This week, an analysis of how the rise of Twitter as a major platform for political discourse is changing approaches to civic education; a discussion on how to educate students about “fake news” so they are prepared to confront misinformation in the social media age; an exploration of how increased global networks can expand youth civic education and engagement relating to human rights; and finally, a study regarding the connection between education and the instillment of civic duty through comparing the development of monozygotic twins raised separately in the United States and Sweden. 

Integrating Social Media into the Classroom

Twitter in Youth Civic Education, Amy L. Chapman and Christine Greenhow

Several measures of civic engagement have seemed to show that youth political and civic participation have been on a consistent downward trend; what these studies fail to take into consideration, however, are the multifaceted ways in which youth engage in civic life today– including the rising prominence of social media as a means for organizing and platform for political discourse. Civic education in the US has long emphasized traditional ways of engaging in the political process, such as knowing the branches of government, writing letters to elected officials, or engaging with a political party, and it’s true that these forms of engagement have been on the decline. However, past studies have shown that young people are increasingly reporting a disconnect with their preferred method of civic participation and the methods of engagement they are taught in the classroom. While studies of the use of social media in the classroom have been done for college students, Chapman and Greenhow’s study seeks to fill the knowledge gap surrounding the integration of social media in civic education classes at the K-12 level.

Many aspects of Twitter correspond to elements of successful civic education, including the use of participatory pedagogies such as interactive experiences and debates, the use of current events, and a direct relationship between student’s lives and what is taught in the classroom. Chapman and Greenhow further explore this connection through the use of phenomenology and case studies, with the cooperation of experienced social studies teachers recruited through email and Twitter. What they found was that though individual teacher’s experiences varied, each teacher considered the specific features of Twitter to be relevant to the goals of civic education in three main ways. First, Twitter connects students to those outside the classroom. Second, Twitter can bring outside topics into the classroom in real time. Third, as a social media platform which relies on user-generated content, Twitter is inherently participatory. In the first case, four teachers explained that Twitter helped them connect with parents, those from schools in other geographic areas (even on a global scale), and subject matter experts. For two teachers in geographically isolated areas, this reach was even more important and gave their students a way to connect with the outside world. For example, Abbey, a teacher in an remote, rural area, reported that Twitter gave her students a platform to message and engage with public officials despite geographic barriers. Further, many teachers Chaplin and Greenhow spoke with wanted to make clear to their students that they could already participate in civic life. One teacher who advised his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, for example,  used the platform to help his students connect with the greater GSA community in the state. Twitter’s relevance in the classroom is not just a result of its popularity among students, but the affordances it provides to educators, including the ability to build informed citizenry through real examples of fake news, the ability to provide a direct connection between the classroom and the broader community (including public officials), and the ability to make the news more accessible for students. Further study of Twitter’s ability to amplify student voice and foster student agency is worth exploring. 

Equipping Students to Confront Misinformation

Civic Education in a Fake News Era: Lessons for the Methods Classroom, Chelsea Kaufman

Through increased reliance on social media as a means of building community and engaging in civic discourse, today’s students are increasingly exposed to “fake news” and misleading information; however, civic education has not adequately evolved to meet this challenge, and students often don’t have the media literacy they need to sift through the mountain of information they have at their fingertips. Findings from the Youth Participatory Politics survey found that approximately ⅓ of students had never had a class on the topic of fake news, or had not discussed the topic with an educator within the past 6 months. Kaufman suggests that in the current media environment, this lack of preparation could contribute to students’ becoming disengaged from civic and political life, and risks eroding their political trust: one study (Ceron, 2015) found that those who specifically consumed news through social media rather than traditional news sources had lower political trust. Kaufman also expresses concern about how the rise of ideological reporting exacerbates the negative effects of students’ inability to evaluate news sources. Because young people are more likely to look for media outlets that interpret and judge the news, rather than simply relaying it, they are more likely to be exposed to ideological reporting, which can have disastrous results when combined with the effects of social media algorithms and a lack of media literacy. Those who are heavy consumers of media and have more segregated social networks are more likely to believe ideological reporting, and past studies have shown that young people choose their news sources in a way which contributes to the development of such networks. They are more likely to pick from the first search engine results, for example, or follow the recommendations of trusted adults or comedy shows.

