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Engaging Kids in Communities Because ‘We’re Never Finished’

A volunteer helping and elderly man sat at a computer

“The role of education is to teach my students how to make their own assessment of our political system,” Peter says. “That’s what can make their participation—and their contributions—so valuable.”

A Personal Decision to Help

“It’s not my job to tell kids how fantastically well the American political system performs,” says Peter Levine.

Peter is an Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University.

He says he’s always encouraging kids to get civically involved. He says there’s great value to communities when this happens.

So why the surprising statement about his role as a teacher?

“The role of education is to teach my students how to make their own assessment of our political system,” Peter says. “That’s what can make their participation—and their contributions—so valuable.”

Falling in Love with the Process

It’s just what happened to Edna Ishayik.

She’s Director of Civic Engagement Initiatives with Civic Nation, a non-profit that helps young people connect and engage with “some of our nation’s most pressing challenges.”

Edna says it was “messy” and not always easy trying to get positive things done through the process. But she fell in love with the process nonetheless.

“When I went to college, I barely cared about grades or much of anything,” Edna says.

“Then I was urged by someone to participate in student government,” she says.

Edna says it was “messy” and not always easy trying to get positive things done through the process.

But she fell in love with the process nonetheless.

“It changed the course of my life,” she says.

“There is also evidence that civic engagement prepares kids for life,” Peter says. “It helps with self-confidence, the ability to work in groups, and creativity at analyzing and solving complex problems.”

Cultivating the Young

“Our democratic system needs civic engagement,” says Peter Levine. “And the best time to teach it, is when people are young.”

Young people are less politically polarized, he says. And their volunteer rate is higher than their parents.

“There is also evidence that civic engagement prepares kids for life,” Peter says. “It helps with self-confidence, the ability to work in groups, and creativity at analyzing and solving complex problems.”

Civic Engagement Basics

Peter says there are three things that constitute baseline civic engagement:

You’re talking with others and listening to others about current events and issues.
You’re actually *doing* things with others to, in your eyes, change the world.
You’re developing relationships through these activities.
“Deliberation, collaboration, relationships—these are the keys,” he says.

“And the most successful thing you can do to draw someone into the process is to invite them to join you,” Peter says. “This kind of group membership is both meaningful and incredibly powerful.”

“I think it’s easier to stay engaged when we realize that our country and its political process is never really complete or done.”

‘Can I Really Change the World?’

Peter says it’s not foolish for young people to think their participation in anything will change the world.

“I talk with my daughter about that all the time,” he says. “It’s easy to get discouraged.”

“I explain that things change slowly, often over the course of your life,” he says. ”

“For me,” says Edna Ishayik, “I think it’s easier to stay engaged when we realize that our country and its political process is never really complete or done.”

“We’re always getting a little bit better and a little bit better,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important that we participate.”

Pearson is partnering with NBC on the “Goal to Be Greater” project. They’re collecting pledges to make a difference in communities at the Parent Toolkit website.