Being a responsible citizen is hard work—and it takes a lot of practice! Today on Home School Heartbeat, your host Mike Smith and his guest Joel Grewe talk about Generation Joshua’s Student Action Teams and how they teach students about the art of civic engagement.
Mike Smith: Our guest today is Joel Grewe, the Director of Generation Joshua, HSLDA’s youth civics organization. Welcome to the program, Joel!
Joel: Thanks so much, Mike, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Mike: Now Joel, one of the things Generation Joshua places a lot of emphasis on is its Student Action Teams, or SATs for short. Now, can you tell us what a Student Action Team actually does?
Joel: Sure. It’s actually a weeklong deployment that Generation Joshua runs nationwide. And really what it is is an opportunity for kids to learn citizenship in a hands-on way. It’s political activism—allowing people to actually get the kind of hands-on experience with how political operations run in the US.
Mike: Well why would this be important in our country at this time, Joel?
Joel: Well, I think the most important reason for it is because we have a generation that has lost an understanding of citizenship. They don’t understand what it means to be responsible citizens that are engaged in their government—not talking in a partisan way, just in an engaged, serious discussion as citizens who have a position, that want to make their position heard to both Washington, DC, or their local state governments. They need to know how to do that, and this gives them the practical skills to learn that.
Mike: Thank you, Joel, for that helpful explanation. Now can you share some of the tasks that Generation Joshua students actually do on these SATs?
Joel: Sure thing. It won’t involve a No. 2 pencil, but you probably will at least need a pen.
The idea behind a Student Action Team—the actual tasks—is that the students that are on it, and parents if they want to come, are encouraged to make personal voter contacts with voters in different areas. So the people do a lot of walking and a lot of talking. Some campaign logistics—everything from arranging and compiling literature, mapping if you’re into geography, we have people that do a lot of that, as well as a lot of talking to individual voters. That can be done on the phone or, preferably, actually in person. That tends to have the best work.
Mike: So what would that student’s schedule actually look like?
Joel: Well it’s actually about a 14-hour day, starting at 8 in the morning until 10 PM at night. During the day we deploy the teams into small groups, six to eight people usually in minivans—God’s gift to campaigning, we’ve decided, and something that everyone seems to know how to drive—to specific geographic regions in the area we’re working with.
These kids work in small teams under good supervision to go and actually talk to individual people in a one-on-one way. We found statistically that that is the absolutely most powerful way to motivate someone, and in our case, the encouragement for them is usually to just go vote.
Mike: Well thank you, Joel. You’ve told us what these teams do. Can you tell us how effective they are and what kind of results they’ve achieved in the past?
Joel: I’d love to, Mike. They are astoundingly effective. Not just in the political consequences, of which they’ve actually made historically record-breaking successes. We’ve accomplished things with these teams that have either a) never been done in the history of the political operations we’ve worked in before or 2) we pulled an operation in Louisiana a couple years ago where the last time someone had won was Reconstruction, on that scale. That was back in the 1860s. That’s remarkable, particularly in modern campaigning. Most records don’t last that long.
But you know, more importantly than that, they also inspire and equip students for life as responsible citizens. I’m sure you will agree that all it really takes to lose the amazing freedom we have in America is a generation who doesn’t care about it. And the results of these projects is training a generation to defend the liberty that our nation has bled and died for, and we need citizens in every generation who are trained and interested in doing that.
Mike: Joel, tell us about the students who work on your Student Action Teams. What impact does their experience have on them?
Joel Grewe: I think the impact is really measured twofold. The first one is just in equipping them and training them for what it means to be a citizen who’s responsible to their government and the nation they live in. Civic stewards, as you were. People who look at their role as citizen through the lens of stewardship, both in the community they live in and the nation at large—managing the resources that God has given them, in the place He’s put them, in a responsible way.
But it’s also something that not just equips them but inspires them. We’ve had many examples and experiences where the results of this work have come down to the wire, where we’re able to statistically prove that if any individual person on this team out of seventy or eighty people, if just one person hadn’t been there and done the work they’d done, the result would have changed on election day. When it comes down to one vote or eight votes or eighty votes, and each person on the team has talked to a thousand people, all of a sudden the impact of what you did becomes very, very personal.
And at least the last time we did this, the control of an entire state legislature was determined on the work of a 14-year-old girl. And if she hadn’t been there, there would be a different party, and a different policy being executed in this case in an entire state government, and it was a very big deal—and honestly, that person had thought about not coming. When it’s done though, they looked at that and said, “Well, I’m never going to be lazy again, because if I hadn’t done that, it would have changed the course of the state.”
Mike: What impact is this having on the parents? Do you know?
Joel: Well generally speaking, it makes them tired, like any other part of parenting, because you’re working very long hours. But it has another really beneficial effect for them. And that’s that they get the opportunity to work with their youth on a project that is essentially bigger than themselves. They come in as part of a team—and now the parents and the kids collectively together are putting out work, and doing hard work, for a larger goal. And we’ve found that it tends to be a unifying effect for a family, where they are working together for a larger and greater purpose.
And a lot of parents have gotten to the point where they actually ask us when these teams are going to happen—they schedule their vacation time so the entire family can come, because they’ve seen that benefit their family as a whole.
Mike: Joel, what would you say to a student who isn’t that interested in the political process? Why should they volunteer for one of the Student Action Teams?
Joel: I would actually give them two responses. The first one is that whether you’re interested in it or not, our nation has been given to you as a stewardship, which means you are now responsible as you mature and grow up for the management and leadership of that nation. And just like I may not like doing my budget or my taxes, or I don’t like cleaning up the kitchen, as a responsible adult I still know I have to do that. And so I learn the processes, skills, and training necessary to be a wise steward of whatever I’m given. And that allows me freedom to do other things—in fact, in this case freedom is the main topic here!
But beyond that, I would actually also say for someone who isn’t interested in the political process, that often the reason they’re not interested is because they have been exposed to the cynical mess that is our current media as well as our current politics. And often we fall under the lie and the falsehood that we believe that one person can’t make a difference. And honestly, I think in each high schooler and middle schooler I’ve talked to, they would love to be the person where the ball gets passed to them and they are the one person who can now make the difference. And that does something to inspire the imagination and inspire the person in a way that nothing else I know of does. And I’ve seen that happen over and over and over, and kids that don’t like politics come back year after year after year, because they get to see the impact of what they do—and they love it.
Mike: Joel, thank you for making a very convincing argument on why all of us should be involved in the political process, but especially these students. And thank you for the program. Thank you again for joining us, listeners! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.