City Council School: An Innovative Solution for Civic Education

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David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Introduction: Disillusioned with Political Process
Many US citizens feel that they cannot make a difference in the political outcomes of this country. People tend to focus on voting in the presidential election as the most important part of the political process in the United States. People get discouraged because they think their vote and voice has no bearing on the outcome of the presidency. So as a result, they do not vote or participate in the political process at all. People develop this mindset because they do not have enough civic awareness of the impact they can have on their everyday life. But as we have said in previous articles, participating in local, county and state government has just as much of an impact on our lives as national politics. Many people do not realize this because there is a lack of civic education in the US. 

A More Meaningful Civic Education
In a recent article from the Brookings Institute Rebecca Winthrop writes about “The need for civic education in 21st-century schools.”  She makes some pointed statements about what is needed in a successful democracy. She states that it is essential that “Americans’ participation in civic life.” And that without this active participation a “democratic form of government” cannot be sustained. Without active participation and “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” our democratic system as we know it “will not last.” The article goes on to say that there is an increasing concern across the United States about the “the declining levels of civic engagement.” This lack of engagement, along with a lack of adequate civic education in k-12 schools is detrimental to our democracy. “A 2016 survey led by Annenberg Public Policy” revealed that “1 in 4…US citizens are unable to name the three branches of government.” Furthermore, a Pew Research Center study from March 2019 revealed that only “17 percent trust the government in Washington to do the right thing.” The overall premise of the article is that there is a great need for more meaningful civic education in our time.

Paraskevopoulos and Waller’s City Council School
If people missed out on a robust civic education in their school days, all hope is not lost. A Cincinnati-based organization known as Action Tank (Founded by Ioanna Paraskevopoulos, J.D. and Margy Waller, J.D.) has established an innovative civic education program known as City Council School. City Council School is a program for Cincinnati residents who have an interest in “running for Cincinnati City Council and/or want a deeper understanding of the City’s government systems and practices to successfully champion new policy.” The participants in City Council School will have an opportunity to interact with a wide range of speakers and panelists that represent “government administration leadership, subject matter experts, political decision-makers, elected officials and their staff, journalists, council clerks, community leaders, and others who play critical roles in shaping local policy process and outcomes.” In addition, the class will include tours, workshops and opportunities for in-depth discussion and reflection about being in public service, as it relates to policy making. Participants will walk away with a wealth of knowledge and skills to become elected officials and/or informed citizens. City Council School is now accepting applications for their fall cohort.

Action Tank in Cincinnati
The parent organization’s (Action Tank’s) main focus is to get average citizens and communities involved in the local political process. Action Tank is a think tank that supports “new policy in the Cincinnati area.” Their goal is to advance opportunities in Cincinnati neighborhoods and to work with residents in promoting policy that is best for everyone. Action Tank uses “creative placemaking approaches.” That is, they work with local artists, designers and arts organizations “to conduct research, build awareness, and engage residents”. The organization works “on civic engagement and best government practices, including transparency, evidence-based policy, accessible policy making, and creative community engagement.” With the upcoming election season, organizations like Action Tank and their City Council School are essential in creating an informed citizenry that understands their rights and can be heavily involved in civic engagement and even local governing. Below are some other resources that can help educate folks in the area of civic engagement. We have also included some curricular resources teachers can use in their classrooms. 

Educational Resources for Civil Engagement
Lesson Plans on Local Government
State and Local Governments
Local Government Lesson Plan
The Responsibilities of Local Government
Educator Resources for Local and State Governments
Civic Education Standards
Seven engaging civics lesson plans
Cast Your Vote- I-Civics Game
Civics Lesson Plans and Toolkits
Civics and Government Lesson Plans
Civic Education Lesson Plan

Further Reading
Why Civic Education Needs a Boost
The Case for Local Government
Five Things Americans Don’t Understand about Politics
I asked people why they don’t vote, and this is what they told me
   

5 Comments

  1. I will be honest and say for the majority of my life (since I’ve been old enough to vote) this was my thought. This is why I never voted. I figured why would I waste my time and energy when it didn’t matter, like mentioned above I was “discouraged”. I also grew up around the majority of the adults I was around having the same thoughts. That why incorporate speakers to come in and educate the kids in public schools is such a good idea because then that is a chance for students to have an adult they trust to listen to and get educated by. Possibly to even share that education with adults them who weren’t taught that in the school system either.

  2. I have personally experienced the lack of civic education in middle and high school. Most of the time, any description of our political process was covered in a very surface-level manner, which left many people without solid knowledge of how our political process works. Many of the things I now know about our political systems are from my own personal research, rather than from a social studies classroom. I think social studies teachers should place a heavier emphasis on these topics rather than casually glossing over them.

  3. I have personally experienced the lack of civic education in middle and high school. Most of the time, any description of our political process was covered in a very surface-level manner, which left many people without solid knowledge of how our political process works. Many of the things I now know about our political systems are from my own personal research, rather than from a social studies classroom.

  4. In his article on the importance of civic education, Dr. Childs makes many good points about the need for better civic education in k-12 schools. He correctly points out that many people do not participate in the political process because they do not think they have an important role and/or they do not think that their lives are impacted much by the politics of the day. This is especially true in local elections, because those types of elections aren’t as publicized and glamorous. The “City Council School” in Cincinnati is a great program that can help people to get more involved in civics. A lot of times, I think informed and caring citizens do not even consider that they could run for a local office if they feel like they have valuable input to offer and could do a better job for their community. “City Council School” is a great tool to not only dispel this thought, but to engage everyday people and teach them how they, too, can run for office and make a difference.

  5. My freshman year of college at NKU I became involved in the Student Government Association. During this time, I realized the importance of not only that “local” government but also state government. I had the opportunity to attend the Rally for Higher Education and this opened my eyes to the importance of our vote in state elections to see change in our state and community. While I am informed of the school process for running for student government, I am very unsure of the process for running for city government. The City Council School sounds like a great civic education program that could be beneficial for all cities so that their citizens will know what goes into running for city council. I would love to see this implemented in some of our Kentucky cities. I also enjoyed looking through the various resources at lesson plan ideas on how to incorporate civics into the elementary classroom.

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