It may seem inane to state that schools are a critical part of education. However, they provide a unique setting for young people to develop as individuals by exposing one another to different ideas. Such a setting is integral to the growth of a person; it provides lessons beyond the standard curriculum.
Being involved in my school environment as a child broadened my own horizons. For many (myself included), school was one of the first times I encountered ideas that differed from my own. As a young child, I had primarily been exposed to what was discussed around the dinner table. The differences of opinion I encountered, whether it was trivial or more serious, taught me to reassess what I held to be true. I learned to evaluate why I believed in ideas and to open myself to the possibility that my initial understandings might be wrong.
Today, within my studies at college, I focus in political theory. It is through this subject that I have begun to appreciate conflicting perspectives in a new way. In examining various philosophers’ approaches to politics, there appear stark differences. Often times, certain opinions can seem outlandish, absurd, or even mildly offensive by modern standards. But nonetheless, these opinions are important to consider. Their disagreements provide unique perspectives. One is able to consider policy proposals from perspectives that, while perhaps not solutions, still provide alternate ways of considering a previously established norm. Through these means, we can uncover important questions we should be asking about our existing system. While it is counterintuitive, conflicts can be extraordinarily productive. This mindset should extend beyond abstract theories and into our interpersonal relationships. I truly believe that continued political progress is contingent upon new or alternate ideas to constantly be heard and valued. But such a mindset is a challenge.
My primary community for nine months of the year is a very open and socially progressive college campus. Yet even there, where so many people are politically informed and devoted to causes to better our society, it is hard to be confronted with ideas that directly challenge what you firmly hold to be correct. People often feel threatened by them or, worse, dismiss them.
Politics, while frequently the root of such conflicts, is also paradoxically a mechanism to overcome them. Civic engagement goes beyond purely participating in politics. It also implies interacting with the different voices and opinions within one’s environment. A community is not made of identical people; it is a conglomeration of many individuals, who have different backgrounds, ideologies, and personal beliefs. Each offers a unique perspective on a particular problem.
This is why civic engagement is critical. It enables people to suggest new and different ideas to the community for consideration. Even more importantly, such exchanges mean people must continually strive to cope with and appreciate those differences of opinions. Civic engagement is a forum that does not stop educating members of the community as they work towards societal improvement.
It is important for young people to partake in these forums and the exchange of ideas that comes with them. Not only does civic engagement teach important lessons of tolerance to our future leaders, but young people also have a lot to contribute. They possess a valuable perspective concerning their current community, the problems it faces, and, most importantly, its future progress. These are essential voices that should be empowered to speak out to share powerful insights that should be incorporated into the promotion of a better society.
Young people should feel invested in their communities and be able to positively impact them. Empowering young people to have a voice within civics enables them to take part in their society’s future – one that is fundamentally tied to their own futures.
– Alexia Ramirez, GC National Development Intern and Student at Brown University
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.