Civic engagement refers to participation by individuals and groups in public affairs. It ranges from voting to communicating one’s opinions to public officials to running for public office. Even before Alexis de Tocqueville it has been considered one of the hallmarks of American democracy. But it is important to make a distinction between informed and responsible civic engagement that is productive for society rather than destructive or intolerant civic engagement, which would include such groups as thugs organized to break up peaceful demonstrations.
One of the rationales for civic education for democracy is to provide people with the knowledge, intellectual and participatory skills, and dispositions to engage in public matters using reason and abiding by the norms of civil discourse. Many people see how polarized political perspectives are at present in America, and that polarization feeds an inclination to disengage from public life. But there are educational practices that support productive civic engagement and build public trust in our democracy. These include service learning tied to interaction with one’s government, such as the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen program. High quality civic education, such as the We the People program, also provides a foundation for civic engagement that is conducive to the use of novel methods of productively engaging with other members of the public.
Do you agree or disagree with my characterization of polarized American politics? If you agree, what do you see as reasonable means to a lessening of the polarization among the American public at large and fostering productive civic engagement?