Cynthia Bambrick at Political Science Now:
While most of us may not live in the sort of townships that Tocqueville observed in the Early Republic, we can still glean lessons from the experiences of those who did. Specifically, we can see the importance of the moral education of citizens. Tocqueville implicitly challenges us to look beyond the reasons to vote that we may offer in favor of a holistic view of civic life. How much easier would it be to convince people that they should vote if they already saw the fruits of other efforts? When rooted in prior, concrete experiences, casting a ballot is no longer a singular and abstract exercise, but occurs against a backdrop of actual ties to community and, by extension, ties to country. People will not need to be activated to vote because they will already be spurred into action.
On this account, then, creating opportunities for people to make some visible contribution to their communities is key to fostering a sustainable civic participation. But how might we apply this lesson in the much larger, more complex country in which we find ourselves today? Taking a cue from Tocqueville, we too may begin with the very local, highlighting and even creating opportunities for students to connect with their communities. We may begin by thinking about the classroom or residence halls as spheres of civic life, for example, perhaps building up to the university community and larger city. Many educators already take such steps, building their classes around service-learning opportunities, community outreach projects, and the like. Their efforts are to be commended.