Office of Education

Why Civic Engagement Matters

By John-David Bowman, 2015 Arizona Teacher of the Year
Friday, Sep. 16, 2016


This is my tenth year teaching social studies.  Throughout my career, I have taught numerous classes in the field.  However, each and every year, I have always had at least one class of United States History.  I love teaching the subject.  There is a beauty to the narrative of U.S. History, and teaching it continues to reaffirm many of the positive values this country possesses.  The strongest theme I see, is the progress America has made over time. 

Many of my students, in the beginning of the year, comment on the mistakes or wrongs that America has made over the last 240 years.  However, I try to remind them that the amazing nature of U.S. History is that America has continued to attempt to right its wrongs.  The most significant development in my opinion, has been the enfranchisement of the population.  Early on, only wealthy, white males were allowed to actively participate in government.  Yet, as the years passed by, new groups of people were given the legal right to vote. 

The right to vote has been a powerful tool for Americans to have a voice.  Sadly, many Americans do not utilize this very important right.  In 2014, the voter turnout in Arizona was an all-time low of 36.42 percent.  Many races were decided by just a handful of votes.  For a speech on civic engagement I gave last summer, I looked at some of the voting totals of several different positions and proposals.  In an effort to be bi-partisan, I did not list the political party, nor do I even remember.  The point is not which party won or lost, but rather, that people’s individual votes matter.  Here are some of those results from 2014.

AZ Election Results

As you can see, in a record low turnout year, races, bonds, and overrides were decided by a very small number of votes.  Many Americans, my students included, sometimes falsely conclude that their vote is not important.  This is problematic on many levels.  If the youth do not vote then policy makers tend to shift their focus to other parts of their constituency.  This has a cyclical effect.  Because policy makers are not focused on the younger age groups, the youth then become more apathetic towards issues and voting, and the cycle repeats.  In 2014, 19.9% of 18-29 year olds voted in the national election.  This was the lowest recorded turnout in a federal election in our nation’s history (http://civicyouth.org/quick-facts/youth-voting/).  As a social studies teacher, my role is help my students understand that their vote does matter.  I want them to comprehend that their vote could be the one that makes the difference.

Why is this important to parents?  Because parents can play a role in developing a civically engaged young adult as well.  The following are some of the opportunities that most high schools in Arizona generally have available.  

  • Service Learning – Part of being civically engaged is being an active member in your community (https://nylc.org/service-learning/).  For example, students can volunteer at hospitals, food banks, or the Arizona Humane Society.  In addition, to helping better their community, most college scholarships inquire about service hours.  Here is a link to find service opportunities near you. http://www.volunteermatch.org/search/index.jsp?l=Phoenix%2C+AZ%2C+USA
  • Clubs – Encourage your student to participate in clubs on campus.  Student Council, Interact, We The People (http://www.civiced.org/programs/wtp), etc. are found in most high schools in Arizona.  One of the best aspects of being involved in clubs is the opportunity to develop leadership skills.
  • Advanced Classes – Data has shown over and over again, that taking advanced classes (Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate) severely increases the chance of success at the college level.  Moreover, many of these classes, particularly in the social studies, focus heavily on current events and civic issues where students can learn to craft their own opinions and arguments.

Overall, my dream is that each and every student in Arizona can graduate as a person who is actively involved in their community, possesses some leadership ability, and is eager to use their informed vote in local, state, and national elections.

JD Bowman

 John-David Bowman has taught for 10 years at Westwood High School in Mesa.  While he has taught 8 different courses, he currently teaches IB Theory of Knowledge, IB Political Thought and AP US History to juniors and seniors.  In addition, he also teaches a history methods class to juniors, seniors, and graduate students at ASU.  Mr. Bowman’s educational background is rooted in this great state.  He has a BA in History and a BA in Political Science from ASU, and a MA in Secondary Education with an emphasis in History from NAU.  John-David feels that are tremendous things going on in Arizona schools and we need to celebrate that while also acknowledging where we can improve. Mr. Bowman is Arizona’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.

 

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