Friday, February 3rd, 2012
In the inaugural issue of the Ejournal of Public Affairs, Paul Lachelier has an article describing in-depth interviews with thirty-five young American professionals about what they think being a “good citizen” entails. As Lachalier notes, “What emerges from their answers is less a political or civic citizen than a civil citizen whose polite individualism, proximate reach and facile, fleeting engagement may help explain younger Americans’ weaker political engagement.”
Here are a few illustrative examples of responses from young professionals on “what does it mean to you to be a good citizen?”:
As Lachelier summarizes, for many young Americans, civility has become the definition of being a good citizen:
Civil citizens are foremost nice, not assertive or passionate […and] these acts need not take much effort; one does not have to change one’s routines in order to be a good citizen. For example, on the way to work, I can throw my morning coffee in the trash rather than on the ground. I can refrain from killing anyone on my way. I can open doors for others at the subway and at my workplace. I can stand still while in the elevator with others. These civil acts do not just help make me a good citizen; they make me a good citizen. That is, civility is not a necessary supplement or corollary to anything else, such as political or civic engagement. Civility suffices as good citizenship.
Some participants did mention the civic responsibility of voting, but it nearly always came after further prompting. Lachelier notes that his “interviews with young Americans suggest that the habit many political scholars and practitioners have of using ‘civic engagement’ as a catch-all phrase obscures important differences and possible changes in how citizens think about citizenship. Those young Americans I spoke with conceived of the good citizen less as political or even civic than civil.”
This is an important note to make. In so doing, it emphasizes the need for schools to not only emphasize “civic engagement” and a view of citizenship as civility, but also to teach knowledge about civics as it pertains to the political and civic process–as our report shows most Americans want. Read all of Lachelier’s paper here.