The New Civics Initiative Grants


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2013 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Matthew Baggetta | Uncovering the Civic Extracurriculum: Systematic Social Observation of Collegiate Associations
Carolyn Barber | Cross-Cohort Changes in Civic Attitudes from 1999-2009 in Sixteen Countries: Measurement and Contextual and Participatory Correlates
Ilene Berson, Michael Berson, Kankam Boadu, Kafui Etsey, Alex Kwao, and Clement Agezo | Young Children as Apprentice Citizens: A Comparative Case Study Analysis of the Role of Literacy in Empowering Civic Engagement in Ghana and the United States
Peter Bobkowski | Civic Action Journalism in School Newspaper Programs
Andrea Dyrness | Becoming Citizens in Times of Crisis: Latino Immigrant Youth in Spain
Connie Flanagan | Developmental Patterns in Conceiving of the Commons: Civic Action and Learning in Environmental Education
Jacqueline Kennelly | Encountering Democracy: Low Income Canadian Youths
Sharon Lamb | Sex Education as Ethics Education in the New Civics
Walter Parker, John Bransford, Diem Nguyen, Susan Nolen, and Sheila Valencia | Knowledge in Action 2.0 - Deep Learning and Engagement in the High School Government Course

Matthew Baggetta
Uncovering the Civic Extracurriculum: Systematic Social Observation of Collegiate Associations
Indiana University

Baggetta’s study has two aims: (1) to better understand how college students learn civic attitudes and behaviors in extracurricular settings and (2) to improve the quality of data collected on voluntary associations. To accomplish this, Baggetta and a team of research assistants will develop a systematic social observation (SSO) approach to studying civic groups and apply that to a set of active collegiate associations. SSO uses multiple trained observers and carefully constructed forms to capture rich, comparable data from observable settings. Baggetta’s team will use the SSO forms to observe the events and meetings held by a diverse sample of campus-based, student-led associations. This approach will offer a more accurate, detailed understanding of what goes on in student associations, including assessments of group culture often missed in survey research because participants take group culture for granted. Methodologically, this work will create a new way for scholars to study associations of many kinds. Substantively, the data collected will provide a detailed understanding of the range of civic experiences created and encountered by college students.

Carolyn Barber
Cross-Cohort Changes in Civic Attitudes from 1999-2009 in Sixteen Countries: Measurement and Contextual and Participatory Correlates
University of Missouri-Kansas City

The purpose of this study is to examine how patterns of civic attitudes have changed among young people in sixteen countries by comparing cohorts of 14-year-olds from 1999 and 2009. Unlike “variable-centered” designs that focus on correlations between one attitude and another, this work will take a “person-centered” approach that identifies categories of young people based on their profiles of responses on multiple relevant attitudes, providing a more holistic approach to the study of civic engagement. This work will be conducted in three steps. First, we will create measurement models that can ensure that attitudes are measured in equivalent ways in the 1999 Civic Education Study and the 2009 International Civics and Citizenship Education Study, both of which were conducted by IEA. Second, we will conduct analyses to identify profiles of civics attitudes, and describe how the frequency of membership in these profiles varies across cohorts and countries. Finally, we will examine other factors related to attitudinal profile membership. Most importantly, we will consider how experiences in educational contexts are associated with profile membership and whether those with different attitudinal profiles have different current experiences in, and future experiences for, civic action.

Ilene Berson, Michael Berson,Kankam Boadu, Kafui Etsey, Alex Kwao and Clement Agezo
Young Children as Apprentice Citizens: A Comparative Case Study Analysis of the Role of Literacy in Empowering Civic Engagement in Ghana and the United States
University of South Florida

The researchers will conduct a comparative multi-case study of civic education in kindergarten classrooms serving low income students in the United States and Ghana. The study will address how early childhood curriculum and pedagogy reflect conceptions of the dispositions and behaviors expected of citizens within different national contexts. The central research questions are: 1) How does the United States and Ghanaian early childhood curriculum and pedagogy prepare children to become participatory citizens in a democracy? 2) What are parental and teacher expectations for kindergarteners' civic engagement and behavior in Ghana and the United States? 3) How do Ghanaian and United States kindergartners conceive of themselves and others as citizens? This project includes various data collection procedures, such as document analysis of children’s literature and classroom materials, observation of kindergarten classrooms, and interviews of school stakeholders (faculty, caregivers, and children). In order to reflect culturally relevant understanding of the phenomenon and promote active engagement of young children in the research, video-cued and multi-vocal methodology will give voice to participants in each community and engage them in analyzing the institutions of which they are a part.

Peter Bobkowski
Civic Action Journalism in School Newspaper Programs
University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc.

This project examines the potential of school newspaper programs to promote civic development among participating students. Ninety percent of public secondary schools in the United States offer a journalism program or a student publication. These programs can provide rich civic learning environments that converge on media content production, promoting effective use of digital media for civic purposes. The study focuses on students’ civic action journalism, that is, their use of student media to address school and community issues.

Bobkowski will measure the prevalence of civic action journalism by surveying student journalists and their advisors in metropolitan Kansas City. He will examine the contextual and personal factors that accompany civic action journalism. Because the project area spans two states, the study will assess whether state educational policy protecting student journalists’ speech relates to civic action journalism. The study also will examine the extent to which administrative oversight of student content, school climate, advisor experience, as well as student interest and efficacy are linked to civic action journalism. Taking a prospective view, the study will assess whether students’ current engagement in civic action journalism is associated with their anticipated future civic engagement.

Andrea Dyrness
Becoming Citizens in Times of Crisis: Latino Immigrant Youth in Spain
Trinity College

This research seeks to examine the formation of civic identity among immigrant youth of Latin American origin in Madrid, Spain. Building on existing research on the schooling experiences of immigrant youth in Spanish schools, and on identity-formation in transnational Latino communities, this research explores the civic consequences of students’ experiences in the diaspora. Moving away from deficit-framed stories of immigrant youth that focus on their failure to assimilate (or educational institutions’ failure to assimilate them), my research aims to highlight the creative cultural production by diasporic youth who inhabit the “spaces between nations” (Villenas 2007), and to identify new forms of citizenship and civic action made possible by “diasporic subjectivities.” I propose to do so by using an innovative methodology that is uniquely suited to investigating civic identity and diasporic citizenship—participatory action research (PAR)—which will, I believe, both yield new insights into the production of active, engaged civic identities and contribute to the conditions which allow these identities to thrive. The study thus hopes to generate not only new theoretical and empirical knowledge about immigrant youth citizenship, but also to demonstrate a methodology that affirms and supports democratic citizenship formation among these youth.

