Generation Citizen’s Theory of Change
informs our work, in the present and future,
and provides a framework for our ultimate success
A complex societal problem like the Civic Engagement Gap demands a multi-tiered, coordinated response. Generation Citizen therefore engages with a number of stakeholders who can directly or indirectly boost students’ ability to effect change in their communities: college students, teachers, school administrators, district-level officials, and elected officials. Through an in-class action civics program and an internship-based Community Leadership program (the latter currently in a pilot stage), Generation Citizen not only empowers participating students – both secondary and college, but also works to change the institution best positioned to produce informed, engaged democratic citizens – our schools.
In order for underrepresented youth to become active participants in the democratic process – and therefore able to address challenges in their communities – they must possess the civic knowledge, skills, and motivation to make their voices heard. GC’s action civics approach is both student-centered and project-based, a pedagogical approach that research suggests is uniquely effective:
- Student investment: Students themselves guide the program, thereby guaranteeing investment in their own learning. Students bring their unique experiences, knowledge, and perspectives to bear in choosing their focus issue. Youth voice is therefore not just encouraged and valued, but essential to the operation of the program.
- Understanding actions and consequences: Students create their own action plan with goals, strategies, and tactics to address their focus issue, helping them to understanding how their choices lead to outcomes.
- Learning by doing: Students carry out their action plan, discovering how democracy works in the real world. They learn civics by doing civics, and gain a tactile feel for the methods of advocacy and organizing. The persuasive communication and collaboration skills inherent in action civics can also carry over to other disciplines, contributing to career- and college-readiness.
- Reflect and retool: Student reflection and analysis of planning and action – essential for continued engagement – is hardwired into the program through each semester’s culminating Civics Day.
GC’s primary focus is on empowering low-income secondary students. However, GC’s college Mentors also derive civic benefits from participation in our program. Though Mentors, by definition, have attained a high level of education, they are often themselves products of K-12 schools without effective civics programs. Through GC’s advocacy training and the experience of guiding their students to take action on a specific issue, Mentors themselves often gain greater civic knowledge and skills. They also increase their motivation to continue their involvement in issues of educational and social inequity, providing a human capital leadership pipeline for the education, human services, and political sectors and thereby laying the groundwork for systemic change.
Our nation’s schools have a duty to produce informed, engaged citizens who can meet the challenges of democratic self-government. Yet in today’s education environment, schools’ civic mission has been pushed to the back burner. Through our curricular resources, teacher professional development and support, and partnership with administrators, teachers improve their content knowledge and integrate the principles of action civics into their broader classroom pedagogy. Combined with thought leadership efforts to publish and disseminate information on our best practices, GC helps change the way schools view, engage in, and teach low-income students the democratic process.