When we talk to young people about civic engagement, the messages often sound like this:
“One day you will be old enough to vote, and it’s your civic duty to do so.”
“Bring in that extra coat for our school drive!”
“When you are older, you’ll be able to do more.”
So, our students dutifully bring in the coat or the canned good and drop it in the brown box. They fulfill their service hour requirement with a couple of hours at a local nonprofit. They have a vague sense that one day they can check the final box of their “full citizenship to-do list” when they show up at the polls.
We’re trying to teach the next generation about citizenship, but we’ve allowed service hours and volunteering to become the default tactics for engagement, with predictably shallow results.
At the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association, we firmly believe that civic life does not start or stop at the voting booth or with logging service hours; civic life is everything we do to engage as a citizen and member of our community.