Like many Americans, I spent the last week watching Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. It was an event which generated a lot of discussion and reflection on the inner workings of American politics. Jackson’s story is quite inspiring. If confirmed, she will be the first African American woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. Her credentials are also outstanding; she’s worked as a public defender, a Supreme Court clerk, and has years of experience as a Court of Appeals judge. Her story is a valuable reminder of what our students can achieve when they practice perseverance, integrity, and critical thought.

At the same time, the hearings demonstrated the importance of civic engagement. Our public leaders shoulder a great deal of responsibility, but as citizens, we also have a duty to remain informed and active in the governance of our community. Students in particular hold great potential for positive change. Yet, public policy decisions are hardly (if ever) influenced by the creativity, interest, and experience of our smallest citizens. Perhaps it’s time we gave our students the tools to change that?

Standing Up and Speaking Out

There’s no better time to get students thinking about their community and the role they play in shaping public policy. Here are a few ideas to help your students become the changemakers of tomorrow:

  • Write a Congressmen: Our leaders are elected to serve the interests of the community. So, what kind of problems do students want they would fix? Have your students pen a letter to their state representative which highlights something that matters to them. First, have them look up their representative using this handy tool. Next, teach them to follow the proper etiquette and personalize their letter to make it more distinct. Finally, have students share their letters and revise them based on feedback from their peers. Not only will this build their skills in writing and language, but it also fosters classroom collaboration.
  • Take a Stand: Use this handy Blue Apple project and help students share their voice with the world. In this project-based learning unit, students will take a stand in support of a public policy issue that matters to them. They will learn about all sides of several topics like education and the environment. Through respectful discourse, they will construct and articulate well-researched positions on a topic of their choice with an inspirational podcast!
  • Promote Cooperative Class Rules: Sometimes the best place to practice public policy is in the classroom itself! When starting cooperative teams, have students create the rules for their engagement. Give them 2 minutes to discuss what the rules should be for this project and then make a class list from the discussion. When students create the norms/agreements, they have more ownership and are more inclined to follow them.
Making a Difference

Just imagine the positive change our students could instigate if we allowed their voices to be heard. So, take a moment to introduce the principles of civic engagement into your classroom. They don’t need to be huge, simply having them work together as a classroom can be a huge step, but don’t underestimate the impact these students can have. After all, the leaders of tomorrow could be sitting in your desks.

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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