Connie Flanagan
Developmental Patterns in Conceiving of the Commons: Civic Action and Learning in Environmental Education
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In this project we explore students’ understanding of civic concepts at the heart of environmental issues. In collaboration with teachers who are part of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS) we are investigating the potential of eco-justice education for developing students’ understanding of civic concepts such as the commons, interdependence of humans and other living things, social responsibility and collective action. In SEMIS projects elementary, middle- and high-school students from a broad range of socioeconomic and racial-ethnic backgrounds partner with community organizations to identify, study, and address environmental issues in their communities. Through hands-on collective action, youth take responsibility for the commons that citizens share and develop their identities as environmental stewards and agents of change. Our team is coding artifacts from students’ projects and their responses to open-ended questions about what they did and learned from their community actions. Themes in our coding scheme include references to civic skills, collective efficacy, power, government, environmental resources as a commons, interdependence, and social responsibility. Results will reveal the relatively untapped potential of place-based environmental and sustainability education for developing the civic understanding, agency, and commitments to the commons in younger generations.

Jacqueline Kennelly
Encountering Democracy: Low Income Canadian Youths
Carleton University

This pilot research study will investigate how low-income, homeless, and/or marginally housed youth in Ottawa, Canada experience and perceive democracy and citizenship. I intend to test the feasibility of visual, spatial, and action-research methods within one research site, with the intention of later expanding the project to multiple national sites. The research questions that inform both the pilot and the longer-term project are as follows:

  1. What are the avenues of access and exclusion that low-income youth experience in their every day encounters in the city and how do these map onto their sense of belonging and citizenship within urban and national spaces?
  2. Are there alternative modes of civic and democratic engagement practiced by low-income youth, and what form do these take?
  3. What are the modalities by which low-income youth might be meaningfully connected to more formal aspects of democratic engagement, in order to influence policy makers and politicians?

There are three phases to this project. Phase 1 will consist of focus group discussions, designed to establish a base-line of youths’ views on civic engagement and democracy, as well as to build trust between participants and researchers. In Phase 2, the youth will take photographs (visual) with disposable cameras of aspects of the city that they would like to see change. We will also ask participants to take us on ‘walking tours’ of the city as they live it and experience it (spatial). Phase 3 will involve an ‘action-based’ initiative, built from the mutual knowledge generated through the previous two phases. In this phase, I will work with the youth to advocate for change through civically-engaged methods (e.g. through letter-writing, petitioning, protesting, or other relevant means).

Sharon Lamb
Sex Education as Ethics Education in the New Civics
University of Massachusetts-Boston

This New Civics project focuses on the Sexual Ethics for a Caring Society Curriculum (SECS-C), which was developed to address current problems in sex education in the United States. Sex education today focuses primarily on health behavior and reducing risk. Students are directed to look at their own behavior and make changes and/or decisions to keep themselves healthy. The SECS-C asks students to think about how they will treat other people in sexual relationships. It is also an ethics curriculum that asks students to develop their thinking in a socially-minded way, to address the needs of society. The curriculum asks students to think through sexual stereotypes, the ethics of pornography and the effects of media objectification. It requires students to develop reasoned deliberation, ground their convictions, and envision society differently. We are analyzing in depth the process in the classroom as students discuss social issues that are part of the curriculum (e.g. consent, pornography, religion and sex, sexual rights). How do students defend and justify their opinions? How do they adhere to mainstream or familiar ways of thinking about these issues and respond to new ideas around the ethics of sex and sexuality? In the end we hope to analyze both the way they talk about sexual issues using ethical perspectives that they are taught and to examine how they might move towards talking about these issues from a less personal and more socially minded perspective.

Walter Parker, John Bransford, Diem Nguyen, Susan Nolen, and Sheila Valencia
Knowledge in Action 2.0 - Deep Learning and Engagement in the High School Government Course
University of Washington

The high school U. S. Government and Politics course is the primary site of formal civic learning in the United States. Most high school students take the course, yet it is often ignored in the civic education literature while more exotic but less populated programs are created or investigated. How can this stable but mundane and often passive course be moved in the direction of a lively forum for knowledge construction and civic action? And what would constitute deep and adaptive rather than superficial and rote learning in it? This mixed-methods, design-based study will (a) implement and investigate in two school systems the second generation of a transformed course centered on a rigorous form of project-based learning and a learning cycles approach; (b) do so on the challenging Advanced Placement platform where speed and coverage often count for rigor; (c) develop and analyze a measure of deep civic learning to be used alongside the AP test; and (d) develop and study in-class literacy and engagement supports to help low-income urban students succeed in the course. In tandem, our study joins a perennial debate in civic education—democratic knowledge versus democratic action.

2012 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Jaimie Bleck | New Civics: Local Radio Making Democratic Agents in Rural Africa
David Edward Campbell | Family Matters: How Home and Family Life Affect Youth Civic Engagement
Dafney Blanca Dabach | Civic Lessons and Immigrant Youth: Teacher Practice and Student Experience in an Election Year
Jennifer Hauver James | Civic Mindfulness in Elementary Teaching & Learning
Peter Levine | Civic Education, Youth Electoral Engagement and Public Policy
Brett Levy | How Do Factors in the Political Context Influence Adolescents' Political Engagement and Teachers' Pedagogy?
Emma Thomas | Structured Small Group Interaction and the Foundations of Civic Participation
Ariadne Vromen | The Civic Network: A Comparative Study of the Use of Social Media for Enhancing Young People's Political Engagement

Jaimie Bleck
New Civics: Local Radio Making Democratic Agents in Rural Africa
University of Notre Dame

Bleck's study examines whether and how radio programming enhances citizens' civic participation. The study is set in rural Mali, where literacy in the official government language is low and access to radio is generally limited. Bleck hypothesizes that access to national public radio, which broadcasts international, national, and local news; health education; soap operas; and conflict resolution, can increase citizens' civic political participation and decrease political marginalization of women and youth, who are typically dependent on male elders for access to much political information. Outcomes of interest include civic and political knowledge; participation in political discussion and deliberation; and willingness and ability to bring demands to relevant governmental authorities.

Bleck employed a randomized controlled experiment, in which women and youth group leaders are randomly selected to be given radios. The effects on individuals given radios as well as on the individuals' family and associates will then be studied. By gathering panel data over the course of a year, Bleck and her team will also be able to assess the relationships between a scheduled national referendum and election and changes across time in listening behavior, civic learning, and civic participation.

David Edward Campbell
Family Matters: How Home and Family Life Affect Youth Civic Engagement
University of Notre Dame

Campbell's project explores how family life influences the civic development of adolescents, how family and school experiences relate to one another, and how the degree of family-school congruence in those experiences relates to civic learning and civic norms. Campbell proposes a set of possible home factors that might illuminate the relationship between family life and civic outcomes, including: a democratic culture, instruction, family exemplars, exposure to news media and the like, membership in organizations (youth groups, sports, etc.) and religion. The role of school variables will also be examined, including exposure to political discussions in school, extracurricular activities, and participation in democratic decision making. The central component of the study is a nationally representative panel survey of 2000 thirteen- to seventeen-year-olds and one of each of their parents, conducted at baseline and again every twelve months for three years, for a total of four waves. Because Campbell will know which school each participant attends, he will be able to attach data about school size, school demographics, and other school variables. Geocode information on respondents will allow him to merge Census and other contextual data with the survey. Focus groups and interviews will inform the development of measures and the interpretation of quantitative results.

