While students need to learn how to productively engage those who hold different views, too little civics education does so. On that score, I’m curious about the work of Next Generation Politics, a “cross-partisan” civics education group that offers high school students arenas to discuss, debate, and write about contentious issues. I recently spoke about the organization’s efforts with co-founder and director Sanda Balaban, a former high school humanities teacher who’s held leadership roles in the New York City education department, the Ford Foundation, and the Teachers Network. Here’s what she had to say.
Rick: What is Next Generation Politics?
Sanda: Next Gen Politics works to inspire and equip youth to drive a more inclusive, informed, and productive political culture in the U.S. No small feat these days, right? Through Next Gen’s peer-led workshops, forums, and online content, youth from different political backgrounds gather to address civic issues and current events; learn to engage with each other using perspective-sharing and deliberative discourse; and get involved in civil society, with an emphasis on voting and engaging in electoral politics.
Rick: How does this work?
Sanda: We have five core programs through which youth engage in peer-to-peer learning, civic action, and public media production. Our Next Gen Civic Fellowship and YVote program each engage 50–75 students per semester on topics ranging from climate change to criminal justice. We offer a blog and podcast, produced by Gen Z students, for Gen Z readers, covering a broad array of political and civic issues through a cross-partisan lens. Our Social Media Creator Corps creates daily content educating peers about political and civic issues for Instagram. Our Social Issues Cinema Club screens and discusses films about critical issues. And we frequently host peer-to-peer workshops for community organizations and youth focused on voting and voting rights, climate justice, criminal justice, immigration, gender and LGBTQ+ justice, mental health, and racial justice. We are headquartered in New York City and have youth participants from around the country — and a few from overseas.