Publication | Report/Paper

Student Action Committee Training Manual: How to Organize Student Action Committees (SACs) (2001)

Introduction: Student Action Committees and Civic Education

The idea of civic education is as old as civil society, if that involves nurturing its members to strive to live together in harmony. It is especially important in the modern world, which is perhaps more dangerous but also more exciting and challenging than ever. In order to be an active and productive member of the country in which we happen to live, which means leading a complex economic, political, and social life, we need to know what is expected of us, what the world is like, and what we should strive for. To be a citizen it is not enough to be born in a nation-state; it requires conscious, active understanding of our rights as well as our duties. It is true that people are born with some rights that are innate; but without a legal system that protects them, they are meaningless. Not only do the complex political arrangements that have developed over time make it possible to protect ourselves and others against aggression, they also offer us the proper setting to develop our talents and pursue happiness, to fulfill our individual destinies.

Human existence is surely an exhilarating gift. Living in society can be rewarding, interesting, and enjoyable. But it also requires that we give of ourselves, that we do the best we can, that we strive to help others even as we help ourselves. The main purpose of civic education is to nurture social and political self-consciousness to achieve a better society.

It has been said that in order for a society to be successful, its members must consciously and deliberately pursue the public good, which by implication needs to be defined in order to be nurtured. But who is to say that one person is better equipped than another to offer such a definition? This manual does not presume to define the public good. It may be said that the public good is ultimately the sum total of goods and values pursued by individuals in the society. This certainly does not mean that individuals cannot try to act in ways that help others beside themselves. On the contrary, it takes into consideration the fact that individuals often find the greatest satisfaction in being kind and generous. Nor does it imply that one cannot determine whether one society is not happier, more prosperous, and successful than another. It only means that no one has a blueprint to what is best. Each society has to find what works best for its members. And the function of civic education is to encourage people to strive toward a more harmonious interaction, at both the national and even international level.

The world is at once very large and very small. The variety of cultures and languages is staggering; yet it is also evident that upheavals, both natural and man-made, in one part of the world affect others at the other corner of the earth. And of course a human being's pain is the same everywhere; we need to look no further than inside our own hearts to know how it feels to be a person anywhere on the planet. And the experience of other countries whether successful or not -- always has some relevance to others.

People have organized themselves in political systems for many centuries, using a variety of different methods. It is informative to analyze some of these systems, learn from them, and adapt them to new, changing circumstances. There are no perfect models for an ideal society just as there are no ready-made maps to happiness. But since experience is all we have, we need to learn from it.

Finally, the most significant lesson of all is that learning itself is a never-ending process. This manual is only the beginning of a journey that should continue throughout one's life. That journey is the discovery of the place of oneself in the world. If one can feel useful, if one can say at the end of one's life "I have made a difference, however small," that is an achievement. The magnitude of one's achievement is not always a matter of choice, but one can try to do one's best. And if in the process others are helped, their journey made easier, the achievement will have been worth it all.

One of the possible ways for introduction this truth to the youth is involving them into participation in the Student Action Committee (SACs). SACs, as a part of the Civic Education enable practical use of the knowledge received in the classroom.

IFES is initiating the development of a network of SACs on the basis of schools with "Pravovedeniye" and "Grazhdanovedeniye" textbooks in the curriculum. The network will support the development of the partnership between the Student Action Committee and local society, including local NGOs and government representatives, in solving social problems of local importance.

The main goal of the project is to make the students aware of the mechanisms for solving problems at the local community level, as well as to give them a chance to learn how governmental and non-governmental sectors are employed in meeting the needs of the local society. Youth problems, social infrastructure, charity and others are potential topics for the Student Action Committee work.

The idea behind the Student Action Committee is to give the students a hands-on experience in Civic Education issues. To achieve that goal the students are encouraged to take active participation in the social life of their community (Makhalla) through identifying the problems of local significance and finding the ways to solve them, and using the knowledge they obtain in the classroom. It is important that the teacher mentor provide every possible support to the student participants at the same time leaving them space for personal initiative, as one of the most significant tasks of the Student Action Committee is to promote active civil participation.

This Manual specifies what IFES' SAC project, their main objectives, how to create and run them, the relationships between the teacher, students, and those outside the school, and important points to remember.

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