GeoVisions is proud to present this guest post by Karen Middleton, President of Emerge America, a premier training program for Democratic women. Karen also served as a Democratic Representative for the state of Colorado and was on three committees - House Education, Business Affairs and Labor, and the Legislative Council.
For as long as I can recall, I have always felt a strong sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to my community. Interestingly, I do not remember how and where this was instilled in me. I vividly remember registering to vote on my 18th birthday, and casting my first ballot that same year. As I have voted and engaged in my community in other ways, it has been both a source of pride and a consistent theme in my life.
While I know I have this gut-level sense of myself, I have spent several years trying to find the best way for us and our society to instill this same sense in our children and students across America. When I see someone throw trash out their car window, or tell me they don’t vote, I have a strong physical reaction and wonder what we can change and why I have this sense when others don’t? While I have long felt this way, I don’t know where I learned that lesson and how it was so deeply embedded. If I knew, I would bottle it to share. You might ask, how are these acts linked? To me, it is whether you care about the world around you and whether you participate to make the world better.
I have tried to impact this type of thinking in two ways. First, I spent several years working with civic education issues – how to teach it, what it should include and how to incorporate it in schools across the country. I participated in both state and national groups to help affect this policy change. While there are many splendid examples of how to do this work well, I don’t know how many people have been impacted and if it has worked. Reports were produced, conferences were held, materials were shared, and websites were developed.
Second, I taught political science for a couple of years and tried to engage students in this type of thinking myself. We talked about the impact that just one person, just one voice, and just one vote can make to change the world. It may be a big problem, or a local issue. Was I successful? I am not sure. I definitely engaged some of my students in some of my classes to think differently about their place in the world. I can only hope that my continued efforts, through example, and by continuing to engage in other ways.
In addition, I presented this issue to civic groups who are part of the fabric of community engagement. Interestingly, they were struggling with how to best reach young people to both offer their guidance, and to support them. Groups like Rotary or Civitan are equally challenged by how to reach the next generation of young people to engage them both as future members and recipients of community and civic engagement work.
This is work we must all continue to think about and continue to work on as we lead by example and share our time and energy to inspire others to join us as voters, volunteers and active members of our society. It is a journey we take together.