The 4-H Mission Mandate of Citizenship includes civic engagement and civic education

Nationally, 4-H has three “Mission Mandates” which are the core areas of education that are promoted through 4-H youth development programs. This article explores two components of the 4-H Citizenship Mission Mandate: civic engagement and civic education.

The 4-H youth development program of Michigan State University Extension strives to provide youth with research-based, high quality experiential activities which will allow them to develop life skills and content knowledge.  Nationally, 4-H has three mission areas that serve as the core programming areas of all 4-H positive youth development programs.  The three mission areas, also know as the “mission mandates,” are science, healthy living and citizenship.  The 4-H mission mandate of citizenship is divided into four core components of citizenship education including civic engagement, civic education, service and personal development.

In regards to the citizenship mission area, the National 4-H website states that “4-H has always emphasized the importance of developing passionate, well-informed citizens who are involved in their communities and help to foster positive social change. Civic engagement helps young people understand the big picture and learn skills that will encourage them to become engaged, responsible citizens and successful leaders. With 4-H citizenship programs, youth learn how to lead, make decisions and contribute to their communities from an early age.”

Many people think of citizenship as having an understanding of how the government works and participating as an active member of society by voting, engaging with elected officials and perhaps working to make one’s community better.  While these are all important aspects of citizenship, 4-H defines citizenship in broader terms that incorporate other knowledge and skills necessary for individuals and groups of people to create positive change in communities, states, nations and the world.  According 4-H National Headquarters, “4-H  Citizenship is the knowledge, skills, attitudes and motivation that give youth the capacity to move beyond one’s individual self-interest and to be committed to the well-being of some larger group.” 

The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, led by Richard and Jacqueline Lerner at Tufts University, has found that youth participating in 4-H programs are “2.1times more likely than other youth to make contributions to their communities.  These same youth are also 1.8 times more likely to have higher scores on measures of active and engaged citizenship.” Opportunities for youth to develop citizenship competencies through their participation in the 4-H Youth Development Program are broken into four core areas: civic engagement, civic education, service and personal development. 

Civic engagement, the first core area of the 4-H Citizenship Mission Mandate, is defined as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.”  Civic engagement includes programs that help youth to develop youth voice, advocacy, activism and informed decision making skills.  An example of this type of programming might be a 4-H program that helps youth learn how to take photographs or video of their community in order to influence decision makers and improve the condition of their community.   Developing competency in civic engagement provides youth with the knowledge and skills to share their perspective on issues that affect a broader community. They also learn to take action to support decision-making and policies that support a positive community and positive youth development. 

Civic education, another core area of education within 4-H Citizenship programming, focuses on the helping youth to understand how the government works and how history, heritage and culture affects and influences individuals, groups of people and society. Also included in civic education is the development of global competencies, which help youth to engage in positive ways with people from different cultural backgrounds and nationalities.   An example of a Michigan 4-H program that focuses on this area of citizenship is the Michigan 4-H Capitol Experience program.  4-H Capitol Experience is an annual program that brings youth from all over Michigan to Lansing for four days to develop knowledge of state government and public policy by working in “issue groups.” Along with other teens, participants develop a legislative bill and pass the bill through a mock legislative session.  Throughout the program, youth have the opportunity to meet with their state legislators, as well as representatives of community agencies, state agencies, lobbyists and legislative aides.

Global and cultural education is also a component of 4-H citizenship and civic education.  In Michigan, one way that youth can develop global and cultural competencies is by participating in the 4-H International Exchange Program.  The program provides the opportunity for youth to host a youth from another country in their home for one month or the entire academic school year.  Michigan youth can also travel oversees and learn about other cultures through participation in the program.  In addition to developing global and cultural competencies, hosting and traveling through international exchange programs helps youth to develop communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills which are all valuable citizenship skills they will be able to apply in a variety of leadership and citizenship contexts.

The 4-H Youth Development program of MSU Extension offers youth a variety of research-based educational programs and learning opportunities that can assist youth in developing the character and competencies needed to engage in leadership roles in their community, country and the world.

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