This week, a look at how structural barriers to education and advancement among students affect approaches to civic education; an analysis of how the move towards state subsidization of private schools in America affects the quality of civic education delivered to students; a philosophical defense of peace education as a necessary component of civic education, particularly in democratic societies in an interconnected world; a study detailing how educational achievement in urban settings is hindered by lack of residential mobility, and how civic education can combat that trend; and finally, an observation of how the civic, moral, and character development of students at liberal arts universities affects their behavior as urban citizens. 

Civic Education for Disadvantaged Students

Civic Learning for Alienated, Disaffected, and Disadvantaged Students: Measurement, Theory, and Practice: Xiaoxue Kuang, Jinxin Zhu & Kerry J. Kennedy 

Kuang and colleagues’ editorial focuses on students who are often left out of opportunities to acquire the knowledge and participative skills that civic education provides. Alienated and disaffected students have a low sense of belonging to the school environment, are less engaged in school activities, and have poor academic performance; this is often correlated with the student being in a marginal position compared to mainstream students. Disadvantaged students are described as those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  Several research studies and approaches towards disadvantaged students are introduced. In the first, which studied the effect of citizenship education on the relationship between socioeconomic status and intended electoral participation on the individual level, found that disadvantaged students had unequal access to citizenship education, but that an open classroom climate combined with civic participation in school and formal citizenship education in the classroom could help compensate for this gap. The second examined the effect of polarization on students’ perception of an open classroom environment. Focus was placed on how differences in support of issues such as gender equality and ethnic rights corresponded to the perception of open classroom climate among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. It was found that there was a negative relationship between increased polarization in viewpoints and the perception of an open classroom in three of the five countries surveyed, citing a need for teachers to consider the demographics of the students they teach when approaching the curriculum. Other major findings outlined in the editorial include a study exploring why immigrant elementary and middle school students in Denmark were disadvantaged with regards to civic learning. Out of a set of potential factors, researchers found that socioeconomic status is the most dominant indicator explaining the relationship between immigrant status and students’ civic knowledge. Overall, Kuang and colleagues recognize a need to further explore the students who are most affected by systems civics education seeks to teach, but often fall through the cracks of education systems which are supposed to provide that knowledge, advocating for the use of more empirical, data-driven studies to further explore the relationship between systemic disadvantages and civic education access. 

Accountability in State-Subsidized Private Schools

The Civic Dimension of School Voucher Programs: Cullen C. Merritt, Sheila Suess Kennedy & Morgan D. Farnworth

In a country as diverse as the United States, a form of social “glue” is necessary to maintain a sense of national unity and ensure social cohesion as a country. In the past, Merritt, Kennedy & Fanworth argue, this was achieved through a lack of choice in cultural experiences: people read the daily newspaper, discussed broadcasts that aired on one of three television channels, attended public schools, and registered for the military draft. Now, however, Americans live in a fragmented, privatized social landscape where these experiences are no longer unifying. Because of this absence of other commonalities, a “civil religion” consisting of a shared knowledge of the nation’s founding principles and documents is more necessary than ever to provide the unifying frame of reference necessary for political participation and communication. The authors seek to fill a gap in research of such necessary civic education by exploring how school choice voucher programs in some states impact the civic literacy of private school students– who have no state-mandated civic education standards to adhere to– compared with their public school peers, using content analysis methods. Further, with the unique responsibility of schools to transmit the understanding of public values to future generations of policymakers and citizens in mind, the researchers examine the extent to which voucher programs are legally required to provide civics education. After exploring regulations pertaining to civics education in the 14 states (and the District of Columbia) with active voucher programs in three types of educational programs (public schools, nonpublic schools, and voucher programs), they found that while all states codified civics and government as core subjects for public schools, with most requiring the passage of a civics or civics-related course as a public high school graduation requirement, only five required civics or social studies education to be included in the curriculum of non-public schools applying for accreditation. Many states also have separate statutes pertaining to civics education which exempt voucher programs from curriculum oversight. A Florida statute, for example, states that participation in a voucher program does not extend the regulatory authority of the state or any school district to impose additional requirements on private schools separate from meeting basic educational standards. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that those schools do not have civic education requirements, since the scope of the study was restricted to determining if those regulations exist, this lack of oversight is concerning. Given the extensive literature that exists surrounding the importance of civic education in cultivating social outcomes such as the promotion of civic equality and increased voter turnout, the researchers argue that the government funding that private schools receive calls for a certain degree of legislative and public oversight, and has further implications for ethical governance. They cite the need for future research on the public purposes of school voucher programs is necessary to clarify their ethical obligation to provide quality civics education.

