One of my classes this semester is called Pathways to Civic Engagement, it’s a required course for my minor in Leadership of Communities and Nonprofit Organizations; I didn’t know what I was signing up for. Basically, I’m going to learn about why it’s important to care and do something about things you care about, for the better of the cause and community, and the steps and understanding it’s going to take to get there.
The class is taught by one of my favorite professors, therefor regardless of my expectations I knew I’d enjoy it; what I found out the first day was the magnitude of the foreseeable enjoyment. Pathways to Civic Engagement is the involvement of citizens in local communities, the fundamental element for a healthy and thriving democracy. The overview of the class read, in order to actively participate in community life, citizens must understand political structures, how to cultivate and sustain a sense of community, and the various ways they can share their interests and ideas with others. The course will center on those three areas to help students develop their own understanding of what constitutes responsible citizenship.
Why is this a college course?
We learned there’s been a decline in civic participation since the 1960’s, fewer people are voting and engaged in the political process, there are lower levels of volunteerism and philanthropy, decreased religious participation, less time spent with neighbors and the community, resulting in overall less trust and general reciprocity.
Our assigned class reading? Fahrenheit 451. I wasn’t assigned this book in high school, I actually just read it for the first time last semester for my own personal enjoyment. It was a short read, but very enticing and thought provoking. If you haven’t read it, the general gist is it’s a dystopian novel about a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. If you know anything about me, you might know that I am captivated and consumed by the power of words. The exceptional good and change they can create, and the evil and destruction they can possess. It is for that reason I am a Journalism student, and why I want to use the ability and skill sets of a writer to do as much good as I can in the world I live in, for the causes I believe in, and the change I want to see.
These values and social issues of importance for me were highlighted on the first day of our Pathways to Civic Engagement class. Our professor forewarned that this was a course with heavy critical thinking and public in-class discussions, many of which included sensitive topics and becoming much more self-aware of our personal civic engagements. We were asked to identify and share what social issues were prioritized in our hearts with our nearby classmates. It didn’t take more than a couple of seconds to gather the issues I cared a bit more deeply about compared to others. Mine revolved around children, their problems with poverty, their humans rights and education. In the United States alone, according to NCCP, we have more than 16 million children, 22% of all children, live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Concerning education, many of our kids are not reading at grade level anymore, if they’re going to school at all. The statistics double when you take the issue on the global scale.
However, the point of our first class wasn’t to talk necessarily about facts and exactly why we are concerned with the social issues that we care about, but what we’re doing about them. Our professor emphasized something we are all very familiar with, our generation being more about ‘talking’ than ‘doing.’ We are all self proclaimed advocators of bringing awareness on social media about issues, politics, world information, etc, which does benefit getting the public initially aware and consume information, but then what? I’m guilty in the fact of simply sharing a news article and my disbelief in a situation, but not taking the next step of becoming involved either. I once wrote about how our generation should consider themselves all professional writers, with the ability and opportunity to generate good content because of all the social media platforms we now utilize to communicate with each other and the public. I’m not arguing that isn’t an efficient way to participate in civic engagement, but what I’m beginning to find out and probably even more throughout this course is that we need to take the next step of doing even more.
Our professor gave us an extra credit opportunity to create a digital vision board concerning our goals of becoming more involved with civic engagement. What are we going to do in the year of 2016 that will work to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and develop the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.
My vision board ended up becoming a combination of my new years resolutions and how I could tie those into working on making a difference in the civic life of my community, the world around me and the causes I care about. In relation to children and their right to an education, I want to graduate as a Public Relations specialist and work for a nonprofit that I can aid in the success of those similar goals and values. I want to volunteer at least 50 hours of my time this year to organizations with similar causes. I want to continue to stay informed with the news and the world around me, especially being politically aware this year, as well as becoming more educated culturally by beginning to travel. I want to write at least one third of my book this year, read 50 books total, and continue to actively write in this blog. Quitting social media this year I think was a step in the right direction to find alternative ways of becoming more self-aware with myself, engaged with the community and finding methods to take action. Lastly, I’d like to be healthy and fit, and I hope I can promote that lifestyle to my friends and the community around me; if I want to accomplish anything, I need to take care of myself first.
Bonus vision? Becoming an expert at dinosaurs.
I’m really looking forward to this course, all the conversations we are going to have, and everything I will learn. I want to be able to explain the importance of civic engagement to the maintenance and promotion of a democratic society, and I can’t wait for that.