Exploring Youth Activism and Civic Engagement with the Writing Our Civic Futures Project

by Casey Rawson

This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement

Who defines civic engagement? Who are civics for, and what does civics mean in the lives of young people who are redefining activism and participation for a new generation? These are some of the questions that you can explore by participating in Writing Our Civic Futures, a collaborative project by the National Writing Project and Marginal Syllabus. They are also central questions for this year’s YALSA presidential theme, Youth Activism through Community Engagement.

Writing Our Civic Futures combines online annotation software, livestreamed and archived presentations, and webinars to foster social reading and public conversation around a variety of resources focused on youth activism. The project, which began in October and will continue through May 2018, includes conversations about voice and participation, critical literacies, civic and political dialogue, and inquiry (among other topics). These topics should be familiar to youth services librarians who have read YALSA’s Futures Report, its most recent research agenda draft, or the YALSA’s competencies document.

I attended the most recent webinar for this project, titled “Reimagining Youth Civic Engagement,” hosted by Remi Kalir and Joe Dillon and featuring the work of scholars Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia. The webinar focused on Mirra and Garcia’s recent Review of Research in Education article, “Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere,” which is November’s shared text for the Writing Our Civic Futures project. Mirra and Garcia talked about the need for educators and researchers to find new ways of capturing and measuring emerging forms of civic participation that are being created and led by youth, such as Twitter hashtag campaigns and the Dreamer movement. They also talked about the important role that adults can play in helping young people develop the skills and knowledge they need to make lasting change. Connected learning and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) were discussed as two primary tools that educators can use in this work.

As librarians, we have a unique perspective to contribute to conversations such as this. We also have much to learn from classroom teachers, scholars, media makers, and youth themselves about how we can best amplify youth voices and prepare young people to take action on the issues that matter to them. Participating in the Writing Our Civic Futures project is an easy, fun, and free way to connect with a learning community that shares a passion for youth engagement.

December’s Writing Our Civic Futures topic is “Critical Literacy In and Out of School.” The shared text for next month, “Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives” by Linda Christensen, offers a wealth of opportunities for librarians to plug into the conversation. The article will be accessible for public reading and comment December 4 via the Writing Our Civic Futures syllabus page, and a webinar discussing the text will air December 5. Between now and then, you can catch up with the October and November conversations: Voice and Participation and Reimagining Civic Participation.