Dafney Blanca Dabach
Civic Lessons and Immigrant Youth: Teacher Practice and Student Experience in an Election Year
University of Washington

Dabach's study investigates how secondary social studies teachers envision and enact civic lessons with immigrant youth during the 2012 presidential election season. Drawing from teacher and student interview data as well as classroom observations, this qualitative study examines teacher practice and student experience in the context of understanding the multiple meanings of voting, citizenship, and political participation in heterogeneous classroom contexts. This study contributes to laying the groundwork for understanding more about civics teaching in circumstances where students' nation-based citizenship rights are not guaranteed. More broadly, this study contributes to efforts to understand questions of teachers' roles within processes of immigrant integration as well as questions about the nature of civic education in complex and diverse contexts.

Jennifer Hauver James
Civic Mindfulness in Elementary Teaching & Learning
University of Georgia

To date, very little research has explored the development of civic dispositions and skills among primary school students. This project breaks new ground in this area through a two-year process of refining a theoretical model and corresponding analytical tools for capturing the cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal dimensions of students' civic mindfulness in response to specific methodological approaches--those that aim to prepare students for investigating complex issues, for using collaborative inquiry and community-based service to effect positive change, and for developing a sense of agency through expressive and service activities.

PI Jennifer James will develop a series of critical service-learning (CSL) units in collaboration with two primary school teachers, who will collaboratively implement the units, and will gather data through pre- and post-surveys of participating students, academic records, videotaped lessons, student interviews, and student work samples. Data from this design-based research study will be used to inform the design of CSL units and will be analyzed in order to describe students' development in civic mindfulness and its relationship to participation in CSL.

Peter Levine
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg

Civic Education, Youth Electoral Engagement and Public Policy
Tufts University

Peter Levine, Director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), is leading a multi-faceted project to examine relationships among electoral participation in the November 2012 election, educational policies and opportunities, and voting laws. The Spencer Foundation's support of this project covers a national survey of 4,300 young adults, ages 18-24, immediately following the November election; reanalysis of data from two national surveys conducted during the 2012 election (Knowledge Networks and the Census Current Population November Supplement); and the convening of a scholarly commission that will meet in 2013 to discuss the research findings and to identify implications for education and voting policy. A range of hypotheses will be explored through analyses, concerning the relationship of civic education experiences to political knowledge and voting behavior; the relationship of being contacted by political campaigns or other organizations to voting; the relationship of voting laws to quality of civic education; and the relationship of state civic education and voting laws to informed voting.

Brett Levy
How Do Factors in the Political Context Influence Adolescents' Political Engagement and Teachers' Pedagogy?
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Levy's study examines the relationships among youth political engagement, teacher practices, and two major aspects of the political context: electoral processes and local political culture. The study will offer new insights about how evolving political circumstances might influence engagement during adolescence, a crucial phase for political identity development. It will also examine how factors in the political context might influence teachers' inclusion, exclusion, or handling of political issues in the curriculum.

Using mixed methods, Levy will analyze qualitative and quantitative data, including student surveys, student and teacher interviews, and classroom observations in the course of a major election year (presidential election and governor's recall). Levy's research will be conducted at three different Wisconsin high schools with varying dominant political orientations: left-leaning, right-leaning, and ideologically balanced. This variation in schools' ideological diversity, a key aspect of their local political culture, will allow for a comparison of the political engagement development of adolescents whose political perspectives clash or correspond with those of their communities to varying degrees. Findings from this research will facilitate the development of curriculum and educational experiences that foster civic and political engagement among youth in different political contexts.

Emma Thomas
Structured Small Group Interaction and the Foundations of Civic Participation
Murdoch University

Based on prior research, Thomas is interested in the possibility that "informal small group interaction can galvanize attitudes, identity, and action" in the civic arena. The goal of this study is to understand the contribution of two possible mechanisms underlying this relationship-building consensus around opinions and building consensus around action. These will be tested in the context of small groups of Australian youth (ages 15-17) learning about and discussing issues related to access to safe drinking water in developing countries.

Thomas will carry out an experiment in which youth are first asked to read information about safe drinking water in developing countries. Then they will be randomly assigned to discuss this issue in small groups tasked with reaching a consensus of opinion about the issue and/or or reaching a consensus about action. Quantitative data from student surveys and qualitative data from the interactions themselves will be analyzed to determine whether and how the different processes of trying to reach consensus in small group interaction contribute, separately or in combination, to opinion-based social identity, to action-based social identity, to intentions to act, and to later actions.

Ariadne Vromen, University of Sydney
Michael Xenos, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Brian Loader, University of York
The Civic Network: A Comparative Study of the Use of Social Media for Enhancing Young People's Political Engagement

Vromen, Xenos, and Loader will conduct a study of how the use of online technologies relates to young people's political activity, and whether such technology use differs according to social background. These issues will be examined in each of three countries: Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The comparative project will allow questions about how differing national contexts relate to youth culture and to civic motivations and behaviors.

The study builds on and extends single-country cases or multi-country survey research that uses narrow and standardized measures. The approach used here will combine survey research with online discussion groups. The surveys will be conducted with representative samples of approximately 1200 people aged sixteen to twenty-nine in each country. Surveys will provide both quantitative and qualitative data about young people's use of social media for civic purposes. Online discussion groups will provide opportunities to develop deeper understandings of the civic behavior of young people online, both by capturing new and emerging forms of participation, and by providing opportunities for reflection and dialogue.

2011 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Lee Ann Banaszak| Learning Protest: Youth Attitudes Toward Protest as Civic Action in a Cross-national Perspective
Kraig Beyerlein | Does Civic Action Transform Young Adults?
Patricia Bromley | Varieties of the New Civics: Institutional Influences on the Evolution of Civic Education Curricula in the US and Canada, 1850-2010
Kendall Cotton Bronk | The Development of Purpose among Rural Youth.
William Damon | The Development of Civic Purpose among Diverse Populations of American Youth: A Short-term Longitudinal Study.
Doug McAdam | Civic Education of Disadvantaged Youth: How Does School Context Matter?
Meira Levinson | Defining Civic Action.
Elizabeth Levy Paluck | A Social Network Approach to Influencing Civic Behavior: Building Cultures of Tolerance in Schools.
Jesse Rhodes | How Education Accountability Shapes Citizens’ Civic Attitudes and Behavior.
Jeremy Stoddard | How Young People’s Political Backgrounds Influence Their “Reading” and Discussion of Media.
Veronica TerriquezUncovering Patterns of Civic Engagement among California's Diverse Youth Population.
Kenneth Wong Initiative on Civic Learning and Civic Action.

Lee Ann Banaszak
Learning Protest: Youth Attitudes Toward Protest as Civic Action in a Cross-national Perspective, Pennsylvania State University.

