Civic Education Roundup: Week of 6/15

This week, a look at how direct action, particularly canvassing, serves as an often-overlooked form of emancipatory civic learning that can transform civic engagement in a community; an examination of how charter schools impact educational outcomes and civic participation in students who participate in school choice programs; a study of whether youth engagement can boost the prevalence of interethnic ties; an examination of the intersection between social capital, religion, and political participation in immigrant communities; and finally, a comparison of the effect of early childhood curricula in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States on the citizenship membership and participation of young children. 

Canvassing as Political Education

Emancipatory Pedagogies: fostering political education through action: Lisa Garcia Bedolla and Andrea Silva 

Current literature on political canvassing focuses on its effectiveness in increasing voter turnout and boosting participation in electoral politics; however, fewer studies exist on how canvassing— both the training and the activity itself— changes canvas workers themselves. Because most canvassers come from underrepresented or marginalized groups, these gaps in scholarship provide opportunities to learn about the organizing of marginalized groups and how these spaces for active participation can educate, inform, and empower community members. Bedolla and Silva’s paper explores the civic engagement and learning process among canvassers and argues that community organizations create “empowerment pedagogies”– those which take place in non-school environments and provide practical support for marginalized groups to develop individual agency and build political engagement in their community–through training processes and support environments for canvassers. This is only accomplished when the canvassing organization tailors its training to the specific needs of recruited canvassers. 

The researchers studied two Latinx canvassing groups in California, Mi Familia Vota and Oakland Rising. MFV’s canvassing team was composed of first and second generation young Latinos who were high school and college students, and all relatively or very new to canvassing work. Training was organized around practices of critical pedagogy, including  open and less hierarchical learning spaces. Education for community empowerment was the underlying, uniting theme of MFV, with the second main theme being pride in the canvassers’ Latino and immigrant backgrounds. Sessions and discussions centered on helping the Latino community become politically active to combat the racist and anti-immigrant narratives that were prevalent at the time, and the organization was effective at sustaining the group’s sense of collective purpose through informal debrief conversations to offer support to fellow canvassers in the face of their mutual challenges. Oakland Rising organized in a different context: about 90% of their canvassers were formerly incarcerated and mostly male. Instead of operating in a non-hierarchical structure, OR gave experienced canvassers the opportunity to take positions of leadership and responsibility, making sure to recognize them as competent and capable to respect their lived experiences of having their capabilities devalued and questioned. OR’s purpose was sustained around the three themes of canvassers’ pride as Oakland residents, their pride as POC, and their working class identities. OR empowered their canvassers by giving them autonomy with the canvassing script by encouraging them to “make it their own” and centering language around why it was important for people of color to be involved in the canvassing and political process. The organization also did so by adapting its scaffolding to the lived experiences of its canvassers and being mindful of power dynamics by offering self-directing learning and other support mechanisms. 

From this preliminary study, Bedolla and Silva offer two suggestions for future research: the motivation of the canvassers themselves and the effects of political learning on future civic engagement of canvassers. Their own investigation demonstrated the enormous potential of this form of civic engagement to instill a common sense of purpose among members of an underrepresented group and provide the scaffolding necessary to both sustain that knowledge and increase the political knowledge, efficacy, and engagement within canvassers. 

Unequal Outcomes Through School Choice

Social Returns to Private Choice? Effects of Charter Schools on behavioral outcomes, arrests, and civic participation: Andrew McEachin, Douglas Lee Lauren, Sarah Crittenden Fuller, Rachel M. Perera

Even though charter schools have become a central feature of the public education ecosystem in many communities, including New Orleans and the District of Columbia, not much is known about the short and long term effects of charter schools on important non-academic behavioral and civic outcomes. However, assessing these outcomes is necessary to determine the efficacy of charter schools and their impact on American democracy as a whole— schools play a crucial role in preparing young people to participate in civic life, and because charter schools are quasi-private entities (with a growing market share)  which approach public education in a new way, it’s crucial that their effectiveness in imparting the cognitive skills necessary to participate productively in civic life be assessed. Using secondary students in charter schools in North Carolina as a case study, McEachin and colleagues seek to fill the knowledge gap surrounding the broader impact of charter schools on students’ behavioral and civic outcomes. Seven outcomes are analyzed using statewide administrative data: chronic absenteeism in 9th grade; suspensions in 9th grade; adult criminal, misdemeanor, and felony convictions; and both voter registration and voter participation at the local, state, and federal levels. Data for the final analysis comes from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which includes public and charter school records including student demographics, academic achievement, and student behavior. This was then merged with publicly available individual offender records from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and voter registration and voting records from the Board of Elections to build a complete picture of long-term behavioral and civic outcomes. The effect of a charter school education on these outcomes varied based on the age and grade level in which the student entered the charter school system, and statistically significant relationships were found between ethnicity and behavioral outcomes as well. For students who entered the charter school system in the 9th grade from a traditional public school, student behavior outcomes and civic outcomes were higher than those who attended a traditional public school in 8th and 9th grade. Chronic absenteeism rates were 2% lower for new entrants into the charter school system, and they were 7% less likely to be suspended than their TPS peers; however, the authors stipulate that readers should keep in mind that these results may be in part influenced by different reporting practices employed by charter schools. Charter school students who entered in the 9th grade were also less likely to commit a crime and more likely to vote than their TPS peers. Though the magnitude in difference for the crime rate (.9% for all crimes) is small, it still represents a large difference in the already small percentage of public school students committing crimes. Further, entrants were 2.8% more likely to register to vote and 5.4% more likely to go to the polls than their TPS peers, a significant difference. Minority and disadvantaged students benefited more from a charter school education: though outcomes for voting stayed the same, black, economically disadvantaged students have an especially large reduction in likelihood of being suspended in 9th grade when attending a charter school, and economically disadvantaged white students experience a large decline in chronic absenteeism. Overall, these results add to the charter school literature through expanding the scope of examination from academic outcomes to broader societal influences, and suggest positive results for students who experience both TPS and charter schools by entering a charter school in the 9th grade.

