, Soo-Hye.
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Comments related to optimism
“I think that people who have made a difference in their communities are powerful examples of
citizenship. Prior to this project, I was a bit more skeptical of their ability to engage young
adults and make them exited about civic participation. However, watching all of the group’s
videos and hearing about what these people have done is empowering to me and probably to
young adults who are younger and older than me.”
Comments related to power
“After completion of our American Trustees project, my idea of citizenship definitely had new
aspects. For example, I now strongly advocate joining a cause where citizens share your same
beliefs. I believe this is an excellent way to create change and exercise your power as a citizen.”
“The AT project influenced my feeling of power as a citizen. For me our trustee has made
having a positive impact more tangible, increased my feeling of responsibility within the
community, and has changed my definition of what it means to be a member of society. I now
see citizenship as a means for connection and contribution.”
“Everyone has something to offer, everyone can make a difference, everyone can see the
impact, and everyone has the ability to be a responsible citizen.”
“If everyone cared, imagine just how incredible that would be. Everyone has such potential.
The system is already set up. It is flawed, and it is wrong, but it is up to us to change it. To
protect the liberties and rights that you have and making sure that tomorrow is as good as today
if not better.”
“The American Trustee project taught me how to make a difference and sparked my interest to
act on it.”
In their final presentations, students were asked to self-reflect on (1) their approach to citizenship
(especially with regard to strengths and limitations of their definition), and (2) how their Trustee
videos might inspire high school and college students (and what might need to be changed to be a more
powerful piece of persuasion). Concerning the former, most students spoke supportively of their
approach to citizenship and explained the perspective with greater nuance having had the experience of
connecting an abstract approach with a role model. With regard to the latter, students applauded their
projects for featuring three message properties that rarely appear in civic engagement materials created
by adults (for their consumption). These message properties include honesty and realism (emphasizing
what young people can and probably cannot do), the importance of small impacts (calling attention to
incremental change in a student friendly way), and the power of the student vernacular (encouraging
young people to encourage other young people to get involved).
Conclusion
At the dawn of the 21
st
century, there is reason to worry about American democracy. By almost every
civic measure, today’s youth pale in comparison to the knowledge, engagement, and participation of
their forebears when they were their age. While older folks have always been concerned about younger
people, there are unprecedented reasons to be anxious about the civic disengagement of America’s
youth. Specifically, young people today are less trusting, less interested in politics, less knowledgeable
about political life, less likely to follow the news, less likely to participate in electoral politics, less
likely to join community groups geared toward solving public problems, and less likely to see
connections between volunteering and collective forms of engagement than were their parents and
grandparents at the same age (CIRCLE, 2006; Delli Carpini, 2000; Galston, 2001). Wattenberg’s
www.annettestrauss.org | 10


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