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Civic Engagement Classroom Resource Hopes to Inspire Students

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By guest blogger Ellen Wexler

The hardest part about encouraging civic engagement and community service might be that, because calls to "change the world" or "make a difference" are so common, they've become clich├ęd almost to the point of meaninglessness.

Earlier this month, BookMarks received an email about a new publication called Dream of a Nation, which addresses civic engagement. It's described by its creators, SEE Innovation, as an "initiative designed to build awareness and engage citizens in critical civic issues." Basically, it's a classroom resource that provides information about our nation's most pressing issues and encourages students to become aware, engaged, and involved in the efforts to find solutions.

At first glance, the mission of the book, along with the mission of the group, seems too broad to make a lasting impact on readers. However, the book's developers seem to have anticipated this problem.

The book's strategy for managing such an expansive topic is evident in its organization. The information is formatted in a way meant to feel accessible to students, and its presentation is straightforward. Looking through the materials, it's interesting to see how the writers marshaled information relevant to bettering our country and deciding what was notable enough to stress the most. For instance, the book neatly divides the nation's biggest problems—such as ending poverty, re-imagining business, and constructive media—into 12 categories, devoting one chapter to each category. Each chapter contains a slew of relevant photographs, infographics, and statistics to highlight its specific problem, and potential solutions.

Teachers may find Dream of a Nation useful as a resource that breaks down a wide range of material in a way that they can incorporate into their curriculums, and that students can understand and enjoy.

However, while much of the project's intent is to inform students, the larger goal is to inspire them. And at its core, Dream of a Nation really is a collection of stories. Over 60 individuals and organizations contributed to the project overall.

Each of the book's 12 chapters includes essays by leading thinkers and innovators. For instance, the "Citizen Stewardship" chapter includes an essay by former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger. In the essay, Linenger writes about environmentalism and sustainability, and compares living on Earth to living in a space station:

With three on board, it is very easy to tell if you are the weak link in the chain. On our big, incredibly complex and self-correcting planet, populated with billions of people who for the most part are just trying to scratch out an existence, the effect of our individual actions are much more difficult to ascertain. But the consequences of our actions do exist.

That's the overall message the book is trying to get across—that our individual actions can have an impact—and the essays may offer evidence for that message. Other notable contributions include an essay on renewable energy by former vice president Al Gore and a closing essay by author Alice Walker.

The project's website includes lesson plans for teachers, and explains how the materials and activities in Dream of a Nation match up with state social studies standards and the Common Core State Standards.

According to the book's creators, all proceeds from the book will go to leaders and organizations in the civil society movement, but interested teachers can also download the materials for free online.

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