Combatting Segregation through Youth Education

Youth Engagement, Positive Interethnic Contact, and ‘Associational Bridges’: A Quasi-Experimental Investigation of a UK National Youth Engagement Scheme: James Laurence

As far-right groups again make an appearance in political discourse and attitudes towards ethnic diversity become increasingly polarized, an examination of how diverse societies can maintain positive interethnic relations is of increasing importance. For young people, this question is particularly urgent because adolescence is a key period in which attitudes towards ethnic difference are formed. The main way these relationships can be formed is through positive interethnic contact among young people, yet many barriers exist in fostering this contact. For example, because of structural barriers such as residential segregation and school segregation, not all young people have the opportunity to mix with different ethnic groups. Even in diverse schools where the opportunity does exist, it either does not occur at all or occurs in a negative action. Laurence posits that the solution to these obstacles is youth engagement defined as formal, organized participation in a group, club, or activity. These types of engagement foster optimal inter-group contact by encouraging cooperative, goal-oriented interactions; further, when uniting young people from different neighborhoods and schools, these sites of engagement may act as “Associational Bridges” that overcome structural barriers to interethnic mixing. Laurence’s study seeks to investigate these patterns on a national scale by assessing whether discrete periods of participation in a nationally-implemented youth engagement program led to the development of positive interethnic ties, whether these ties were maintained after the conclusion of the program, and the extent to which youth engagement was able to overcome structural barriers to interethnic mixing in society. Data is taken from the United Kingdom’s national citizenship service, a nationally implemented program which brings together young people to undertake a series of civic and social activities over a 3-4 week period, to overcome methodological shortcomings in existing literature on the issue.

Data were collected based on surveys administered directly after the conclusion of the program, and 4-6 months after the conclusion of the program, with students who were actively involved in the recruitment process for the National Citizenship Service but ultimately did not participate used as a control. The strength of interethnic relationships is measured based on the extent to which they are affective, which involves the provision of support and reciprocity. This was measured through the question, “think about people you know who you would feel happy getting in touch with to ask for advice or a favor. How many are from a different race or ethnicity to you?” The results found that participants found a significant increase in interethnic ties, while controls did not exhibit a significant change. The increase in ties that young people experienced were also evident 4-6 months after they completed the program; however, the size of the increase was 0.2 on a 4 point scale, which is relatively small despite being statistically significant. Despite this, when analyzing the increase in interethnic ties based on neighborhood of origin, it was found that young people joining the program from segregated areas experienced a dramatic increase in their number of affective interethnic ties post-program, effectively closing the gap with their peers from non-segregated areas. Both groups experienced positive benefits from participating in the program. Laurence’s study both supports previous evidence that engagement can foster positive interethnic contact and performs the first systematic demonstration that such programs can act as “Associational Bridges” that overcome structural barriers to contact. These results suggest that providing more opportunities for young people to participate in such programs can contribute to greater acceptance of cultural diversity in diverse societies and contribute to multicultural civic learning. 

Race, Faith and Politics in Immigrant Communities

People of Color, People of Faith: The Effect of Social Capital and Religion on the Political Participation of Marginalized Communities: Kiku Huckle and Andrea Silva

The non-white and non-Christian population in the United States has increased significantly due to landmark acts of immigration legislation in the late 20th century such as the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization act. Previously, churches offered a significant political benefit to past immigrant waves; however, given the diverse set of countries and religious traditions that new waves of immigrants bring with them to the US, it is worth questioning whether the foundational theories used to understand the relationship between religion and politics is still true. Huckle and Silva’s paper explores whether places of worship still increase the political capital of community members, contributing to the increased political participation of congregants. They investigate whether a more complete picture of the relationship between religion and political engagement, including variables such as denomination, devotion, race, and social capital, provides clearer results about the process of socialization through religion. Three theories are presented: first, frequent attendance at religious services, contingent on social capital, correlates with higher rates of political participation; second, social capital is a positive indicator of participation for all groups, including immigrants; third, respondents who are highly devoted to their faith are more likely to participate in politics when they perceive religious discrimination.

