A sustainable society needs motivated and engaged citizens.
For many educators, civic engagement — working to make a difference on issues that concern the community — is the heart of educating for sustainability. With civic engagement, young people develop the knowledge, skills, values, and motivation they need to make that difference.
While many schools require students to take part in service learning or volunteer projects, civic engagement goes a step further. It encourages young people to identify issues within the community and to address them in concrete ways. It involves students in community-wide needs and public concerns.
To that end, the most successful civic engagement projects help students see that their actions have an effect. The projects are meaningful, have academic integrity, are developmentally appropriate, and are realistic with the time and resources available to students.
Young people who participate in their communities often become more engaged at school. Seeing that their work has meaning in the wider community increases students' motivation to learn. Teachers have attributed improved scores on standardized tests and other academic indicators to students' civic engagement.
Michael K. Stone is senior editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy (www.ecoliteracy.org) and the primary author of the Center's book, Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability (Watershed Media, 2009) and Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (Sierra Club Books, 2005). Prior to coming to the Center, Michael was managing editor of Whole Earth magazine and the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; he has also written for the Toronto Star and The New York Times, among other publications.