Banaszak's study concerns the ways in which youth learn about and perceive peaceful protests as a means of civic engagement. Using a sample of young adults surveyed as part of the 1999 International Educational Achievement Civic Education survey, Banaszak seeks to explain how acceptance of peaceful protest varies both across and within countries. Specifically, the study focuses on four questions: 1) How does a nation's political context (the amount and form of protest) influence young citizens' civic attitudes? 2) How does protest concerning specific issues (e.g., environment or immigration) influence adolescents' attitudes toward the subject? 3) Do teachers' orientations influence student attitudes toward protest? 4) How do teacher values and political protest interact? By combining information on countries' protest events with the IEA surveys, Banaszak will contribute to an understanding of how young citizens learn protest as a form of civic action, as well as how dramatic events shape the opinions of future citizens.

Kraig Beyerlein
Does Civic Action Transform young Adults?, University of Notre Dame.

Previous research on youth’s civic action presents mixed evidence about effects of this early action on later civic attitudes and involvement. Some studies suggest a positive impact, while other studies reveal no impact, or even a negative one. Beyerlein’s project is an attempt to identify new mechanisms underlying this relationship and to discover how different types of volunteer experiences may lead to different levels of civic involvement.

This research draws on a pool of applicants to the philanthropic organization No More Deaths (NMD), which provides life-saving aid to migrants crossing the Arizona-México border. Data for the study are gathered both through application data and through surveys of the roughly 1200 individuals who applied to NMD between 2004 and 2010. Survey questions for all applicants include closed- and open-ended questions about applicants’ later actions, experiences, attitudes, and identities. Program participants will be asked specifically about their volunteer experiences. Beyerlein is interested in a number of possible future outcomes for the youth who participate in this program, such as occupation, volunteering for community service, political action, worldview, and identity. By comparing outcomes for applicants who ultimately participated in NMD with outcomes for those who did not, while controlling for possible pre-existing differences between participants and non-participants, Beyerlein is testing both “treatment” effects of participation and the possible mechanisms of these effects—in particular, specific effects of training, provided by the program, in Spanish and medical skills. Additional analyses, based solely on program participants, will explore how dimensions of the actual service experience, such as duration and intensity of the experience, may affect outcomes.

Patricia Bromley
Varieties of the New Civics: Institutional Influences on the Evolution of Civic Education Curricula in the US and Canada, 1850-2010, University of Utah

While civics education has evolved from reinforcing ideas of culturally homogeneous citizens loyal to their country to an emphasis on equality, active citizenship, and global issues, the particulars of this New Civics have taken on very different forms throughout the world. This study aims to explain how two similar countries, the United States and Canada, have evolved to have such puzzling differences in conceptions of contemporary civic engagement. Bromley will accomplish this by examining the evolution of citizenship education from 1850 to the present within California and British Columbia. The study will conduct a detailed content analysis of 160 civic education textbooks since 1850 (80 from each state/province) and an archival investigation of the process used to create textbook content in order to track changes in civic education curricula in the US and Canada. By tracing the civic ideals of these countries back to their early histories, Bromley intends to show that contemporary differences in visions of the New Civics were not predestined by inherent cultural traits of the two countries, but are instead explained by the evolution of each country's institutional structures.

Kendall Cotton Bronk
The Development of Purpose among Rural Youth, Ball State University. 

In this study, Cotton Bronk considers how youth develop life purpose in the social and economic circumstances of rural areas of the US. Developing a purpose in life, represented by a long-term, personally meaningfully intention to act on behalf of the broader good, may be especially important for youth in the challenging economic conditions of these areas. At the same time, rural areas may be particularly likely to foster this development, both because economic ties to the land embed individuals in rural communities and because these communities typically provide strong support for adolescent activities associated with positive youth development.

Cotton Bronk is carrying out this research with a sample of 75 11th- and 12th-graders in the Midwest. In a first round of data collection, the youth will participate in interviews and surveys designed to reveal the nature of purpose among rural youth, youth interactions with individuals and institutions in their communities, and aspects of youths’ positive development. Using these data, Cotton Bronk will conduct statistical analyses to explore how purpose may translate into youths’ community involvement. In a second round of data collection, interviews with young people will probe the nature of their involvement with different community institutions, with the purpose of understanding how rural communities can intentionally and effectively support the development of purpose among rural adolescents.

William Damon
The Development of Civic Purpose among Diverse Populations of American Youth: A Short-term Longitudinal Study, Stanford University. 

Damon’s project builds on his previous influential work on “civic purpose”—sustained intention to contribute to the world beyond the self through civic and political action—and on a Spencer-funded pilot study. Along with Anne Colby and other team members, Damon seeks to understand better the sources of motivation that can inspire American youth to participate in constructive civic action, particularly youth from populations at risk of marginalization, including low-income, first- and second-generation immigrant youth. His more specific research questions include the following:

  • Is civic purpose exhibited differently by young people with differing immigration statuses, economic and cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, life experiences, beliefs, educational trajectories, and opportunities for organizational participation?
  • What kinds of life experiences, school contexts, family and community norms, and understandings of citizenship contribute to the development of civic purpose? What motivates the young people who aspire to civic leadership roles?
  • Can developmental precursors to civic purpose be identified? Do these precursors vary across diverse sectors of the youth population?

The study is based on longitudinal data gathered using both quantitative and qualitative methods. In the first wave, surveys will be administered to 1200 high school seniors in three highly diverse regions of California. Fifty survey respondents will be chosen for interviews, with a selection designed to include demographic categories of interest. Another nine students will be interviewed as “civic purpose exemplars.” All will be followed up longitudinally over the three year study period. Within a population of young people characterized by low levels of political involvement, Damon is seeking to learn why and how some are able to develop a sense of civic purpose.

Doug McAdam
Defining Civic Action, Civic Education of Disadvantaged Youth: How Does School Context Matter? Harvard University. 

This small grant enhances a research project currently underway (click on 2009, then Doug McAdam to view). In that study, McAdam collected survey and interview data from students from low-income families who won and lost lotteries for inter-district transfer into schools serving students from higher income families as well as survey data from a large number of the resident students in the receiving districts. McAdam and colleagues also administered surveys in three separate charter schools that include a civic component in their official mission. However, they also gathered considerable qualitative data at those charter schools. These qualitative data provide valuable information that helps explain some of the survey results in those schools. The current grant provides resources to collect comparable ethnographic data in the schools attended by the lottery students, both the resource rich school attended by the great majority of the transfer students and the school attended by the most students who remained in their neighborhood school. Together these data address questions about how school and peer contexts help explain the development of civic attitudes and behaviors in high school.

Meira Levinson
Defining Civic Action, Harvard University. 

Traditionally, “civics” has referred to a legally defined, public arena where citizens work toward the common good. The Spencer Foundation’s Civics Initiative, reflecting broader developments in thinking about civic action, expands civic action to include any public action that addresses social issues or power relations—protesting, boycotting, or blogging as well as voting and lobbying legislators. Meira Levinson argues that even this definition may be too limiting. On the one hand, limiting civic action to public action depends on a taken-for-granted boundary between public and private, a boundary that has been criticized by social theorists and blurred by contemporary social developments—in particular, the rise of interaction on the Internet. Second, she observes that by insisting on action directed toward the common good, we privilege the actions of well-resourced members of society, who may not need to worry primarily about their own welfare or that of their families or their specific communities.

