Civic Engagement the Silver Lining in Today's Clouds?

I’m currently reading Wendy Kopp’s 2001 account of what she learned in founding Teach for America, a national nonprofit that recruits top college graduates to teach in under-performing urban and rural schools. In One Day, All Children...: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way, Wendy describes one thing she had absolutely no doubt about when she began to build Teach for America: her belief that accomplished college graduates from the best schools, would opt for work with meaning if they were given the chance.

According to Teach for America’s website:

She (Wendy) was convinced that many in her generation were searching for a way to assume a significant responsibility that would make a real difference in the world and that top college students would choose teaching over more lucrative opportunities if a prominent teacher corps existed. As a 21 year-old, Kopp raised $2.5 million of start-up funding, hired a skeleton staff, and launched a grass-roots recruitment campaign. During Teach For America's first year in 1990, 500 men and women began teaching in six low-income communities across the country. Since then, Teach For America's network has grown to 20,000 individuals.

If Teach for America could recruit folks when the economy was strong, like-minded organizations across the country are likely to be deluged with candidates now as 1.) We realize in our under/unemployment that we’ve been valuing the too many of the wrong things, and 2.) Congress has passed historic legislation this week to expand civic engagement efforts nationwide.

I read about this new legislation from the National Center on Civic Engagement which has in the past also reported some pretty dire indicators regarding how and when Americans are chipping in to help out our communities. In its 2008 Civic Health Index, for instance, when we were all so jazzed to see more folks engaged with in the presidential election, NCOC reported:

Not many people expect to work on the issues raised in the campaign after Election Day. Just fourteen percent, for instance, were confident that they would try to change local policies in schools, neighborhoods, or the workplace. Less than 20% were sure they would talk about the issues raised in the campaign after it is over. Gotta be a silver lining somewhere in all of this, eh?

We may not be able to pay our mortgages for long, but I'll willing to bet that NCOC will have a different story to report at its next annual conference in September, 2009. while Teach for America seems to be growing like the national deficit.

Susan Herr

Posted at 1:53 PM, Apr 04, 2009 in Permalink