The civics program at Harvard University is an initiative of the Harvard Institute of Politics and the Phillips Brooks House Association that aims to teach civics and the structure of government to elementary and high-school students in the Boston Public School system. The program relies on the service of volunteer teachers who are Harvard College undergraduate students. Dividing the class in two sections, the program teacher usually starts in the fall term teaching about the branches of government and the election system and role of the media, using current events as a springboard for discussion. In the spring term, the main focus is on the United States’ citizenry’s basic rights and responsibilities and ways in which they can exercise these rights through engagement in their communities. Throughout the two semesters, the Civics program’s curriculum is directly related to our course “From Voice to Influence: Citizenship in a Digital Age” as it covers the fundamentals of participatory politics in the rise of new media (fall term) as well as the changing role of citizenship and responsibility in a community (spring term).
Why Does it Matter to Us?
Analyzing the civics program at Harvard University matters to us in many different ways. The main reason is that we regard teaching civics in the early stages of adolescent development as an important contribution to prepare children and young people for their life in a changing society. On the one hand, the changing media landscape opens a lot of possibilities to make participation in society easier. On the other hand, as to the increasing quantity of participation in the digital age, it is more important to get an idea of how one can overcome the stage of pure participation and make it have an actual impact. To illustrate this point, it matters to us that children start understanding how to go “From Voice to Influence” while facing the challenges of the digital age.