A Solution to Educational Inequity?

The Effects of Residential Mobility on Education Outcomes of Urban Middle School Students and the Moderating Effects of Civic Engagement: Adam Voight, Regina Giraldo-Garcia and Marybeth Shinn

The academic outcomes and educational access available to urban youth decrease significantly when students don’t have stable housing. 2015 Census data found that 10% of middle school aged youth changed residences between 2013 and 2014, and 70% of those moves were within the same county; this data suggests that changing homes can be a manifestation of serious familial financial difficulties, in addition to causing familial stress and the disruption of important social networks. Studies have shown that moving during adolescence, regardless of whether the move is to a better or worse neighborhood, cuts the likelihood of completing a high school diploma in half— residential mobility could have stronger associations with a student’s ability to finish high school than persistent poverty. This trend— and its consequences for academic achievement—  is amplified in primary and secondary urban schools. Drawing on past research which has suggested that youth who are active in civic life are less likely to suffer school failure and dropout, Voight, Giraldo Garcia & Shinn investigate the potential for school civic engagement to moderate the negative effects of residential mobility on educational outcomes for urban middle school students. In their literature review, they found strong evidence that on average, residential mobility is negatively associated with middle school education outcomes; however, some mobile students defied this trend. For example, 20% of homeless and high mobile students performed at the national average or better on national achievement tests.  This was due to relational support such as quality parenting, as well as interventions such as providing a case manager to facilitate access to services for homeless students. Another significant factor is civic life in school, which political thinkers have argued is an important buffer against economic challenges at home; such engagement has been found to maintain a connection to school amid chaotic home life, and has been found to be more influential on education outcomes than a traditional civics course. Voight and colleagues’ study sought to empirically investigate the conceptual linkages between civic activities at school and positive education outcomes by observing differences in attendance, grades, and suspensions in urban middle school students who changed residents and those who did not, as well as assessing the moderating effect of civic engagement at school. Through a 2,014 student sample from 10 middle schools in a large urban center in the Southeastern United States, their analysis showed that compared with nonmobile students, students who moved one or more times but didn’t change schools averaged a 3.46% lower attendance rate, 1.27% lower grades, and 2.45 additional suspensions per 100 days enrolled. For students who changed homes and schools, the decrease in grades was the same, while suspension and attendance rates were not significantly lower. These outcomes were significantly impacted by school civic engagement: students who were engaged in school civic life had significantly higher attendance rates, grades that were more than two higher than their unengaged residentially mobile peers, and less suspensions. The researchers acknowledged that their design had limitations— residential mobility experienced at different times in the school year weren’t taken into account, for example— but still reveals a significant association between school involvement and academic improvement for economically disadvantaged students. These steps can help educators assist students dealing with a disruptive residential move, but the researchers conclude the ultimate responsibility for providing such opportunities falls upon policymakers when providing access to resources to underfunded schools. 

The Imperative for Peace Education

The Peace Education Imperative: a democratic rationale for peace education as a civic duty: Dale T. Snauwaert

