by Laqueenda Adu, senior at Central High School, Philadelphia, PA
The American education system emphasizes math, literacy and science. It is meant to guide us on the path towards our future careers. But schools gloss over what should be one of our most important topics: civics.
This is especially true for African-American, Hispanic and poor students, those who need it most, who routinely score the lowest on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for Civics. Academic reports have repeatedly shown that children who live in marginalized communities — primarily students of color — are less likely to receive adequate civic education.
And even when civics is taught, racism, discrimination and slavery are often left out of the equation.
I was born in Ghana and raised there for the first 10 years of my life. Being raised in Ghana, I was unaware that in some parts of the world, the color of my skin made me a threat in the eyes of others. Everyone around me had my complexion so I didn’t feel threatened because of it. It was only when I became an African American that I learned I would be treated differently because of the color of my skin.
In the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Walter Wallace and so many more before them, the danger that the color of my skin places me in has never been more clear. How we deal with the issues of racial injustice and police brutality are among the many important questions about the future of our nation that our next elected leaders will have to confront. It’s up to us, the youth, to guide them, and civic education can help us educate the youth about the many ways we can work towards creating change.
I turned 18 this past summer, and because I know the importance and power my vote carries, I will exercise that right and continue to encourage my peers to do the same. But young people across the nation have shown that we care about politics whether or not we are part of the formal political process.
This past year I was able to join the Youth As Civics Experts program (YACE) as an Equity in Civics Youth Fellow which taught me about the importance of civic education. Using the tools and skills I gained from being part of the Youth As Civics Experts program, I have committed myself to increase the youth vote in my community and also creating informed youth voters.
This past summer, I worked to register over 90% of the eligible students in my high school and other eligible voters in Philadelphia. Because we had to do most things virtually, I helped launch a social media campaign incorporating the skills I learned through YACE by making creative and informative graphics to help spread the message all over the state of Pennsylvania.
Civic education, when done right, can uplift and empower students. It can help us find our voices and use them effectively.
For young people who aren’t old enough to take part in the election, assisting and encouraging others who are eligible to vote is a great way to take part in our nation’s democracy. And outside elections, civic education can help develop the next generation of critical thinkers who understand that they can enact change.
Civic education, when done right, can uplift and empower students. It can help us find our voices and use them effectively. So why is civic education not equitable and accessible to all of us?
When I joined the Youth As Civics Experts program as an Equity in Civics Youth Fellow, I met with many civically engaged students from different states to discuss the inequity of civic education in our schools. I learned through this fellowship that civic education teaches far more than how to vote. It teaches us how to involve ourselves in our society so that we can become engaged citizens.
This is especially important for communities of color so that we can educate ourselves on how to move past our nation’s history and best respond to its current racial climate. Because if we’re not taught what our rights and laws are, how can we as citizens learn to uphold them?
Laqueenda Adu is a senior at Central High School in Philadelphia, PA. She was a member of the first iCivics Equity in Civic Education Fellowship. She is currently working to get out the vote in Philadelphia with When We All Vote.
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