With these concerns in mind, Levinson is preparing two empirically informed, philosophical papers 1) to lay out a more adequate definition of “civic action” and 2) to consider the educational implications of this new definition. In preparing these papers, she will draw upon historical scholarship, contemporary social science literatures, and educational research, while giving particular attention to youth perspectives and the perspectives of historically marginalized groups.

Elizabeth Levy Paluck
A Social Network Approach to Influencing Civic Behavior: Building Cultures of Tolerance in Schools, Princeton University

Conventionally, civic behavior is taught to students either as a set of skills to be learned or by offering persuasive messages regarding the value of the behavior. However, Levy Paluck is investigating the role that social norms-specifically, those that guide the behavior of student peer groups-play in diffusion and development of civic behavior. Her study, a field experiment conducted over one school year involving 40 public schools, randomly selects two types of student leaders, those who are widely popular in their high school and those who are leaders of friendship groups, for an intervention. In half the schools the student leaders are taught to model tolerant anti-bullying behavior; in the other half student leaders are taught to socially punish their peers when they exhibit intolerant bullying behavior. Paluck hopes to determine 1) which peers have the greatest influence on adolescents' perceptions of social norms, and 2) what method for communicating these norms is most effective for spreading behavior and for influencing long-term school culture. This model of social norms and behavior diffusion within school adolescent networks represents a unique approach to civic learning.

Jesse Rhodes
How Education Accountability Shapes Citizens’ Civic Attitudes and Behavior, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

Critics and proponents of education accountability policies such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) summon competing arguments about these policies’ effects on citizens’ civic engagement. Some argue that accountability reforms undermine citizens’ interest and involvement by perverting the purposes of education, exaggerating school problems, and interfering with popular community schools. Others claim that the same reforms reinforce civic engagement by reassuring citizens that schools can be made responsible for their performance. Rhodes’ study tests these arguments, and how they may apply to different populations in the US, by analyzing the impact of adults’ experiences with school accountability policies on their civic attitudes and behavior.

Using an original survey of a nationally representative sample of adults (ages 18-29), Rhodes will gather data on whether respondents, in their roles as community members, parents, students, or school staff, have had experiences in which their school has received recognition for strong student achievement or has been sanctioned for a poor record of student achievement. The survey will also gather demographic information and information about respondents’ civic attitudes and actions. Using these data, Rhodes will estimate the effect of exposure to education accountability policies on citizens’ civic agency, identification with government, and civic participation, including the interaction of such effects with citizens’ race, class, age, status, and relationship to affected school. Rhodes will also employ a range of methods to control for the potentially confounding effects of personal and community factors associated with different types of exposure to accountability policy.

Jeremy Stoddard
How Young People’s Political Backgrounds Influence Their “Reading” and Discussion of Media, College of William and Mary. 

In today’s media-saturated world, a key to developing democratic citizens is teaching young people to critically filter and analyze messages in the media. Like others, youth in contemporary society are most likely to encounter media content that affirms their own pre-existing political perspectives and to interact with others who share these perspectives. Thus, this study examines how young people’s reading of media is influenced by their political beliefs, knowledge, and experiences and by discussions with students with varied political perspectives.

The study is based on a series of viewings and discussions in which four groups of 8-10 youth, ages 18-22, will participate. Based on a pre-administered survey, the groups will be composed of students with liberal, conservative, centrist, and mixed (liberal and conservative) perspectives. The viewings—clips from the documentary films Labor Day; Hillary: The Movie; and The Response—will be followed by discussions designed to understand the impact of group deliberation on participants’ interpretations of messages and authorial perspectives in each film. Data will be gathered through the survey; observation of discussions; a questionnaire administered, at three time points, targeting participants’ knowledge and beliefs about the ideas in the film and how a film acts as a source of information; and follow-up interviews with a sample of participants.

Veronica Terriquez
Uncovering Patterns of Civic Engagement among California's Diverse Youth Population, University of Southern California

This study examines pathways to civic action, with a focus on young people from marginalized groups, defined here as low-income, racial minority, immigrant, and LGBTQ 18- to 26-year olds. Drawing on representative telephone survey data and in-depth interviews from the California Young Adult Study, Terriquez explores how adolescent participation in "politically salient" organizations (such as student government, community service organizations, and activist groups) shapes youths' subsequent civic participation in early adulthood. Terriquez's research aims to illuminate how different organizational contexts inspire or diminish the civic commitments of diverse youth and to inform policies and programs that seek to support the civic engagement of youth from marginalized communities.

Kenneth Wong
Initiative on Civic Learning and Civic Action, Brown University. 

Wong and his research team are studying the effects of an action-based civics program on the skills, motivations, and attitudes toward civic engagement of historically under-represented youth populations. In addition to studying these civic outcomes, the study will consider the possible impact of program participation on students’ academic engagement and attainment. The program they are studying is Generation Citizen, a classroom-based program for 9th- and 10th-graders that provides youth with a foundation of knowledge about government systems and social issues, gives them opportunities to research and develop approaches to an issue, and culminates in taking action and reflecting on action. Classes are taught by teams of college mentors and classroom teachers.

The study is taking place over two years in Generation Citizen’s three sites (Providence, Rhode Island; Boston; and New York City) with over 2,500 participating students per year from low-income communities that have been historically under-represented in the political process. A longitudinal study is also being conducted with 300 students participating in Generation Citizen and a control group of 200 demographically similar students in schools located in the same districts as participating schools. Data will be gathered through surveys, classroom observations, and interviews with students.

2010 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Ryan L. Claassen and J. Quin Monson | New Media, Civic Learning, and Civic Action Among Young People.
David Cunningham | Truth and Reconciliation as Civic Learning: Racial Contention and Contemporary Civic Action in Mississippi.
Sarah Warshauer Freedman | The Development of Ethical Civic Actors in the Face of Identity-Group Conflicts: Inside Secondary Schools in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland.
Henry Jenkins | Participatory Culture and Civic Learning.
Ben Kirshner, Shelley Zion, and Carlos Hipolito-Delgado Civic Learning and Action among Non-College Bound Youth: A Design-Based Study.
Scott Seider | Investigating the Impact of Ethical Philosophy Upon the Civic Identity and Actions of Urban Adolescents.

Ryan L. Claassen and J. Quin Monson
New Media, Civic Learning, and Civic Action Among Young People, Kent State University. 

This project is designed to investigate the relationship between course work related to civic education and civic action. The study includes the role of online media, such as social networking, in shaping political participation and political knowledge. Evidence of widespread use of new media for social networking among young people may be a reason for optimism among those fearing less social connectedness in recent generations. But the civic implications of virtual interaction are not well understood. More importantly, although technological innovation has changed the way lectures are delivered and the way class-related information is made available to students, educators have—for the most part—not yet explored whether the many virtues of in-class deliberation and debate are also produced by course work involving virtual student interaction.

