Alternative Youth Civic Education in a Global World
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Learnings from a cooperation project led by two GNYA member organizations
SUMANDO Argentina’s team recently visited Generation Citizen’s offices and work sites in California as part of the co-created youth civic education project Mi Voz, My Power, supported by the United States Embassy in Argentina. Here are some of our insights resulting from the first phase of this program promoting inter-NGO dialogue.
Pushing Agendas Together
Reaching out cross-nationally has helped us identify similar concerns as civil organizations from diverse cultural backgrounds. Recognizing mutual challenges in a context of contestation of representative Western democracies was revealing. Both SUMANDO Argentina and Generation Citizen (GC) share great concerns over finding new and more effective methods to empower young people to lead change and engage within their communities.
In both political cultures, we found a need for effective tools to achieve social justice, and implement advocacy to breach the existing democratic gap in disadvantaged communities. In a globalized world, where voting is mandatory for some (as in Argentina) while optional for others (as it is in the U.S.), cooperating internationally to foster an agenda on youth participation strengthens mutual causes and demands more innovative approaches for democratic socialization.
Whether it is through “Action Civics” (the Civics education methodology conceived by GC) or through SUMANDO’s Program Demos, we face the challenge of assessing our work’s long-term impact in order to foster the discussion at the public policy level. For instance, we debated on the decision to expand our programs over new territories while keeping the quality of our work at the grassroots level.
Part of our visit required the translation and adaptation of our role play political simulation Demos in order to test its applicability in new cultural contexts. Demos has been delivered at public and private high schools all across the City of Buenos Aires and several Argentine provinces since 2002, engaging to date more than 28,000 youth in the embodiment of social, economic and political actors of a fictional Argentina for the debate of a common objective: the passing of a new National Budget Bill.
In order to bring Program Demos to the US, our team researched on the process for California’s budget bill passing, shining a light on its particularities: committees for the main branches of concern such as Education, Health and Welfare elaborate budget proposals for the Governor; civilians can participate at public hearings for each commission; in case consensus is not reached, instances of “compromise” for the governor to gather with certain sectors in private to get a resolution is lawful; to name a few. Researching on this bill making process invited us to reflect on public policy procedures, consequently asking ourselves which one might bring more transparency on public good while also keeping in mind policy making effectiveness.
Scaling Demos to the level of a fictional California implied adapting its characters closer to the bill passing process previously mentioned, translating the President into the Governor or the International Financing Agencies into Bond Holder Coalitions, for instance. While successfully testing the English version at Southwestern Law School (Los Angeles) with Clinical Programs students, and at San Pedro’s YMCA Youth & Government Program with teens, we confirmed the flexibility of Demos as a didactic tool for social engagement purposes. Power games and alliances schemes tailored for this adapted version clearly worked as both audiences recognized institutional stakeholders’ positions, interests and budgetary dilemmas.
Getting to know GC’s private-public partnership sustainability model, allowing the organization to be present in 8 states in less than 10 years of existence, also prompted questions about non profits’ financial capacity. Comparing civil society sectors and their relation to private businesses (whether tax-exemption induced or as a “community-driven” mentality) was enlightening.
As we visited schools where the US organization implements its curriculum, we also noticed how variable the receptivity of “Action Civics” can be. While meeting excited and confident -mostly Latino and Asian- students at Oakland Charter School, we reflected on how their engagement with GC’s proposal could be related to their teacher’s expertise as well as to the cross-discipline freedom and didactic resources that some charter schools enjoy.
Conversely, while visiting Herbert Hoover High School, a public school in San Diego, in a more vulnerable context, bringing civic excitement into the classroom was a challenge that depended yet again on teachers’ skills. Additionally, we learned about GC’s efforts in training school teachers to implement their curricula to maintaining the essence of the program's methodological proposal. As for Demos, we still deliver the program through our own trained team and haven’t decentralized the pedagogical tool yet.
The Global Network for Youth Participation has fostered the expansion of civic education dialogue between these two organizations. After our Californian exchange, we can be confident at SUMANDO that Demos is a pedagogical tool capable of generating ludic engagement among truly diverse audiences. As a methodology flexible for multiple contexts, maybe even to the young community your organization works with, it keeps contributing to our common mission of nurturing young people’s socio-political self-esteem and call to action.
As part of the project, SUMANDO implemented Demos in public and private schools in the outskirts of Buenos Aires City, and Generation Citizen visited Argentina in late October. We’ll be releasing the Final Comparative Dossier on this whole experience very soon. Stay tuned!