To combat this trend in the classroom, Kaufman suggests a variety of pedagogical approaches which carefully avoid planting general distrust of the news media in students, and are able to handle possible backlash from ideologically rooted students who are knowledgeable, but misinformed. The first is having students evaluate the internal validity of an experimental design to become more critical of how data is collected. The second is providing students with raw data and having them write their own headlines based on that data, before comparing it with headlines written by major news outlets, to explore how framing affects the media’s data analysis. The third is a discussion of the peer review process, including topics such as the speed of the process, biases, and examples of retracted studies. Finally, Kaufman suggests an exercise in which students identify shortcomings in misleading or inaccurate information found online in order to practice identifying bias and “fake news.” Such practices recognize the urgent need to encourage critical thinking among students about the information they will encounter, and foster skills which will allow them to be discerning in what they read and believe. 

Creating Global Citizens

Cosmopolitan Cultural Literacy and Youth Civic Engagement for Human Rights, Thomas W. Bean and Judith Dunkerly Bean

Advances in social media have not allowed for increased civic engagement not only on the local and national level, but on an international level as well. Bean points to global mobilizations, such as the one against the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, as evidence of this far-reaching network, and argues that the global risks we face require an involved, critical citizenry that is able to collaborate to mitigate crises, and promotes “cosmopolitan critical literacy” as a way to build such a citizenry. The idea of cosmopolitanism dates back to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who lived in a discarded wine jar in the agora of Athens in the 4th century B.C. His philosophy– which embodied a willingness to participate in a world beyond the local and engage with people who had different beliefs– was the basis of Delanty’s “critical cosmopolitanism,” which argued that social media and public discourse in a globalized space required more than an acknowledgement of the flow of information. Rather, cultural exchange was a way of opening up a society to new modes of thinking and acting, where new practices are respected and incorporated. Cosmopolitan cultural literacy (CCL), then, is a perspective on civic and literacy education which critically examines the influence of globalization on issues of power, access, and social justice that gives students the tools to interrogate policies that oppress marginalized groups. However, CCL is hard to implement in the classroom because it challenges teachers to move beyond narrow conceptions of citizenship which characterize how civics is taught today. CCL is the difference between teaching a narrow definition of citizenship defined by voting and understanding Western government institutions and challenging students to consider who “counts” as a citizen. Here, Bean explores how teachers can implement effective CCL pedagogy in their classrooms, with a particular interest in students who framed their identities in a transnational lens, further complicating the idea of citizenship. He separates approaches to CCL in two main categories: participatory citizenship and justice-oriented citizenship. The first is characterized by a more active role in the political process in both physical and virtual spaces. In their review of literature, Bean found that integrating digital technologies with character development initiatives centered around issues students cared about helped create a space for the voices of marginalized students where they could assert their rights and experiences in school. Bean asserts that other literature demonstrates that new media can also support the primary goals of service learning, including designing authentic learning environments, connecting to community, supporting youth voice, and encouraging engagement with social justice issues. The second involved orienting students’ classroom education around the experiences of marginalized groups on both a local and global scale. One case study of such an approach involved a New York City teacher who built an interdisciplinary American studies curriculum around three units: Native American experiences, African American experiences, and US immigration and globalization. By encouraging students to talk about their homelands in addition to the United States, teachers used immigrant experiences to challenge the single nation state perspective, and brought their personal struggles to the forefront. Students were given a space to critique racist policies surrounding poverty-related issues such as affordable housing access and drugs and engage with how their transnational identities shaped these issues. Bean’s review found that the integration of such justice-oriented teaching with social media was what enabled teachers to  meet the multinational ideal of cosmopolitanism. In the end, effective CCL teaching moves beyond the technical and focuses on the “why” of cultural literacy, allowing students to understand the power it holds; understanding the intersection between CCL, participatory social media, and global civic engagement for human rights allows students to actively participate in transformative work instead of relying on static definitions of civic engagement. 

