Action civics is an authentic, experiential approach to learning in which young people address issues relevant to their lives through real world experiences, according to the National Action Civics Collaborative (NACC), a coalition of nonprofits, educators, researchers and funders in the field of civics education. This unique approach lies in the idea that “traditional” classroom civics should be paired with research, skill-building and concrete action to effectively lay the groundwork for long-term civic and political engagement. Two Civics Program grantees, Mikva Challenge and the Chicago Freedom School, are part of NACC.
NACC’s objective is to advance action civics as a tool for youth engagement, civic development and educational achievement. Practitioners in the field believe that, in order to be successful, action civics curriculum should include four key components: action—especially collective action, youth voice, youth leadership, and reflection. When combined, these ingredients help build skills, develop knowledge, and cultivate the values and behaviors that lead young people to become effective change agents and informed participants in the democratic process.
Through a grant to the Mikva Challenge Center for Action Civics, the Civics Program supported the first annual NACC “Power of Action Civics Symposium” in Chicago in June 2011. At the gathering, more than 60 representatives from the action civics field committed to formulating a shared definition of action civics, creating common measurement and evaluation tools, and building a repository of resources and best practices for the field. The group also pledged to position this work in the context of broader school reform initiatives, with a focus on standards alignment and educator professional development.
The McCormick Foundation believes that a healthy democracy is one in which all voices are represented. Yet many youth in under-served communities do not have access to the experiential approaches to civic learning that could lead to lifelong democratic participation. The result is a civic empowerment gap, where many youth aren’t offered the resources and opportunities to become actively engaged in their communities. By supporting the national action civics movement, the Civics Program aims to play a role in making quality civics education accessible to all young people.