Deploying an innovative research design, Professor Claassen’s and Professor Monson’s work will address basic questions about whether using online media in assignments affects students’ political participation, political knowledge, and other forms of political engagement. Also, because the project will track participants after the course work is completed, the study addresses important questions about the long-term effects of civic education. Finally, because the research will be conducted on two very different university campuses, it will address related questions about whether context, such as student affluence or the ideological composition of a campus community, mediates the impact of civic education.

David Cunningham
Truth and Reconciliation as Civic Learning: Racial Contention and Contemporary Civic Action in Mississippi, Brandeis University. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) are group efforts in which participants confront historic and divisive group-related patterns of behavior or events with an aim towards overcoming differences and promoting mutual respect. As such, they can be occasions for civic learning and civic action. But little is known about the role that TRCs play in building civic capacity or inviting civic action. What kinds of people are attracted to participate? How do they get involved and what is the nature of their involvement? How do both individual factors and community history and context influence the TRC and the people who become active in it? Does the presence of a civil rights-centered curriculum influence young people’s engagement in the TRC?

Cunningham will address these questions by focusing on a new TRC initiative: The Mississippi Truth Project (MTP). The MTP is a "statewide effort to create a culture of truth telling" to examine Mississippi’s history of systemic racial injustice. Cunningham will collect multiple forms of data, including observation at MTP events, interviews with attendees, commission volunteers, and official statement-givers, interviews with students from public schools in counties that have recently adopted educational initiatives focused on civil rights history as well as students from counties with no such initiatives, and data that identify the levels of past civil rights involvement and organized white vigilante activity in each county. Analyses will focus on how local county history and individual experience -- in combination with MTP recruitment activities, regional MTP organization and meeting activities and, for youth, exposure to civil rights curricular materials -- influence the involvement of individuals in the MTP.

Sarah Warshauer Freedman
The Development of Ethical Civic Actors in the Face of Identity-Group Conflicts: Inside Secondary Schools in the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland, University of California, Berkeley.

Freedman and co-project director Karen Murphy of Facing History and Ourselves will explore the processes by which young people develop as civic actors when, over time, the young people study identity-group conflicts and then engage in civic action. Of particular interest are students' experiences with violence and conflict, and how those experiences affect their development as civic actors. The study is situated in high school social studies classes in three parts of the world where the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum is taught –the United States, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. As the program materials describe it, Facing History and Ourselves “is an international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.” Freedman and Murphy see the Facing History curriculum as a particularly promising “tool” for developing students’ senses of civic responsibility and engaging them in civic actions. The curriculum is relatively constant across the three locales and so allows the research team to explore differences and similarities in how cultural and historical contexts relate to the development of civic responsibility for civic action.

This is a study in two parts. The central activity of the project is a qualitative investigation of a class of 20-30 diverse students in each locale. Students will be followed across two years of secondary schooling, with data to include classroom observations, student and teacher focus groups, teachers’ logs, and students’ work. The case studies will help answer two sets of research questions: (1) How does a class of students in Facing History classrooms in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the United States, where different identity groups come together, develop their awareness and understandings of local, national, and global civic issues? (2) In each locale, what is the role of identity-group conflict in students' developing understandings and in their stance toward action? For the second part of the study and to complement the qualitative data, in each country survey data will be collected from a larger sample of Facing History teachers and their students to answer questions about classroom teaching and student learning as well as students’ movement toward action. The teachers' surveys will assess their perceptions of their knowledge and skills for promoting students’ civic learning. The students’ surveys will provide data on their understandings about civic responsibility, civic participation, and tolerance of others.

Henry Jenkins
Participatory Culture and Civic Learning, University of Southern California.

This project investigates the ways in which young people interact in civically active online communities. By tracing participants’ involvement in two such communities, one originating in popular media fandom and the other a slightly traditionally defined activist group that has adopted new media as an integral part of their activities, Jenkins will examine the following questions. (1) How does involvement within participatory culture encourage young people of diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds to engage with civic issues? (2) What skills are developed through this informal learning and how do these skills inform future civic activities? (3) How do such communities create structures and conditions that facilitate informal civic learning? (4) What motivates people to move along the trajectories between participatory culture and civic engagement? And (5) To what extent does involvement in such groups result in informed, thoughtful, ethical, and ultimately sustainable, action?

For both communities, three sets of participants will be selected to participate in the research: members new to the community, those who have spent at least one year interacting in the community, and youth who have recently left the community. Interviews, focus groups, and participant observations, combined with analyses of member-generated videos and online commentaries, will address civic learning and civic participation over time. Organizational analyses will aim to understand how structures of organizational leadership and modes of communication disseminated through the online communities promote the development of shared knowledge and skills among participants. The focus of the project will be on the informal learning that occurs within such voluntary online organizations, linking these learning opportunities to the structures and processes of the organizations, and to the interests, goals, and other characteristics of the participants.

Ben Kirshner, Shelley Zion, and Carlos Hipolito-Delgado
Civic Learning and Action among Non-College Bound Youth: A Design-Based Study, University of Colorado, Boulder.

This design-based study of critical civic inquiry (CCI) projects in three public high schools responds to evidence of a “civic opportunity gap” facing sub-populations of students in under-resourced schools. There is limited research about how non college-tracked students develop into powerful civic actors and the school conditions that support or discourage their voice and participation. The study, therefore, revolves around CCI projects, in which students, as part of a specialized course on civic inquiry, reflect on their school experiences, identify a problem, investigate it systematically, and, together with school personnel, devise strategies to solve it.

Through a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collected and analyzed over three years, the study will assess processes of learning and change at three levels: individuals, learning environments, and schools. Individual outcomes of interest include civic identity and efficacy, academic engagement and academic self-efficacy, ethnic identity, and the development of civic skills, such as public speaking and group decision-making. Learning environment processes include describing the social organization of the classroom and forms of teacher-student dialogue that promote engagement and voice. School-level conditions include beliefs about student voice held by school personnel and changes in formal opportunities for student participation, such as peer mediation, student roles on hiring committees, or continued student action research.

Scott Seider
Investigating the Impact of Ethical Philosophy Upon the Civic Identity and Actions of Urban Adolescents, Boston University.

Seider will study an urban charter school serving a primarily low-income student population that includes in its mission developing students who have a sense of civic identity and social responsibility. The school has a strong ethical philosophy curriculum that challenges students to reflect upon their roles and responsibilities, both to the school and to other citizens of their city. This study will probe whether and how the curriculum achieves its desired ends, with the goal of providing more targeted information about the utility of a curriculum that focuses on civic learning and civic action through ethical philosophy.

Data will include pre-post surveys of the 350 students attending the charter school as well as a comparison group of 500 students attending similar schools (but which take different approaches to civic and character development). Interviews will be conducted with approximately 20 charter-school students (3 students per grade in grades six through twelve) and 20 students from the comparison schools. Both the surveys and interviews will focus on students’ civic beliefs, values, and actions. Parents and teachers of both sets of students will also be interviewed about students’ civic beliefs and behaviors, and any changes they have observed over the course of the academic year.

