Soul of a Citizen: 10 Steps to Civic Engagement
Here in the great state of Kansas, we’re busy working to develop and implement a standards-based assessment tool that needs to measure a ton of things. Historical thinking. Reading. Writing. Problem solving. Connecting past with contemporary issues.
Oh . . . and civic engagement.
And not just the book learnin’ civic engagement as in . . . there are three branches of government and you need to vote and people can demonstrate and there is a Bill of Rights and it’s a good idea to help others.
Our Kansans Can state board vision requires civic engagement that involves students actually doing something. Getting out of the classroom. Increasing voter registration. Raising awareness and funds for malaria mosquito nets. Organizing a Breast Cancer 5K run. Creating and staffing an after-school club for latch key kids. Buddy programs that connect new students with current students.
So how do you measure that? What can that look like K-12? Yeah . . . well. We’re not completely sure yet. But lots of people are working on it – including official KSDE civic engagement guy and social studies guru Don Gifford. Don recently communicated some of his personal professional learning with Kansas educators and I want to share what he’s starting to figure out. Because it seems like the sort of stuff that can help not just Kansas teachers but all of you out there in the bigger world beyond the wheat fields.
Full disclosure. I haven’t read Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times. But I know Don. And I trust his judgment. So here ya go:
“(I’m) currently reading “Soul of a Citizen” by Paul Rogat Loeb. At the end of the book, the author makes Ten Suggestions. These suggestions are more global but I do think they have possible application for us as we look toward creating more civic engagement opportunities for our students. So here they are:
- Start where you are. You don’t need to know everything and you certainly don’t need to be perfect.
- Take things step by step. You set the pace of your engagement. Don’t worry about being swallowed up because you’ll determine how much to be involved.
- Build a supportive community. You can accomplish far more with even a small group of good people than you can alone.
- Be strategic. Ask what you’re trying to accomplish, where you can find allies, and how to best communicate the urgencies you feel.
- Enlist the uninvolved. They have their own fears and doubts, so they won’t participate automatically; you have to work actively to engage them. If you do, there’s no telling what they’ll go on to achieve.
- Seek out unlikely allies. The more you widen the circle, the more you’ll have a chance of breaking through the entrenched barriers to change.
- Persevere. Change most often takes time. The longer you continue working, the more you’ll accomplish.
- Savor the journey. Changing the world shouldn’t be grim work. Take time to enjoy nature, good music, good conversation, and whatever else lifts you soul. Savor the company of good people working for change.
- Think large. Don’t be afraid to tackle the deepest-rooted injustices, and to tackle them on a national or global scale. Remember that many small actions can shift the course of history.
- Listen to your heart. It’s why you’re involved to begin with. It’s what will keep you going.”
Some great advice. I especially like the first suggestion. I think we sometimes think that all of what we do has to be perfect before we introduce it to students and implement in our lesson plans. The phrase “perfect is the enemy of the good’ seems to fit here. We’re never going to get a clean, neat and tidy civic engagement program. Let’s start. Better to get our feet wet and figure it out as we get deeper than to never get in the pool.
I’ve added Soul of a Citizen to my summer reading list. You might find some of the book’s resources helpful. Find out more at Loeb’s site. Explore some of his study questions. Browse through a long list of actual service learning examples.
An interesting review of Soul by Christopher Moore at Philanthropy News Digest highlights perhaps the most important piece of the book and Loeb’s 10 Suggestions:
Throughout the book, Loeb references history and the stories we tell ourselves about activism. The latter are often misleading and designed to showcase saints and miracle workers, instead of real, flawed human beings who took a stand. Too often, Loeb explains, political action is reported later as if it were a shocking out-of-context gesture, rather than the result of hard work and difficult choices that many people could have made.
In the introduction for the 2010 edition of Soul, he cites Rosa Parks as a prime example. He notes that Parks had attended a ten-day social activism training seminar before she made the decision to stay seated on that Montgomery city bus. Her decision “didn’t come out of nowhere….[T]he full story of Parks reminds us that her consequential act, along with everything that followed, depended on all the humble, frustrating work that she and others had undertaken earlier, and on the vibrant, engaged community they had developed in the face of continual hardship and opposition.”
The lesson Loeb wants us to learn from Rosa Parks: Opportunities to make a difference exist in our own lives every day.
It’s a good lesson for us as we continue creating an effective and impactful civic engagement program here in Kansas. It’s a good lesson for all of us.