Civics Education Roundup, Week of July 27, 2020

This week, an analysis of the extent to which social media contributes to the political learning, involvement, and efficacy of youth; a cross-border look at the effect of youth inclusion in formal political parties on their engagement in electoral politics in America and Egypt; an empirical study of the effectiveness of civics education in charter schools in the context of the octagon model; a study of best practices in intercultural civics education that can be employed in the foreign language classroom; and finally, a look at the global network of UNESCO ‘learning cities’ and how civic actions pursued by those who live within them serve as a form of public pedagogy. 

An empirical analysis of social media usage, political learning, and participation among youth: a comparative study of Indonesia and Pakistan, Rachman Ida, Muhammad Saud, Musta’in Mashud

In Indonesia and Pakistan, two nations struggling with the process of democratization, social media has emerged as a major influence on youth participation in the political process, building on previous research that has suggested that social media has been a positive influence on the participation and efficacy of youth in rural Pakistan. Political parties and leaders in both countries have shifted their outreach strategy to reach out to youth on these platforms, and they are becoming an increasingly important forum for political communication by political leaders, journalists, and other internet users, used for both organizing mass movements and conveying information. Though the political context between these nations and the United States are quite different, it is worthwhile to evaluate the results of Ida, Saud, and Mashud’s empirical investigation of (1) the opportunities social media provides for political aspirants and (2) the relationship between social media use and a tendency towards activism in youth due to the prevalence of Twitter and Facebook usage among US youth and similarities in the stressed political climates of these nations and the current climate in the US. 

To accomplish their research, Ida, Saud, and Mashud utilized a cross sectional study to evaluate the role of social media in enhancing youth political participation in the online and offline spheres. Random sampling was used to create a sample of 400 youth respondents from Indonesia and Pakistan who were administered a questionnaire that measured socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, political background, involvement in political activities, and tendency towards using social media applications. Their data analysis found a strong correlation between engagement with politics on social media and political engagement in the offline sphere, as measured by activities including voting, being part of a party council, hosting and attending party functions as youth representatives, and organizing a political event. The vast majority of the sample followed a political group (71.8%), campaign group (73.5%), politically oriented news (74.5%), or commented on political posts (76.5%) either several times a week or regularly. Using a Pearson correlation, significant relationships were found between social media usage and all three measurements (political activities, political participation, and political efficacy). While the political contexts of Indonesia and Pakistan are unique in that they are undergoing significant political upheaval and change, these results are significant because they demonstrate a strong relationship between social media and youth political engagement, highlighting the importance of teaching students how to utilize digital tools for social change as part of a modern civics curriculum. 

Youth Inclusion in American and Egyptian Political Party Management, Iman Karam I. M. Ashmawy

The Arab Spring demonstrated that when shut out from conventional means of political participation, youth often become disillusioned, resorting instead to an informal sector of political involvement that Ashmawy claims is characterized by “criminality, extremism, and anonymity.” Indeed, youth organizing through social media and the internet has resulted in the collapse of long-lasting political regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. Despite this, there is a lack of knowledge on how political parties actively offer opportunities for youth inclusion. To fill this gap, Ashmawy demonstrates how political parties attract and retain young members, support their activities, and include them in the party structure and decision-making process in the United States and Egypt. 

Ashwamy focused his study on the ElWafd (WP) and El-Ahrar (MAP) parties in Egypt, and the Democratic (DP) and Republican (RP) parties in the US. Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with young members of the major parties in both countries and evaluated using Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software. The Egyptian interviewees expressed that they were viewed as the valued next generation of their party, included in party activities, and given support for their own projects. On the other hand, American interviewees said that while the youth are considered essential for party continuance, they are perceived as idealistic— one articulated that older members of the party begin to grow distrustful when younger members talk about changing things. All interviewees expressed that their opinions are considered in the party’s decision making process; while the Egyptian participants felt that the national congress supported them most, the Americans felt most supported at the local level. Further, parties in both countries provide funds when necessary for youth projects, and when the project entails a well thought out proposal; for example, the DP in the US provides funding for youth clubs. Non-financial support is the most common. For example, the Egyptian interviewees said that the national party was key in facilitating contact with elected officials. 

