A 4-H Civics Lesson

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Bill Stone, the County Extension Director, wrote an article in 2016 reporting that our youth are out of touch with politics and government. Tufts University had reported after the 2012 presidential election, using data and feedback from over 6,000 young people and 720 high school civics teachers nationally that less than half of young Americans vote, and this includes presidential elections. There is good news from Tufts Circle report in April of this year. They are now reporting the 2020 voter turnout to be half of the nation’s youth population with North Carolina at 55%. It is good to see these numbers rising because youth engagement in civics is important for the future of our country. I know you have seen the news clips of college students who can’t tell you how many US Senators we have in Congress but they know pop culture facts like, is Wonder Woman a Marvel or DC Comics character?

Teachers are hesitant to delve too far into politics in the classroom. Nearly a quarter of educators surveyed believed parents and adults in the community would have a negative perception about politics being discussed during a classroom course, even one that was focused on government and civics during an election year. Based on this alarming data, the next generation may be faced with a pronounced lack of understanding and comprehension of the importance of civic engagement and the necessity of involvement as it relates to our country’s political system.

The overarching goal of our 4-H program in Lee County is to assist young people in developing the skills they need to be successful. One of these skills is an understanding of what it means to be a citizen in this country and the privilege and responsibility of being an active participant in the democratic process. We do not want to teach kids “what” to think, but rather encourage them to ask questions, become more knowledgeable about the government, be better informed on local issues that may impact them and their families, and take a more active role as an informed citizen and future voter.

During this summer, 4-H is offering a number of programs to reach these civic-related objectives. Earlier this month, local youth attended the 4-H Citizenship Focus virtual event featuring panel discussions on relevant youth issues, as well as group activities and workshops focusing on topics like conflict and compromise, understanding the legislative process, and even how to lobby for a bill. In the middle of June 10 local young people took part in the 10th annual summer session of the Lee County Young Commissioner program. This two-week program aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding of local government allows young people the opportunities to meet and hold discussions with local elected officials from the city and county. The alumni of these civic camps also currently meet throughout the year as a 4-H Club and continue to assist with the planning and implementation of the two-week summer session.

In mid-July, teen 4-H delegates will meet at the Lee County Cooperative Extension building where they will learn with other 4-H delegates across the state in a virtual format. They will explore what it means to be a 4-H leader locally and at the state level. During 4-H Congress, youth have the opportunity to campaign for elected 4-H office, filling positions that are voted on by their peers at 4-H Congress. Typically this delegation, one of the largest in the state, would head to N.C. State University for a week-long program and we look forward to having that experience again in 2022. 

In early August, Lee County 4-H is usually represented at the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) meeting called “Youth Voice”, however, this year due to space constraints and restrictions, this was not an option provided to us. Next year one Lee County youth will be selected and along with one hundred other 4-H members and the County Commissioners from across the state for discussions centering around local issues facing county governments as well as the challenges and opportunities for our state and its young people.

Lee County also has had an active teen council. This council is made up of representatives of each club, a President, Vice President, and Secretary. The group plans major events for the county 4-H program like our awards banquet in February and our 4-H Congress trip. That council is reconvening this fall after a long hiatus over the year. As you can see, through 4-H in Lee County there are so many ways to become an informed and active citizen while also preparing to be a leader for tomorrow!

Pam Kerley is the 4-H Program Assistant for N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4H’s programs are available in Lee County and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In NC, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use every day to improve your life.

Information used for this article was found in, “Groundbreaking Report Released on Educating America’s Youth for Civic & Political Participation” at the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP): The Kennedy School website. http://iop.harvard.edu/about/newsletter-press-release/groundbreaking-report-released-educating-america%E2%80%99s-youth-civic

And the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement through Tufts College. https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/half-youth-voted-2020-11-point-increase-2016