While the field of peace education has been generally well established, Snauwaert points out that the significant value and moral justification for peace education are usually assumed instead of presented in a systematic, philosophically rigorous fashion. Snauwaert approaches the role of peace education through a moral justification centered around the tradition of normative democratic theory, or the moral foundations of democracy and democratic institutions. His thesis is that there is a basic civic duty to provide peace education as a part of a political education that reflects the complex political, economic, and cultural interdependence in which today’s students exist; the foundation of a democratic theory of peace education is based on the affirmation of this duty. Peace education seeks to build a positive peace: peace defined not only by the absence of war, but by the realization of the full range of human rights. In accordance with Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it prepares students to participate in public deliberation and justification of basic questions of justice– a civic education which recognizes that nations both look inwards towards their own fundamental institutions and outwards in its relations with other nations and cultures. Snauwaert also cites the core democratic belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings, a principle which transcends national boundaries. The second part of Snauwaert’s argument concerns democratic political legitimacy, in which governments move away from wielding arbitrary power– rule based on unjustifiable ethical and moral values– and towards consensual power. Consensual power– created by free, non-coercive consent– occurs when one is presented with reason-based rules, and motivated to think or act in the way that those rules intended based on their reasoning. This confers a “reason-giving” character to consensual power, since the validity of the political order is based on the strength of the reasons given. As a result, the basic moral constraint on democratic political institutions, from which they draw their legitimacy, is whether the institution is justifiable to all those who are affected by it, creating an alternate definition of democracy as the “rule of normatively valid reasons,” and rendering citizens active agents, instead of mere recipients, of justice. From this reasoning, Snauwaert elucidates a basic human right to justification, which he argues should be the primary norm of justice: the idea that the inherent dignity in each human being confers upon them the right to receive normative valid justification of the conditions they live under, and offer such justification to others as a matter of respect. Victims of injustice are left out of this decision making process. With this definition of justice in mind, and the recognition of people as the source and agents of legitimate democratic political power and authority, citizens need to possess both knowledge of their rights and duties and the capacity to participate in public reasoning. They have the duty to avoid depriving another of their rights, protect the other from the deprivation of their rights, and aid the deprived. In a world where the dynamics of deprivation play out on a global scale, peace education builds the capacity for students to become active, legitimizing participants in the political process.

Intersections of Civic and Liberal Arts Education

Urban custodians and hospitable citizens: citizenship and social actions at 2 liberal arts universities in Hong Kong and Shanghai: Yi’en Cheng and Jane Margaret Jacobs

As college liberal arts education increasingly interacts with urban processes through city campuses, the role of higher education in cities has become of particular interest. Universities and colleges in an urban context play an important role in shaping the citizens students become, and while more attention has been paid to how colleges mediate political discourses, identities, and practices among students, not much has been explored about mobilizations or individual efforts by students to address urban concerns. The theoretical approach Cheng and Jacobs adopt draws on research which describes young people as having the capacity to blend local issues and politics with national and global issues, given that their identities are shaped by a multi-level intertwining of ideas that encompasses global influences (such as the United Nations), local organizations, and the microcosms of educational institutions. They take seriously the assumption that young people can do politics, and view the city not just as a backdrop for their social actions, but as environments which produce the conditions and resources necessary for young people to develop identities, learn about the responsibilities of citizenship, and organize to change conditions for themselves and the communities they inhabit. With this in mind, they study how liberal arts institutions present citizenship ideas and the way those citizenship narratives enable or constrict the political activities of young people at NYU Shanghai in China and Lingnan University in Hong Kong— two colleges which explicitly present themselves as liberal arts institutions who aim to cultivate students into cosmopolitan, moral citizens. One key finding in the study was how different approaches to liberal arts education led to the creation of civically engaged citizens who were motivated to actively create change in their society, versus tolerant citizens who respected diversity and organized around identity instead of specific issues. At Lingnan University, the integration of service learning into the liberal arts curriculum led students to think of themselves as urban custodians as they developed solutions to social issues across Hong Kong. Students sought to innovate projects aimed at protecting local arts and culture, particularly through efforts to preserve Cantonese as the linguistic marker of the “Hong Kong” identity, as well as protecting vulnerable populations such as the elderly. This brand of youth-led politics does not challenge political authorities head-on, but seeks to make right the unfavorable urban conditions which students see themselves as having to navigate and grow up in; students see their political work as a way of opening up more career paths within Hong Kong as a whole, since many foresee challenges in securing desirable jobs and wages. NYU-Shanghai students, on the other hand, frame their social actions as resting on the notions of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, leaning more towards the form of “Ally Week” celebrations which advocate for harmony between different oppressed groups in society. This allows Chinese students to bypass explicit identification with anti-CCP politics, instead framing themselves as “hospitable citizens” who build cross-cultural community bonds and work towards a collective culture of respect and civility. Shanghai acts as a manifestation of heterogeneity in identity differences where students can act as mediators of difference and practice hospitable citizenship. These two distinct urban political identities demonstrate how formative universities are in shaping the type of citizen students become, and how mindful they must be of how they teach students to navigate the processes and power relations that constitute the “urban.”

Written by U4SC Summer Intern, Julia Pepper

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