In their analysis of data from survey respondents, Huckle and Silva find that frequent attendance at religious services, in and of itself, does not affect political participation. While social capital alone is a positive indicator of participation for all racial groups, the relationship between frequent religious attendance and political participation is not conditional on social capital. It was found that frequent attenders with social capital were not statistically more likely to participate more than their low-attending, low social capital counterparts. In terms of the relationship between religious tradition and political participation, results varied greatly by race. For example, Black Catholics were more than twice as likely to participate politically compared to their non-Catholic peers, and Asian Hindu respondents were 80% less likely to participate in politics compared to their non-Hindu peers. However, there was no significant relationship found between religious denomination alone and political participation. For the final theory, it was found that race was again a factor in determining the exact relationship between devotion and civic participation. Asian respondents who experienced religious discrimination were more than twice as likely to participate than their peers who had not, and Latinos who experienced religious decrimination were almost 60% more likely to participate than their peers who had not. 

Overall, these findings add to the complex picture of religion in traditionally marginalized groups in the United States, by accounting for how the relationship between the two is significantly impacted by race and denomination. It’s important to recognize how it indicates that old notions of political socialization through the church are changing and becoming outdated as the nation becomes more religiously and ethnically diverse. 

Recognizing Citizenship in Young Children

Young Children’s citizenship membership and participation: comparing discourses in early childhood curricula of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States: Louise Gweneth Philips, Jenny Ritchie & Jennifer Keys Adair 

While citizenship education is generally focused on the secondary school level and largely focused on integrating young people into the existing political system, varying degrees of attention are paid to civic learning and action in national early childhood education standards. However, the role of children as civically engaged members of society is changing: the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child declared that children are entitled to rights and that they are active contributors to society. Philips and colleagues approach this analysis of civic learning in early childhood education with the mindset that civic learning and action is a lifelong process in which all individuals are learning and contributing in a manner appropriate to their life stage. They consider civic learning and action from a participatory model that recognizes that introducing citizenship responsibilities for young children in early childhood education settings is the foundation of citizenship education. Analysis of references to citizenship membership in early childhood curricula in the three countries chosen expands on past research which explored how socio-cultural and political contexts influence civics and citizenship curricula in Western democracies; however, while previous research focused on school curricula, Philips and colleagues focus on early childhood settings such as daycares and kindergartens. These spaces have a very different approach to education than schooling in later years, and are often the first community spaces in which young children experience coexistence with unknown others, where they begin to experiment with civic skills and dispositions. Despite this, children are widely excluded from the principle of “universal citizenship” because they are believed to not have the reason, rationality, and autonomy that is required to practice citizenship. With this in mind, the authors sought to fill this knowledge gap by locating how children are positioned as citizens and what opportunities existed for their citizenship participation in the national early childhood curricula documents of the US, Australia, and New Zealand. 

In Australia and New Zealand, children’s citizenship membership in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and Te Whariki (the respective names of their national early childhood education curriculums) acknowledges the interconnectedness of children within society, shifting away from hierarchical perceptions of adult/child relations and viewing them as valued contributors with adults relying on them just as much as children rely on adults. This is further reflected in the explicit mention of citizenship participation in both documents. EYLF defines citizenship participation for young children that which is community oriented and relevant to children’s lives, and acknowledges reciprocal rights and responsibilities. Te Whariki describes citizenship participation as inclusive for all children regardless of ability, an inclusive approach to citizenship which attends to political belonging. Attention to fairness, peace building, bias and discrimination reflects childhood discourses of children as rights-holders and the ethos of egalitarianism present in New Zealand, while actively integrated Maori values such as kotahitanga (unity) and mana (prestige) which support group-oriented civic skill development from a young age. Children’s membership in cultural and linguistic groups is a key component of the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework in the United States, reflecting the mosaic approach to multicultural citizenship and legacy of the Civil Rights movement. However, specific focus on language and culture may detract from other membership elements, such as Indigineity, ability, sex, and class. There is also more of an individualistic focus and protective view of children in the US frameworks: memberships are constructed with allegiances to broader social collectives such as the neighborhood and society. There was also almost no mention of citizenship participation in the US frameworks, with the closest example being “cooperat[ing] with others” with no indication of the scope or context for cooperation, and no suggestion for community actions. These outcomes illustrate opposing philosophies about the extent to which children should be considered contributing actors to civic life; Philips and colleagues conclude by arguing that it is only through intergenerational civic collaboration that honors children as citizens that collective civic learning will occur and a lifelong philosophy of civic participation will be instilled in each child.

Written by U4SC Summer Inter, Julia Pepper