GC’s Working Definition of Equity: the intentional creation of learning and organizational environments that not only explicitly recognize the historic marginalization of lower-income communities, students of color, and rural communities, but also ensures the culturally relevant preparation of those communities and students for lifelong civic participation.
Advancing Equity in Civics
At Generation Citizen, we believe that an effective democracy requires equal participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial and socioeconomic equity. In order to reach the ultimate goal of a more equitable democracy, in which all individuals can effectively use their voices to make a difference, civics education must explicitly address the political and social marginalization from the formal democratic process that specific communities have faced. By addressing these historical and current political realities, we can begin to remove barriers to civic identity and participation faced by many, particularly young people of color. In an equity-focused civics education, students can further develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.
Prioritizing Equity within Civics Education
In order to ensure that we are speaking truth to power, and ensuring that this equity approach is front and center both within civics education, and other organizations, we must explore and advance additional practices, principles, and systems that could be adopted by the civic learning field as a whole in order to better incorporate equity into civics education and engagement. We’re excited that through generous investments from the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, we’ve been able to work with national civics education organization iCivics to elevate equity throughout the entire field. We’ve done this through a comprehensive grant that focuses on the following:
A National Equity Steering Committee: Generation Citizen recognizes that it cannot do this work on its own, nor do we have the answers to all of these challenges. We’ve convened a national Steering Committee of practitioners, scholars, and educators to advise and inform this work. The Steering Committee gathered in New York City in July, 2019, to begin to map out the problems inherent in the lack of equity focus in civics education, and to map out solutions. The Committee continues to meet monthly, and has driven all of this work forward.
The Committee will produce a briefing paper addressing the question of why focusing on equity in civics education matters, and is completing a reflection journal chronicling our substantive conversations on the topic.
Listening Tour to Focus on Grassroots Change: To bring new or underrepresented voices and organizations into the civics ecosystem, including youth organizers, researchers, teachers, social emotional learning experts, and community groups, we’re hosting a listening tour in five communities across the country. The tour is intended to create an opportunity for immediately impacted stakeholders — parents, teachers, and students — to talk about how to prioritize equity in K-12 civics education.
The listening tour will conclude in early April, with a national culminating convening happening on May 4th – 5th, in Montgomery, AL. This convening will bring together community leaders, young people, philanthropists, and educators alike to help spur this conversation into a national movement.
Each listening tour region is producing a summary of key themes and takeaways from its community conversations. Additionally, an overarching document compiling listening core insights and lessons learned for the field — across all five regions — will be composed and published as one component of a larger post-convening white paper.
Dates & locations for listening tour:
Albuquerque, NM (TBD) Boston, MA (TBD)
Salinas, CA (TBD) Final Convening: Montgomery, AL (TBD)
Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship: The Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship is comprised of 15-20 students representing a diverse cross sample of young people. This leadership opportunity helps the fellows envision themselves as change agents for civic education, positions students as ambassadors for high-quality civic learning opportunities in their schools and communities, and ensures that youth voices from diverse communities are included in the current civic education field-building conversation – that they become stakeholders. We prioritized racial diversity recognizing that voices of color must be at the forefront, helping to shape and advance field-building efforts. Throughout the Fellowship, the students engage in virtual workshops, in-person convenings, and a social media campaign around equity in civics.
The Equity in Civics Fellows have posed the following questions to their respective peers and will share their learnings through a social media campaign launching March 2, 2020:
- How can we improve civics education so that all students can use what they learn in class in real life?
- What does equity in civics education mean to you?
- What do students in your community need to know in order to be informed and engaged citizens?
- Why do you need to learn about politics, government, civil rights and social justice issues?
We encourage everyone to participate in the discussion online using #CivicsForUS and tagging the student-led accounts:
Equity in civic education White paper
We’re excited to join our colleagues at iCivics to announce the release of our Equity in Civics Education White Paper, a practitioner-oriented resource designed for educators, district leaders, students, parents, civic education providers, and policymakers.
The paper contains insights and recommendations that we hope frames the conversation of civics education for years to come. Simply put, civics education must center equity at its very foundation, a shift away from a discipline that has all too often focused on a traditional and non-relevant approach when engaging students. As we look to the vital, long-term, and challenging work of rebuilding our democracy, an equity-centric approach to civics education must be at the forefront.