The key aspect that was missing, particularly in the United States, was a formal mentorship program, despite the fact that young party members learned a lot from observing senior members of the party behave and speak. This relates to the point that political parties serve as a forum for students to practice important civic skills such as deliberation and compromise. Not having a formal mentorship program outside of internships both within the party and in politicians’ offices took away from this somewhat; however, the youth still noted that the party played a key role in facilitating access to elected officials and senior members who could provide some guidance. Further, youth are not really present in high-level functional roles within the party. Functional positions at the local level were generally held by youth, while those at the state and national levels were not. However, youth still had considerable influence over high level party leadership both internally and electorally in both nations, and were able to assert themselves that way. Understanding the ways that political parties offer educational opportunities for politically inclined youth is important because it provides a resource for students to be civically involved outside of the classroom and can complement civics curricula. The opportunity to build the aforementioned civic skills through party participation is also a valuable tool that should be taken into consideration.

The Civic Efficacy of Charter Schools: A Literature Review, Chrystal S. Johnson, Xiaoyue Chin and Harvey Hinton 

Johnson, Chin, and Hinton begin by acknowledging that past literature has made convincing arguments supporting the civic efficacy of charter schools. Most commonly, they have argued that the small size of charter schools, their innovative curriculum, and parental engagement in school administration, have created an environment that positively impacts youth civic attainment through their ability to readily adopt best practices in civic education and encourage (or mandate) extracurricular activities that support civic learning. Despite this, there is a dearth of empirical research on the civic dimensions of charter schools and the broader impact of their role in educational reform on American democracy. To fill this gap, the researchers employ key elements of the Octagon Model to conceptualize how charter schools influence civic learning. As well as placing youth at the center of the civic development process, this model clarifies the role that schools, through teachers, curricula, and engagement opportunities, affect civic outcomes. 

Johnson, Chin, and Hinton’s research constitutes a systematic literature review guided by two questions: (1) the status of civic education in charter schools in the context of the octagon model and (2) the extent to which charter schools alleviate the effect of socioeconomic stratification to improve civic learning outcomes. In terms of charter schools as carriers of civic learning, the review found that overall, civic learning is an explicit goal for most charter schools studied in the literature, such as Democracy Prep and National Heritage Academies though the way they were carried out varied widely. However, for-profit schools focus on  concepts such as individual responsibility and personal character, while undervaluing the collective good. School climate is also highly variable, with one study positing that charter school variability creates an environment where everyone at the school is united around a common mission. This can include a mission to develop engaged, responsible citizens, such as at the Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy, which incorporates whole-school civic education practices, but depends on the school. In terms of curriculum, studies were divided. Some found that private school students were the most civically and politically engaged compared to their charter school and traditional public school peers, while charter school students remained more engaged than their public school peers. However, one study using the 2010 NAEP civics assessment found no statistically significant difference in civic achievement between charter and public school students. For participation opportunities, schools were again highly variable; schools such as the Cesar Chavez school exposed students to political participation opportunities, while for-profit charters like NHA and Democracy Prep embedded civic participation expectations into their mission and curriculum, and a study of charter teachers found a conspicuous lack of civic engagement expectations. 

Finally, the most marked results involved socioeconomic and racial stratification. Charter schools have the largest market share in school districts that serve our nation’s poorest, most vulnerable students. As just one example, they have a 92% share in the New Orleans Public School System, which has a 62% poverty rate. This is why it’s essential that we understand their outcomes on civic education and future engagement— they have a sizeable role to play in helping underrepresented, disadvantaged groups make a change in their communities and affect the political landscape as a whole, balancing the scales of political power away from the affluent communities they usually favor. 

Intercultural and Civic Education— Best Practices, Maria Metodieva Genova

Derived from Byram’s model of foreign language education, the concept of intercultural competence was created to assist foreign language teachers in the process of teaching and assessing different aspects of culture. It promotes skills such as knowledge of different social groups, interpreting and relating products from the target culture and being able to explain them through similar ones in their own culture, discovery and interaction skills, an attitude of tolerance, and critical cultural awareness through which students are able to evaluate perspectives and traditions from other cultures. This framework is elucidated further by UNESCO in the Intercultural Competencies Framework, which as well as the above skills includes skills such as cultural shifting, resilience, and intercultural literacy. Genova’s review and guidance for best practices is set in the context of Bulgaria’s shift towards a focus on intercultural competence, which follows a broader trend of many EU member countries launching education reform programs to integrate this principle across school curricula. She focuses on implementing some of Byram’s ideas of teaching culture; combining knowledge about other cultures and traditions with knowledge from other courses, particularly history; and  having students participate in mock cultural situations where they can demonstrate active citizenship. 

