Democracy Talks Dispatch: making the personal political through civics

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013 View Count = 1309

Democracy Talks Dispatch: making the personal political through civics

Democracy Talks is a community-based discussion series that brings people together to discuss politics and share ideas for improving civic and political engagement in Canada. Lately, we’ve been chatting with groups of youth and new Canadians about their experiences with politics. Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to some of these Democracy Talks participants, and their big ideas for transforming Canada’s political culture.

Introducing….Meaghan Langille

Age: 21
Occupation: Life Sciences Student at McMaster University, intern at McMaster's Office of Sustainability.
A bit of backstory: Meaghan is the co-president of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)  McMaster chapter.
Where we met: In Hamilton, at a Democracy Talk with EWB
Meaghan’s big idea: Issues-based civics classes


The students at our Democracy Talk at McMaster University had a wide variety of political experiences and opinions, but there was one topic that they could all agree on.

“You don’t learn anything in civics class,” said one participant, as heads nodded in agreement around the table.

Meaghan Langille, a fourth-year student with a particular interest in environmental issues, remembers her civics education well:

“I remember feeling like the political system was defined in extremely narrow terms. More specifically the role citizens seemed to play in this system was as voters and not much else.”

Meaghan said it’s not enough to tell students that they should vote because without an understanding of the political system, and the very personal impacts it can have, students have no motivation to get involved.

“In my opinion the most important elements to be teaching are that the political system is dynamic and implicates all Canadians, and more specifically outlining the opportunities available for engaging in this system and developing a greater sense of agency within Canadian youth.”

Now a very active student with Engineers Without Borders Canada, one of Samara's Democracy Talks partners, Meaghan told us that she only learned she could write to her MP when she became involved with an advocacy group on campus.

So, what was Meaghan’s big idea for improving political participation?

Move civics education beyond lessons on Parliamentary seating arrangements and voter turnout and help students understand the impact politics has on their lives and how they can influence political decision-making.

For Meaghan, this means making political issues and themes something people can personally connect to, rather than making political participation something that citizens 'should’ or ‘have’ to do.  

“Engagement derived from passion and vested interest will be much more meaningful than engagement derived out of duty or obligation.”

We couldn’t agree more with Meaghan, and we’re looking forward to continuing our collaboration with the EWB McMaster gang at a DT session next week. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a closer look at Meaghan’s suggestion by highlighting some tools and examples of issue-based civics curriculum here in Canada and in the USA.

If you, or a community group you work with are interested in hosting a Democracy Talks, take a look at our resources and write to fiona.oconnor[@]

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