Civic engagement involves "working to make a difference in the civic life of one's community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes."1 Civic engagement includes both paid and unpaid forms of political activism, environmentalism, and community and national service.2 Volunteering, national service, and service-learning are all forms of civic engagement.
According to the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, seven percent of 15- to 25-year-old Americans participated in 10 or more community engagement or political activities within the previous year.3 When compared to their peers who report no civic engagement activities, this group was more likely to be African-American, urban, attend church regularly, from a family with parents who volunteer, a current student (in college or high school), and from college-educated home.4
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency established in 1993 that engages Americans in service through its core programs: AmeriCorps, and Senior Corps, as well as national volunteer efforts through Serve.gov. CNCS serves as the nation's largest grantmaker for service and volunteering and harnesses the energy and talents of citizens to solve problems. Everyone can make a difference and should try, regardless of age.
Participation in civic engagement activities can help youth become better informed about current events. For example, according to the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, approximately a quarter of youth who had not participated in civic engagement activities within the last year did not answer any questions regarding current politics correctly.5Definition and Constructs
Youth civic engagement is defined as working to make a difference in the civic life of one's community. It also involves developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.6 These activities enrich the lives of youths and are socially beneficial to the community. Four interrelated constructs have been identified in the research literature as necessary for civic engagement (see Figure 1).
Volunteering is only one form of civic engagement included, as defined above, in the construct of civic action and civic commitment or duty, but research has also shown a connection between youth who volunteer and other forms of youth civic engagement. Findings suggest that "among youth, volunteering plays a valuable role in shaping how youth learn to interact with their community and develop the skills, values, and sense of empowerment necessary to become active citizens."7
While many youth volunteer, most young people do not see a connection between volunteering and political engagement or activism. In the 2006 National Civic and Political Health Survey, the majority of young people said that they volunteered in order to help others, not to address a social or political problem. Only six percent of youth believed that their volunteering was a means to address social or political problems.8
Another possible form of civic action and civic commitment and duty is service-learning. According to the American Psychological Association,9 service-learning and civic engagement can be related but are not the same thing. Service-learning does not have to include a civic dimension and all forms of civic engagement are not service-learning. Civic engagement is a broader concept that may encompass, but is not limited to, service-learning. Service-learning differs from community service or volunteerism in two distinct ways:
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