Finally, Seider and a doctoral research assistant will conduct approximately 100 observations of ethical philosophy classes, community meetings, advisory periods, and character education classes at the participating schools, with particular attention paid to lessons and discussions of civic identity and civic actions.

2009 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Amy J. Binder | Marginalized on Campus? A Study of Conservative Students on Two ‘Notoriously Liberal’ Universities
William Damon | Civic Identity and Participation among Diverse Populations of American Youth
Kate Eichhorn | Felt change: The Affective Dimension of Civic Action
Sarah A. Elwood and Katharyne W. Mitchell | Mapping Youth Journeys: From Place-Based Learning to Active Citizenship
Carole Hahn | Engaging Transnational Citizens: A Comparative Study of Civic Teaching and Learning for Civic Action
Paul Lichterman and Nina Eliasoph | Paid Civic Engagement: Young Interns in the Age of the Nonprofit
Doug McAdam | Civic Engagement among Disadvantaged Youth: How Does School Context Matter?
Krista M. Perreira | Southern Immigrant Civic Adaptation Study
Robert D. Putnam and Bruce Western | Inequality and Youth Civic Participation  

Amy J. Binder
Marginalized on Campus? A Study of Conservative Students on Two ‘Notoriously Liberal’ Universities
University of California, San Diego

Binder’s study will examine the identities and political practices of conservative students on two college campuses. The study responds in part to critics who accuse predominantly liberal college faculty of creating environments that are hostile to conservative students. In this project Binder will pose questions about conservative students on campus: Who are they? How do their identity and their political practices relate to their history and background, to their experiences on campus, and to their future career aspirations? How are they involved in formal and informal college groups? Do their college affiliations and activities translate into leadership roles and civic action after they leave their institutions? On the institutional side, how do universities reproduce particular kinds of conservative action from cohort to cohort, while making others less likely to emerge or take hold?

The investigation will be conducted on two college campuses that differ along several dimensions (including geographic region, public/private, selectivity, proximity to Washington DC), but are each held up as liberal leaning by conservative writers and politicians. In-depth interviews will form the core data of the study, which will be supplemented by internet and media sources and survey research on students’ political attitudes.

William Damon
Civic Identity and Participation among Diverse Populations of American Youth
Stanford University

Damon will conduct a pilot study aimed at understanding the interconnections between civic identity and civic participation among American youth. Of particular interest are marginalized populations of young people who feel that they may not have realistic prospects for full U.S. citizenship. This project will provide the foundation for a subsequent major study that will examine questions that derive from its focus on civic identity and purpose, including (1) Do young people who are politically engaged differ from those who are engaged in other community activities, and from those who are wholly unengaged? (2) How are such differences reflected within and across diverse populations of youth, especially with regard to disadvantaged youth and recent immigrants? (3) What role does knowledge of the American democratic tradition play in shaping civic identity and purpose among young people in the U.S.? (4) How do attitudes regarding American citizenship differ among populations of young people who may consider themselves marginalized – and, relatedly, what is the relationship between identity as a prospective American citizen and aspects of identity that derive from ethnicity, place of birth, religious affiliation, and socio-economic background? The pilot research phase will be devoted to assembling a methodology able to answer the questions the large-scale study will be designed to investigate, including choosing the specific populations for the major study sample and selecting and refining measures of youth civic identity, civic action, and understanding of the American democratic tradition.

Kate Eichhorn
Felt change: The Affective Dimension of Civic Action
The New School

Eichhorn’s project focuses on the affective dimensions of civic action. While positive affects, such as hope, are often recognized as factors promoting social change, this project is especially concerned with the depathologization of negative affects. Be it the public grief and outrage felt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the national shame felt in the face of the Abu Ghraib prison incident, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore how feelings, interpretation and social activism are inextricably linked.

This project will involve a team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers, each with a history of active civic engagement. The research will include focus groups and interviews with students currently engaged in activism as well as students who lack the motivation to become engaged. The student researchers will also be interviewed (and interview each other) as a form of self-assessment throughout the project. Integral to the project is the development of experimental research models. Working in collaboration with several artist-consultants and cultural activists, the research team will present part of their final research findings in the form of a performance or exhibit. Eichhorn will draw on all of these research phases to probe the core questions in this project, which have great relevance for better understanding how affect might be involved in prompting and sustaining social action both in and beyond the campus.

Sarah A. Elwood and Katharyne W. Mitchell
Mapping Youth Journeys: From Place-Based Learning to Active Citizenship
University of Washington

Elwood and Mitchell’s study focuses on out-of-school programs, particularly on an after-school program developed for YMCAs catering to students from low-income families. The action research project addresses questions central to the TNC Initiative: What experiences and meaning-making lead young people to become civic agents? How does an understanding and analysis of community space and social interactions within it (and problems and inequalities) help young people commit to civic action, and to share their commitments and insights with others? In this study, young people travel around their own communities to map their spaces and their own and other peoples’ interactions with each other. By sharing analyses of those maps, they will identify local needs and processes, and from there design and participate in a civic activity.

The research plan captures these processes, examining them through the extended case method approach. Working sessions with youth will be observed, in which the young people use the mapping software to create their “journey-maps” and discuss the implications of their findings. Field journals will be kept, recording observations of the young people, how they interact with each other, and evidence of civic learning and civic action. Finally, the journey-maps themselves will provide insights into the young people’s interpretation of their space, and chronicle the development of their civic awareness.

Carole Hahn
Engaging Transnational Citizens: A Comparative Study of Civic Teaching and Learning for Civic Action Emory University

Hahn will conduct a comparative case study of civic education in secondary schools serving large numbers of students from immigrant backgrounds in Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. The study will address how different national contexts grant and think about citizenship, what rights and responsibilities are involved, and how civic education aligns with national goals for civic dispositions and civic actions. Given both the advent of the European Union and globalization more broadly, what does it mean to be a citizen in a country whose residents have diverse national backgrounds? How do the four countries cope with questions of diversity and inclusion? In what ways do curriculum and pedagogy reflect conceptions of the dispositions and behaviors expected of citizens? And finally, how do teachers and students conceive of themselves and others as citizens?

Hahn will purposefully select secondary schools in each country and create case studies from teacher interviews, classroom and school observations, student focus groups, and document analysis. The case studies will provide comparative data about citizenship education, and especially the practices being used in different contexts. In addition, because the study will include both immigrant and native-born students, Hahn will identify differences in the ways in which these two groups are treated, both within and between countries.

Paul Lichterman and Nina Eliasoph
Paid Civic Engagement: Young Interns in the Age of the Nonprofit
University of Southern California.

Lichterman and Eliasoph are investigating an important, but rarely studied form of civic actor, the participant in a hybrid organization. These organizations are funded primarily through government or nonprofit grants, or else are businesses as well as organizations pursuing a civic cause. These organizations do the kinds of work that traditional, volunteer-run civic associations have often done, but participants have a variety of roles beyond those taken by volunteers. Our study focuses on the ways young interns and short-term volunteers learn civic action. Involvement of these “adjuncts” is a distinguishing feature of hybrid organizations. Studying the variety of adjunct positions, and the ways those positions socialize participants, can help us understand how many young people learn civic action today.

