A Political Engagement Assignment

This semester students in my course, Introduction to American Government, had what I called a “political engagement” assignment.

The main task was to write a letter to an elected official, a letter-to-the editor to any publication, or an op-ed.  They had to send it to me for copy-editing, then they would check my edits, approve them, and send it in.

They could write about anything, from any perspective — and they did! It has been fascinating to see what students care about and the different views they hold.

My task was to make their work better so that it was more likely that it would be published or have an impact on an elected official. I also wanted to encourage them to take their own ideas seriously.

Grading was based on the quality of writing.

At last count, three letters have been published, two in the Bangor Daily News. Some students have already gotten responses back from elected officials and more should be coming.

How has this worked? I am very pleased. The students who have talked to me about it so far are very pleased. It is real, applied work.

Instead of lecturing about participation and civic responsibility, everyone had to do something. Each product had to have some basis in research, since more persuasive writing includes facts.

Political science research suggests that building civic skills creates a sense that one can have an impact on politics and has a snowball effect, leading to greater engagement and involvement. Thus I am hopeful that these students, who are studying in a wide variety of fields, will be encouraged to speak out in other settings and circumstances.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.