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Using Social Media to Teach Tomorrow’s Great Citizens and Leaders

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sunday Olukoju
October 28, 2014

Civics is “the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” Specifically in the U.S. and Canada, it is “the study of government and its workings,” according to Dictionary Online. What are these rights and responsibilities and why study the rights and responsibilities? Why do some people find it difficult to carry out their civic responsibilities?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services identified certain ‘citizenship rights and responsibilities.’ The rights include:

  • Freedom to express oneself.
  • Freedom to worship as one wishes.
  • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
  • Right to run for elected office.
  • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

The Government of Canada has a list of rights as well. Canada is a country that protects:

  • Freedom of conscience and religion.
  • Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of speech and of the press.
  • Freedom of peaceful assembly.
  • Freedom of association.
  • Habeas corpus, which guarantees the right to challenge unlawful detention by the state.

Others include mobility rights — enabling Canadians to live and work anywhere they choose; enter and leave the country freely; and apply for a passport. The list also covers Aboriginal Peoples’ Rights — including but not limited to any treaty or other rights or freedoms of Aboriginal peoples. There is also the Official Language Rights and Minority Language Educational Rights — ensuring that French and English have equal status in Parliament and throughout the government.

Canadians also celebrate the gift of one another’s presence, work hard to respect pluralism and live in harmony as they celebrate multicultural mosaic — something that has become a fundamental feature of the Canadian heritage and identity. Canada prides herself as a country where “men and women are equal under the law” and where the country’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices such as spousal abuse or other gender-based violence.

When it comes to rights, many individuals know and claim rights, particularly the ones that guarantee personal gains. Many misconstrue rights as the power a citizen has to make unnecessary demands on or from the government and the system. To some, it simply connotes the power to exploit the system and evade responsibilities. Some live perpetually on government’s hand out and do not know anything about responsibilities.

In terms of responsibilities, the U.S. Constitution identified some. These include:

  • Supporting and defending the Constitution.
  • Staying informed of the issues affecting one’s community.
  • Participating in the democratic process.
  • Respecting and obeying federal, state and local laws.
  • Respecting the rights, beliefs and opinions of others.
  • Participating in one’s local community.
  • Paying income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state and local authorities.
  • Serving on a jury when called upon.
  • Defending the country if the need should arise.

In Canada, as in most other jurisdictions the world over, rights come with responsibilities. These responsibilities include obeying the law and respecting the rule of law and taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family — like getting a job—and promoting the Canadian values of dignity of labor. Others include serving on a jury when called to do so; voting in elections and protecting and enjoying Canadian heritage and environment — with every citizen offering a hand in avoiding waste and pollution while protecting Canada’s natural, cultural and architectural heritage for future generations. It is also the citizens’ responsibility to defend Canada through voluntary service in the regular Canadian Forces.

Knowing one’s rights and responsibilities is great, but understanding why such rights and responsibilities are important to learn and follow through is more important. It will most likely motivate citizens to study them faithfully and subsequently them to carry out their civic responsibilities conscientiously. A situation where less than 60 percent of registered voters cast their ballot in an election is far from ideal. This is against the stark reality of the negative consequences of electing wrong leaders.

“Civic engagement is the cornerstone of our democracy, yet Americans consistently demonstrate pervasive civic deficits” according to Laura McNabb, in a 2013 Denver University Law Review article titled “Civic Outreach Programs: Common Models, Shared Challenges and Strategic Recommendations.” Before Obama’s 2008 election, many young voters were obviously not carrying out their highly important civic responsibility of voting, a confirmation of “pervasive civic deficits.” “Such deficits are particularly concerning in light of a growing body of evidence documenting the many benefits that civic education bestows on individual citizens and society at large” in the words of McNabb. As a wake-up call, McNabb’s expose that “Despite these benefits, our national commitment to civic learning within the education system has continued to decline over the past 50 years, pushing civic education to the periphery of an increasingly narrow curriculum” should be taken very seriously.

Sunday octIt brings up a very important question: What is democracy if citizens are disengaged, unengaged, or if they deliberately indulge in self-caging? In the recent Oct. 22 civic election in Winnipeg, the voter turnout was reported to be the highest since 2002 according to Bert Savard of CBC News. This is likely connected to the strategy adopted by Brian Bowman, the man who won the mayoral seat. Bowman’s landslide victory was reported by Kristin Annable of the Winnipeg Sun of Oct. 25, 2014 to be a direct outcome of the social media marketing arsenal deployed by his campaign team.

Obama’s election victory had earlier been touted to be a direct outcome of this approach by David Carr of New York Times. Recently, the recruitment of innocent but naïve North Americans to fight alongside terrorists in the Middle East was said to have been inspired via social media campaign. If this is so, isn’t it time to deploy every social media arsenal available to mobilize and educate tomorrow’s great citizens and leaders about sacrifice, selflessness, giving, voting, serving, community involvement, volunteering and leadership?

If this is the door to the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, we must deploy social media arsenal to reach, enlighten and empower them. Adapting Bianca Rothschild’s seven ideas of improving social media engagement shared via her blog in the Huffington Post, government officials, decision-makers, teachers and parents should intentionally start a conversation about rights and responsibilities, as well as the essence of government and governance, and its workings via social media with young people. Facebook information about this should be clear, bold and creatively visual.

There is need to cross-promote other things of interest, like media, sports, fashion and entertainment news, while such people are also encouraged to talk more about the collective rights and responsibilities of citizens. Where necessary, all stakeholders must be willing to pay money to get the information out via appropriate social media outlet.

In terms of creating value, and in adapting Rothschild’s approach, the use of social media should:

  • Focus on the core issue of rights, responsibilities and governance.
  • Have interaction with comments of young people.
  • Discuss community’s concerns and questions.
  • Cross-promote with credible people of influence.
  • Share past and present posts of young people.

In addition to the thoughtfulness and clarity of information shared via social media, there must be a call to action. Taking the message to stakeholders must be intentional, proactive and direct. The objective as well as the potential advantages and gains should be explicitly expressed.

Author: Sunday Akin Olukoju, Ph.D. is the president of Canadian Center for Global Studies, a nonprofit organization and also teaches at Athabasca University in Alberta, CanadaOlukoju can be reached at [email protected] 

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