The PIs are using ethnographic methods to study two overlapping civic arenas, that of housing on the one hand, and transportation activism on the other. Both involve contestations over land use and urban priorities, but in different ways, with rather different populations. The adjuncts in these organizations come from white and upper-middle class to immigrant Latino, Black, and Korean working class backgrounds, and from high school education, to two-year college, to liberal arts college and research university. We are interested in how these variations influence civic learning, but the range of adjuncts in hybrid organizations is so great and so uncharted in social research that we need to identify different kinds of hybrid organizations and different kinds of adjunct “slots,” across a wide variety of participants, before being able to sample participants and study the effects of their backgrounds. Ethnography’s most distinctive contribution to social research is to “discover” relevant categories of analysis and categories of everyday action that much other research must presume from the start. So far, the PI’s have made three empirical discoveries.

First, as others have noted, youth of different class or race have very different experiences of chronological age. In addition, trajectories vary along other time-related dimensions: a participant’s length of experience in an organization, and the organization’s place in American civic development (the tremendous rise in non-profits since the 1970’s, for instance). Second, participants in different kinds of hybrid organizations balance making a living, practicing citizenship, and learning for future employment or citizenship in different, patterned ways. Third, hybrid organizations make available quite different adjunct positions with different duties and different definitions of a good adjunct. For that reason our research focuses on organizational settings, rather than individuals per se, since the settings structure what young adjuncts learn about civic action and how they practice it.

Doug McAdam
Civic Engagement among Disadvantaged Youth: How Does School Context Matter?
Stanford University

This project focuses on the effects of alternative educational opportunities on civic learning and civic action. More specifically, the researchers focus on the effects of attending charter schools and of participation in a voluntary school transfer program, with particular attention to the influence of these schools on the civic participation of youth from low-income families. The researchers’ focus is on process: What aspects of schools influence students’ senses of civic agency? What kinds of involvements are most productive of civic identity and civic action? And how does school composition affect the meaning of civic engagement?

In the first of two studies, the researchers will analyze data from approximately 1200 6th-12th grade students who applied to transfer out of their neighborhood school district, which primarily serves low-income children of color, into neighboring high-income, predominantly white districts. Random assignment into the program provides an opportunity to compare students who applied but were accepted into the program with those who were accepted. In addition, the researchers are interested in comparing the civic behavior of the transfer students to that of their school peers. Potential school mechanisms and non-school factors will be assessed through interviews and surveys.

The second project will be the development of three-four case studies of charter schools, each of which includes as part of its mission a civic component. The researchers will examine documentation about the institutional mission of each school, will administer surveys aimed at assessing students’ civic attitudes and behaviors, and will conduct in-depth interviews with students, school administrators, and teachers. The researchers will examine the organizational culture of the school as well as the procedures that support the school’s mission in order to understand how these influence students’ senses of agency, attitudes about civic participation, and civic action.

Krista M. Perreira
Southern Immigrant Civic Adaptation Study
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Perreira’s award supports a follow-up survey of 238 immigrant students originally contacted in 2006-07. In both 2006-07 (when the participants were 9th graders), and in 2007-08, these Latino young people provided a range of information about their academic experiences and adaptation in the U.S. In the second survey they were also asked about their civic engagements. In 2009-10 those students still in school entered 12th grade. The focus of interviews in the current study will be on academic experiences, civic engagement, and future plans. These data will be merged with academic transcript data, and data about the school and community (from the Department of Public Instruction and the Census). In addition, Perreira will conduct in-depth follow-up interviews with 18 first-generation Latino youth who also were interviewed initially in 2006-07.

These three waves of data will be used to address three aims: (1) to identify how the civic engagement of Latino youth in 10th grade varies by psychosocial factors (e.g., gender, immigrant generation, strength and centrality of ethnic identifications, family identification, school/college orientations, and work orientations) and assess the inter-relationship between academic and civic engagement, (2) to examine how psychosocial factors and daily acculturation experiences in 9th and 12th grades (e.g., daily family obligations, work obligations, and experiences of discrimination and social acceptance) shape the civic engagement of Latino immigrant youth in 12th grade and changes in civic engagement between 10th and 12th grades, and (3) to learn more about the types of community activities that Latino youth are involved in, what motivates them to (not) get involved and stay involved, and what they learn from their involvement. The research promises to contribute to our understanding of how individual-level factors interact and intersect with environments to influence the civic development and civic actions of high-school-age Latino immigrants.

Robert D. Putnam and Bruce Western
Inequality and Youth Civic Participation
Harvard University

Putnam and Western will analyze patterns of youth civic engagement over time and between subgroups of students, particularly those defined by socioeconomic status. By analyzing models using multiple datasets, the investigators hope to bring clarity to questions about how civic participation and social engagement have changed over time for different groups, and to the extent possible examine why those changes have occurred. Preliminary analyses using the Monitoring the Future dataset suggest that overall trends showing rising youth civic engagement masks a pattern of civic and social disengagement among children of less educated white parents. If left unaddressed these patterns threaten to turn our nation into "two Americas."

The study will use nine nationally representative datasets to examine how participation, attitudes, and knowledge have changed over time for young people living in families that differ on key demographic variables. If a growing civic divide is found, the investigators will probe potential influences, including increases in income inequality and insecurity; variability in schooling quality and experiences that align with schools’ average family income; changes in family structure and fertility associated with income; and decreases in intergenerational mobility that solidify differences in access to social and community capital and opportunities for civic participation. To extend these analyses, Katherine Edin, also of Harvard University, will conduct a small-scale qualitative study of high school youth using both life-history and ethnographic observations.

2008 Grantee List (Please click on a grantee and scroll down to view details of the grant)

Roderick J. Watts | Learning Principles for Political and Civic Education for Young Activists

Roderick J. Watts
Learning Principles for Political and Civic Education for Young Activists
Georgia State University

Building on the work that argues that the roles young people take in civic and political work influence the persistence over time of knowledge, skill attainment and civic behaviors, Watts aims to examine the role of early experiences in the formation of commitments to social justice activism in young adults of color. Two sets of questions guide the project. The first explores broadly the early experiences of these activists: What are the patterns or themes in their experiences? What are the connections between life experiences and interests in civic action? What role did relationships with peers and adults play in the learning process and in the development of a commitment to civic or political action? In what settings (e.g., family, school, community) did these experiences occur? The second set of questions relates to the theory and practice of civic education: What was the mix of didactic and experiential elements? Does an “experience of agency” play a prominent role? How do the attributes of influential learning experiences as described by young activists compare with prevailing approaches to civic and political education in schools and elsewhere (e.g., service learning programs, youth volunteering, community service requirements in schools)? Data include interviews and the applications from 1986 to 2003 of those who graduated from the Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program (MAAP), a training program “for movement activists of color committed to learning the theory and practice of building social justice movements through community and labor organizing" established by The Center for Third World Organizing.