Civics conference to encourage democracy by doing


Take a moment and think about your first political experience, or the first time you felt like a citizen in this country.

How about the first time you felt connected to our democracy, our government or our nation’s history?

Chances are these instances were not spent quietly and passively reading a textbook, or filling out the bubbles of a multiple choice test with a No. 2 pencil. We must treat the project of democracy and citizenship like the active pastime that it is and consequently ensure that the pedagogical practices that develop young people into citizens follow suit. You do not learn how to drive by avoiding the steering wheel of the car, rather you must practice, experience and practice some more. At Mikva, we say that democracy is a verb; democracy is voting, is lobbying, is speaking, is listening, is engaging, is organizing, is campaigning, is problem-solving. Democracy is in fact comprised of lots of doing.

mpv votes 4Mikva Challenge began as a small pilot program with an all-volunteer staff running an electoral engagement project in four schools based on this idea. Since then, Mikva has grown this strategy of real-life democracy education into five robust “Action Civics” programs that serve over 6,000 high school students and 130 teachers at 110 schools across Greater Chicago. We facilitate authentic and transformative democratic experiences that teach young people civic knowledge and leadership skills while transforming their attitudes about political participation. In addition, Mikva is incubating new Action Civics organizations in Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

Now, thanks to Knight Foundation we are able to extend these new civics practices in new ways. On June 24-25, Mikva Challenge, with the support of the National Action Civics Collaborative, will convene in Chicago 200 educators hailing from San Jose, Calif., to Philadelphia, from Macon, Ga., to St. Paul, Minn.—all Knight communities—to build their capacity to lead relevant and empowering civic engagement practices with youth. These innovative educators will consequently help shape the civic life of their schools and communities. Participants will gain tangible tools, resources and a support network of like-minded colleagues and civic education leaders, thereby expanding opportunities for youth to be engaged nationwide.

Mass action shot editedWhen students are given the opportunity to participate in civic life now, they are more likely to participate in the future. Eighty-eight percent of our alumni are registered voters, compared to only 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds nationwide, and equally as many alums report that they feel a responsibility to get involved to make things better for society, compared to 39 percent of their peers nationwide.

The New Civics Practitioners Conference is a unique opportunity, where the interests of student-centered pedagogy, standards-aligned curriculum and the livelihood of our democracy all find themselves at the same table. We are excited and inspired by the educators and presenters who will be joining us, and are eager to see new civics practices reach all corners of this country.