“Information is the currency of democracy.” ~Thomas Jefferson
So accustomed to a fast-paced and ever changing landscape of digital experiences, today’s generation of K-12 students aren’t always engaged learners at school. For them, this institution of learning is just a single node in a global network of rich information resources.
Though yesteryear’s schools (and libraries) were once THE central repository of knowledge, in today’s connected world, information is no further than a click away, obliterating the concept that learning should mostly happen in a brick and mortar environment with a teacher lecturing and the class taking notes.
Since the birth year of Generation Z (roughly 1996), there’s been a historic transformation in the creation and sharing of knowledge. Information is highly available (especially in developed nations), giving people of almost any age the opportunity to blossom into subject-matter experts.
In the open space of a digital world, there is an expanse of new ideas, free conversations and peer-to-peer discovery which ignites endless participatory possibilities. In fact, studies have shown that the brains of GenZ kids are structurally different because of this constant exposure to information-rich technology.
Moreover, because Millennials, GenZ’s and their Alpha cohorts favor emotionally-stimulating information, they gravitate to cause-based content, which further fuels today’s compassion boom. In their attempt to connect with like-minded peers worldwide, some important first steps are being taken towards solving complex world problems. (Think that’s unlikely? We profile DAILY STORIES of youth doing just that, so check it out!) That said, American youth (and youth worldwide) face participation-barriers in civic service.
Those under the age of 25 lack the status, not the ability.
Those under the age of 18 lack the vote, not the voice.
Those under the age of 13 lack the open access, not the open mind.
From a purely statistical standpoint, the turn of the millennium marked an all-time low for youth participation in politics and civic life. From a practical standpoint, however, their individualized online actions and contributions through creative currency went ablaze. Just as youth mashed-up music and other popular culture tools, they began mashing-up philanthropy too. (READ “Stop Calling Them Slactivists” for deeper clarification of youth service to their communities.)
The question of how to best support youth social entrepreneurs then, is one schools with a 20th-century model have to face. The capacity to nurture a moment of compassion into a movement of true change can only happen when a pedagogical strategy esists that recognizes GenZ’s key learning motivators are “purpose and context.”
Although 42 out of our 50 U.S. states do mention civics education, community service or service learning in their state policy, the potential for significant advances have often been thwarted due to budget cuts and lack of teacher training or support.
Because civic work is inherently social, schools which adopt the practices of connected learning — which means affording socially-embedded, interest-driven, digital and peer-to-peer infused learning opportunities – will not only support, but encourage a new generations of social entrepreneurs.
Further, students who are given critical thinking and problem-solving opportunities to discuss with peers will more likely prove themselves as entrepreneurs and innovators over students who are asked to memorize and regurgitate.
Connected learning gives young people the opportunity to see themselves as part of a larger community. It gives them a safe environment in which to make mindful contributions and share their perspectives. Finally, as a collective space, connected learning schools reinforce the idea that individual actions are part of a larger effort.