Both in-class and out-of-class activities are essential for building intercultural competencies. Out-of-class activities are used for foreign language teaching and analyzing practices from the target culture. Two examples are given. The first is a drama program for a mixed group of students from the 8th grade wherein students first study popular traditions from the target culture, connecting them to their own culture, and then proceed to create a short stage play thematically connected to a custom from the target culture. The second is preparation for a Moot Court competition on Human Rights in the Hague. In the first stage, students attended a seminar called to develop their intercultural communication skills. This was followed by experiential learning, where students were made to observe rounds of a Moot Court competition at the Palace of Justice in Sofia. The final stage was ‘learning to do,’ where students participated in a moot court competition and put their skills to the test. 

Good practices for in-class activities include developing lesson plans with three stages. Stage 1 involves learning by comparison, introducing a concept through an original text and having students analyze cultural traits and compare them with their home culture through that text. Stage 2 is ‘learning by doing,’ similar to the structure of the out-of-class activity described above, where teachers have students apply cultural knowledge through a role-play activity or similar interactive project. Stage 3 involves students creating on their own, fulfilling the highest level of learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy. In this stage, they should pursue an independent project that allows them to synthesize their newfound cultural knowledge and share with their peers. By pursuing these practices, Genova’s hope is that students will develop the capacity for lifelong intercultural learning as well as developing fundamental skills. 

New Learning Sites in Learning Cities— Public Pedagogy and Civic Education, Katarina Popkovic, Maja Maksimovic, Aleksa Jovanovic, Jelena Joksimovic 

The learning city, a program pioneered by UNESCO and OECD, is a form of adult civic education that can facilitate lifelong learning of civic skills outside the classroom and build an engaged populace. They were catalyzed by the creation of the 2030 sustainable development goals, since they emerged as a clear answer to SDG 4 (quality education and lifelong learning for all). Learning cities generally capture three main dimensions of lifelong learning: being green and healthy, being equitable and inclusive (fostering intercultural dialogue and social cohesion), and employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. The process of becoming a learning city is a long one that requires commitment from national and municipal governments, taking years of development and, as a result, having the unfortunate consequence of being at the mercy of opportunistic politicians and political parties. The dominant discourse often neglects the political aspect of learning cities, including the nature of city governance and the balance of power between city leaders and residents. 

The aspect of the learning city most of interest to us is its role in a public pedagogy of civic education through political actions that occur within it. There are three main elements to this that the researchers focus on. The first is public spaces as mass classrooms. Protest walks and actions are the main examples of this; with each new protest, people who previously had no organizing experience learned more about how to engage, react, manage, and resolve conflict. The researchers point out that public space is formed by personal and interpersonal experiences, including interactions, memories, and constructed meanings. In this context, marching and protesting citizens are physically sending the message that spaces belong to them, and occupying and re-designing spaces— as we have seen in the United States with the recent Occupy City Hall protests in New York— becomes more than a one day event, echoing a claim for human and civic rights. The city constantly changes through citizen engagement; the authors argue that solidarity and direct action are the bedrock of this type of interaction, and that bridging the individual and communal interests is essential to anywhere where ‘neoliberal logic’ has taken hold. The second is “guerilla learning.” This occurs when policies are implemented without any public discussion or acknowledgement, and people learn about issues that will change their lives for the worse by taking away their space, resources, and rights. As part of the process, they learn how to fight these policies, join others, and influence their relationship with government. Finally, there is learning in public discussions, where citizens engage with political leaders in public forums such as town halls and planning meetings where citizens are invited to comment. Here, citizens can actively propose solutions for change and learn about local governance through debate that occurs. 

The researchers argue that public spaces for civic learning are necessary to overcome the individualistic framework of civic education that is inspired by neoliberal ideology, and return to collective social and political engagement in democratic processes. 

Written by U4SC Summer Intern, Julia Pepper