Next Generation Civic Competencies

While youth are the future of our country, it is rarely mentioned about how they deserve to be given the opportunity to see local government and school boards in action. Part of parenting is to develop your children to be good citizens. Recently, progress has been made to expand civics education as well as financial literacy in school curriculum. This is fantastic and will provide an advantage so many students in our state. Yet, we owe it to our children to do better than that. Civics usually covers so broadly government at different levels and there are different models in different jurisdictions, that the government that impacts them locally is hardly described accurately.

It is vital that students be given a practical lesson in how local government and school districts work. The question is what would be the right approach? I propose parents take their high school age children to live meetings where city/county/school board business is conducted and help guide them through the process. This provides multiple benefits as it will involve the parents and help them to learn the principles of getting their local government or school board to work for them. Even if the parent is not fluent in government protocols, enough elements will be familiar from life experiences in the job force or higher education that will provide them the tools to explain.

If the issue comes up where it requires the youth to be removed from school for part of the day or the parent to miss part or a whole day of work, or both, one solution is to attend a meeting or two in nearby cities that either have evening or afternoon meetings. Based on recent events, I’m sure that most school boards and their administrations would endorse taking a youth out of school for part of the day to increase their bandwidth of civic engagement.

Recently, I was honored to assist as a last-minute go-between for a Boy Scout to complete his Eagle Scout project. This youth had the vision to commission a bronze statue of a mourning police officer, raised all the money, and had it delivered to the city facilities department. The issue was getting this monument at the new police department headquarters. At stake was his congressional nomination to West Point within a specific timeline. The statue was placed and he received his nomination. I remain impressed today by the level of commitment that this youth invested in a complex long-term project.

There are a range of social projects involving local government that I could suggest. To get the ball rolling, I frequently see donation boxes, but my professional experience is that about two-thirds of the time, they are not a legitimate charity, and they harvest the fibers from donated clothes for commercial purposes. This sample project would be to initiate an ordinance that ensures only legitimate charities would be able to place registered boxes in approved locations. If a student leads the charge on this, protecting charitable consumers from being exploited and making sure that charities are not getting ripped off by unscrupulous solicitors, this could be replicated county to county, city to city, and have an immeasurable positive effect. Certainly, this would provide the distinction that a scholarship candidate deserves to be appropriately recognized.

Once our youth know and understand the possibilities of their civic engagement through experience, they will be able to make their boards, councils and commissions work for them.

We can’t have enough ‘Good Citizens.’

Roland Clee is a consultant with Command Staff Consulting, LLC and helps local governments with media relations, accreditation and strategic planning. He is recently retired from the City of Orlando Police Department.


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