Challenges of Relying on Education to Build Peace

The Potential and Limitations to Peacebuilding, S. Garnett Russel 

A key part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the principle of “sustaining peace,” defined as actions aimed at preventing and de-escalating conflict while  addressing the root causes of hostility and moving towards recovery and reconstruction. Russel’s chapter studies the realignment of education policy to achieve this goal in the aftermath of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict and culminating genocide in Rwanda. The Rwandan Ministry of Education launched a new sustainable peace program in 2017, which founded a network of “Peace Schools” across the country which emphasized the principles of “peace and values” as curricular necessities. The government has emphasized the importance of economic development as a foundation for building long-term peace; however, initiatives promoting intergroup reconciliation are not promoted. As a result, despite national policy documents and educational materials that seek to integrate global frameworks surrounding citizenship, human rights, and reconciliation into Rwanda’s education sector, implementing these programs in schools has been a challenging process which has exposed the differences between the policies and the lived experiences of students and teachers who survived the genocide. Instead of encouraging open discussion around ethnicity and human rights violations, according to Garnett, the government has instead supported a ritualized way of addressing the nation’s troubled history through an official reconciliation discourse that emphasizes gender equality at the expense of other human rights. One key contradiction rests in approaches toward citizenship. In theory, the Rwandan state aims to educate globally oriented citizens who disregard ethnic differences and focus on national unity; however, in practice the education system has created nationalistic and obedient citizens who are afraid to engage in open dialogue about the past or critique the regime. The government has a narrow vision of citizenship that produces patriotic but unquestioning citizens instead of active and engaged ones who are committed to sustaining long-term peace. Their push to create a de-ethnicized national identity distant from the ones that led to the genocide does so in a way which suppresses candid discussion of what happened and an inability to discuss and confront deeply entrenched inequalities, which perpetuates these inequalities instead of fostering genuine reconciliation. These findings criticize the idea that education, by itself, can be used to achieve societal reconciliation. Educational reform is limited by the historical, political, and economic context not only at the national level, but at a local one as well. While the challenges of teaching in a post-genocide state may seem foreign to teachers in the United States, in actuality the two contexts are not as different as they may seem. One need only look at the headlines to see how our history of racial injustice has shaped almost every aspect of our society, from the way different groups are treated by the police to the differences in healthcare access in the wake of the pandemic. From the context of Rwanda, teachers can learn how being mindful of these inequalities in the classroom and fostering open dialogue around issues relating to racial and socioeconomic injustice, actively creating an environment that encourages individual dialogue and reconciliation instead of reiterating national ideal without doing the work, can lead to genuine and lasting change.   

Understanding the Connection Between Education and Civic Duty 

Does Education Instill Civic Duty? Evidence from Monozygotic Twins in the United States and Sweden, Aaron C. Weinschenk, Christopher T. Dawes, Sven Oskarsson

Many researchers have suggested that education is the primary reason why some people feel a strong sense of civic duty, particularly in regards to voting, while others feel no obligation to participate in the political process at all. In many past empirical models, education was identified as the primary influence on voter turnout because of the way voting is framed as an obligation. Weinschenck, Dawes, and Oskarsson take a closer look at the relationship between civic education and the sense of civic duty to vote, seeking to identify whether this relationship was causal or confounded by other variables such as psychological attributes and political socialization in the family. To study this distinction, they use a co-twin experimental design to examine the relationship between education and civic duty within monozygotic twins who were raised together, avoiding potential confounders rooted in genetic factors and common environmental influences since twins would share these traits. Data collection was drawn from two datasets containing information on monozygotic twins; the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) for the United States sample, and the Swedish Twin Registry for the Swedish sample. To assess civic duty, participants were asked to assess on an 11 point scale how much of an obligation they felt to vote in local and national elections. The level of education of each twin measured based on a 12 category scale ranging from no schooling to an advanced degree. The within-twin differences in the study’s key measures found that the relationship between civic duty and education was confounded by genetic and familial factors; once confounding stemming from genetic factors and familial socialization is taken into account in the twin-pair fixed-effect models, which refers to the confounding factors that affected the development of civic duty in both twins, the estimated effect of education on civic duty drops dramatically– statistical models showed as much as an 83% drop in the magnitude of effect of education in the United States sample, and a 48% reduction in the Swedish sample. However, the researchers noted that an exception to the education result was the impact of a college education. Though the effect of a post-secondary degree on civic duty was still reduced once fixed-effect factors were taken into account, suggesting that the relationship between the two is confounded to an extent, a college degree still had a statistically significant positive effect on civic duty even when factoring in other variables. This finding is consistent with past research that has demonstrated the influence of educational attainment on political participation. Further research is needed to determine the exact sources of confounding; however, Weinschenck, Dawes, and Oskarsson’s study suggests that the factors contributing to the development of civic duty are more complicated than was originally thought. 

Written by U4SC Summer Intern, Julia Pepper