August 09, 2006

Strengthen Democracy through Service

What's the connection between service, education and democracy ?

According to Innovation In Civic participation Brett Alessi's report Youth Engaged in Service: A Strategy for Promoting Democracy :

For a democracy to thrive, a nations youth must be prepared and willing to take their place as active, principled adult citizens. From voting to engaging in political discourse, to understanding how political systems operate, each successive generation must have the tools necessary to properly shape and participate in civil society and government. By providing opportunities for young people to actively address community needs in a structured format, youth service is an effective way for young people to develop these tools. The participatory aspect of service contributes to a heightened understanding of the forces that shape governments and societies, leading to greater transparency, accountability, and improved governance. Empowering young people to play an active role in community development allows democracy to evolve according to the needs and traditions of diverse political cultures. Because it is a collective activity, service has the power to transcend traditional social divides, foster bonds of trust, and develop an ethic of working for the common good. Many consider the resulting social capital crucial to a healthy democracy. Robert Putnam offered, "All our societies need more social capital and in my view the single most promising area of initiative is youth service."

When talking about service-learning, a particular type of service that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings noted, "Studies have shown that students who participate in these programs demonstrate increased civic and social responsibility and improved academic achievement."

The ICP promotes civic participation as a strategy to address important issues around the world and supports the development of service as an emerging social institution.

Others have also recognized the importance of service as a means for educating citizens for participatory democracy.

Another article that examines the school based approach was written Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne paper called What Kind of Citizen ? The Politics of Educating for a Democracy.

The Civic Mission of Schools is also a proponent of civic education, they too promote service.

For examples of youth working to create policy changes and increase youth action pathways check out Youth Innovation Fund.

There are a plethora of examples, share yours. Send them my way at

- Heather Margolis, National Service-Learning Partnership

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