The Use of Service Learning Projects in Civic Education to Reduce Student Political Apathy
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, since 1972 when 18-21 year old U.S. citizens were given the right to vote, political participation has declined (Youth, 2007, p. 1). Many researchers have found different reasons for this current apathetic state of affairs, but I would argue that although the current state of political engagement looks dreary when studying the 18-24 year olds, simple educational reform could solve many of the problems plaguing the political scene today. Research has shown consistently that although the youth of America are reluctant to get involved in politics, they still are extremely enthusiastic about volunteering and making a difference in their community. With that in mind, it is clear that the most effective means of teaching civic education to adolescents is by combining traditional civic education with service learning. By designing a program that concentrates on service learning and focuses on proven modern education best practices and concepts, I feel that students will be able to see real world application more clearly. Understanding how different types of people learn, and how to appeal to an individual's strengths in order to build upon their weaknesses, is vital for student success. However, understanding learners and learning is not enough for students to be achieve, rather educators must also accompany this with a strong curriculum. The idea that "one teaching style fits all," tends to reflect a teacher-centered instructional approach that does not work for all students due to their diverse needs and learning styles. A strong curriculum centered on real world application, discussion, higher order thinking skills, and preparation for college, reduces the conflicts between teaching styles and learning styles. A relaxed and supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable discussing their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and attitudes about public life and politics is also essential. When students feel comfortable to share, they take greater pride in the learning process and feel more invested in their learning. It is also essential to remember that these three components are most successful when teachers administer various authentic assessments that indicate students' abilities to apply skills and knowledge to projects and activities. By providing a wide range of assessments, all students have the opportunity to showcase their strengths and build upon weaknesses. In short, combining these four areas of interest with current trends of student interest in volunteerism will serve not only to educate students about the importance of political participation, but also begin to reverse the trends of political apathy in our nations young people.