These insights are the result of a two-year field-building initiative, including a seven-city listening tour conducted across urban and rural districts in regions as diverse as the nation itself: Harvest, AL; Salinas, CA, Boston MA, Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, Waco, TX, and Albuquerque, NM.
We learned that educators, parents, and students want more civics education earlier. They want it to be more equitable and experiential. They want it to be more relevant. They want the community and parents more involved. And they want more district and state support for it.
The Equity in Civics Education paper includes specific actions we can take right now to bring more equity into civics education:
- Center student voices. Equitable civics is inclusive, representative, and relevant; it promotes diverse voices and draws on students’ lived experiences and perspectives in order to engage them in understanding social issues, the power dynamics that cause them, and the power that young people have to bring change.
- Engage parents more. Adult collaboration and support is a key component to supporting and sustaining equitable civic education.
- Fund civics with policy commitments. Everyone we spoke to was concerned about the lack of funding for more equitable civic education. We need to counter that concern with policy commitments to more equitable civics on the state, district, and school levels.
Equity in the Everyday at GC
Community Change Fellowship (CCF): CCF is our stipend-paid summer internship for select alumni of our Action Civics program. Fellows work with government and advocacy organizations and receive professional development workshops throughout the summer. The experience further develops student’s leadership skills, advances their commitment to public service, and helps build a diverse pipeline of future civic leaders.
DEI Curricular Audit: Last spring, GC launched a consulting project to design curricula with a DEI lens. Currently, many of our students, from immigrant and other historically marginalized communities, contend with a sense of civic disjuncture whereby their daily experiences (e.g. discrimination, violence, and economic injustice) conflict with what they learn in the classroom about American ideals and government. Our goal is to invite students to learn about our democracy and their roles within it in a way that is personally relevant and authentic to their own experiences (acknowledging the structural barriers to political participation) as well as aspirational in its depiction of what our democracy can become through our collective participation.
Vote16USA: A national initiative of Generation Citizen, Vote16USA supports youth-led work to lower the voting age to 16 and promotes the issue on a national level. It was launched in late 2015 and is the nation’s leading authority on the issue of lowering the voting age. It is estimated that by 2030, the 65+ population will be three-quarters white, while the population of those under the age of 18 will be less than one-half white. By including 16 and 17 year olds in the electorate, and experiencing the subsequent increase in turnout among voters in their 20s, the interests of diverse young people will be represented during a time of historic demographic change. Read the latest Vote16USA white paper.
360 Civic Learning: Generation Citizen created the 360 Civic Learning Toolkit to provide the ecosystem of influencers — schools, community organizations, after school programs, religious and cultural institutions, policymakers, philanthropists and others — with practical guidelines for engaging with youth from underserved communities in order to support their civic development through their acquisition of four Civic Building Blocks: civic knowledge, skills, values/ disposition, and efficacy. Download the 360 Civic Learning Toolkit: A For Supporting Youth Civic Engagement in Underserved Communities.
Learn More and Get Involved
Further reading & resources:
- Lived Experience of Students as Catalyst for Change by Amy Curran, Oklahoma ExecuDirector
- Civics Education Must Put Racial Equity First by Scott Warren, CEO, and Andrew Wilkes, Senior Director of Policy & Advocacy
- Action Civics Education Policies Influence Representative Democracy by Jorden Jones, Council of State Governments
- Black, Female and Neglected, 19th-Century Hero Became Students’ Cause by Tiara Coleman, CityViews
- Mi vida como una mujer indocumentada de color by Lorena, El Diario
Jóvenes hispanos aprenden sobre democracia para ser agentes de cambio by Edwin Martinez
- Our star student was honored by Michelle Obama, but he felt like a fraud. Now, we’re rethinking everything by Scott Warren, CEO, and Sylvia Rousseau, National Board Member
- How Generation Citizen Uses Action Civics to Empower Students, Grow Lifelong Citizens and Combat Inequality by Laura Fay, The 74
“When topics are determined by students, they can speak to their lived realities and reveal new insights. Of note, involving diverse youth voices — in terms of region, race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and other facets of identity — can unearth often overlooked components of not only youth experiences, but overlooked components of entire communities insofar as youth are members of those communities.”
— Andrew Wilkes, Senior Director of Policy & Advocacy