what’s going on at the office

We just signed a contract to repeat a national survey of young Americans that was last conducted in 2002. It’s a broad assessment of young people’s civic and political engagement, not narrowly focused on voting and political opinions. Repeating the survey will give us a chance to update our numbers and also to analyze the young population in some detail.

CIRCLE has recently created a nice online interactive map that shows youth voting statistics by state.

Jim Youniss of Catholic University and I have been awarded a Carnegie Foundation grant to pull together a scholarly group that will try to bridge the gap between developmental pyschology and political science. Psychologists know a lot about how the political system makes people into active or alienated citizens; but they tend to be ahistorical. They talk about “politics” or “government” in general, and don’t consider how (and why) politics has changed. Political scientists know all about the changes in our political system, but they rarely consider its impact on political socialization. Jim and I are charged with trying to fill that gap.

Earlier this week, I watched videos of two focus groups: teachers in Portland, OR and parents in Cleveland, OH. These focus groups had been commissioned by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which is an advocacy coalition dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the Civic Mission of Schools report. An important first step is to find out which arguments for civic education (broadly construed) are most effective. It was odd (and, frankly, something of an ego-trip) to watch strangers 3,000 miles away being read passages from a report that I had helped to write. Generally speaking, the teachers were very enthusiastic about it. One teacher said, “It’s hard to imagine what else [anyone] could come up with.” They all endorsed the idea that schools have a civic mission. They were also very knowledgeable; in conversation, they referred to service-learning, the Center for Civic Education, Deborah Meier, and even Paul Wellstone’s Civic Education Enhancement Act. They were leery of additional tests in social studies–but so am I. Predictably, the parents’ group was much less knowledgeable and enthusiastic. As one of the teachers said: If you ask parents whether schools have a civic mission, they will agree, because they know it’s the right thing to say. But they really want their own kids to get an education that will help them to get ahead; “civic education is for other people kids.”

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2 Responses to what’s going on at the office

  1. Bean says:

    That’s very good news about the Carnegie Grant. Congratulations… and enjoy!!

  2. Robert Turner says:

    Dear Doctor Levine,

    I am currently writing my dissertation in political theory (in the Department of Government) at Cornell University. My dissertation focuses on conscious transformative practice and sociopolitical change. I am trying to combine neuropsychological and social/political theoretical models.

    I wonder if you might help advise me in my writing. I would be more than happy to send you what I have been writing so far. Your description of the current disciplinary division of labor reads like part of my introductory chapter. What a nice surprise.

    Do you think we might be able to correspond?

    Yours,

    Robert Turner

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