Conventional approaches to teaching civics and democratic participation often begin with topics such as the branches of government or the lawmaking process. This approach is distant from the lives and experiences of young people, and it can fail to engage students. That’s why the 10 Questions Framework begins with a student-centered question: “What do you care about, and why does it matter to you?” This is designed to spark students' interest and help them think about civic engagement in terms of their own identities and passions. This lesson asks students to respond to that question, and then it introduces them to the framework as a whole.
What Can the 10 Questions Tell Us About Civic Agency in a Digital Age?
Ordinary people can participate in the political process and drive social change in ways well beyond voting—they can raise funds, mobilize others to get involved, protest, deliberate, and work on public issues. Digital technology has had a dramatic impact on these traditional forms of political engagement, and young people stand to benefit greatly from these changes in civic action and the social changes such innovation might inspire. But the digital environment comes with risks: privacy breaches, anonymous trolls, polarization, “fake news,” and cyberbullying are all too common in the digital public sphere. How can educators help young people develop into equitable, effective, and self-protective civic actors in a digital age?
The 10 Questions Framework provides an effective approach to meeting these recent changes in political engagement. The framework is designed to engage young people with the ethical concerns of citizenship, focusing on equity, effectiveness, and self-protection to ease the burdens of participation.
Equitable participation. Young people engage in important civic work online and off, no matter who they are. But citizenship also entails identifying, curating, and elevating the voices of those who lack the opportunity to participate. The 10 Questions Framework looks to connect students with the norms of accuracy, authenticity, equity, and openness to diversity essential to democratic action. You can’t have quality participation without equality.
Effective participation. Participation is effective when individual participants can point to something that has changed on account of their efforts—a representative’s vote, a new policy, media attention to an issue, or even the shifted perspective of a friend. In this way, individual activities can help to shape the attitudes of entire communities. The 10 Questions Framework engages students by asking how their actions can be effective and what counts as effective in the first place.
Self-protective participation. Security online goes beyond privacy settings. The publicity and permanence of digital communication requires civic actors to think about the digital afterlife of their choices. How can young people preserve their psychological well-being in the face of unpredictable consequences of digital participation, the dangers that come with public exposure, and collisions between their speech online and their lives offline? By helping students analyze the risks and rewards of political participation, the 10 Questions Framework offers them opportunities to learn how to be safe and sustainable political actors in their own lives.
Introduce the Concept of Levers of Power
Consider introducing students to the concept of “levers of power” as a way of thinking about the concrete actions they can take when they “choose to participate.” Legal scholar Martha Minow developed the framework to map out the organizations, institutions, and technologies that can enable us to strengthen the impact of our voices and our actions.
- First, you might spend a moment exploring with students the metaphor of the “lever” in the title. In a literal sense, a lever is a tool that allows one to pick up or move something much heavier than could be lifted without it. In other words, a lever allows someone to use a small amount of force to have a big impact.
Share with students the graphic organizer Analyzing Levers of Power, or share the list below, which outlines the individuals, organizations, and technology platforms that can have this sort of amplifying effect on a societal level:
- Government (National, State, Local)
- Nonprofit Organizations/Charities
- Industry/Commercial Organizations
- Professional Media
- Social Media/Internet
- Schools and Education
- Influential Individuals (Authors, Lecturers, etc.)
- Ask students to come up with examples of individuals or groups that belong to each category in order to make sure that everyone understands them.