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For the Students, By the Students: Redirecting Civic Education through the American Trustees Project
Unformatted Document Text:  Sharon E. Jarvis and Soo-Hye Han ## email not listed ## ## email not listed ## For the Students, By the Students: Redirecting Civic Education through the American Trustees Project AbstractTraditional efforts to engage young people in democratic life have largely been relegated to Government and Political Science courses and have primarily focused on teaching large amount of historical and political information. Infocentric approaches, ironically, have done little to motivate young people to care about their systems and tend to deny three realities of college students, including how many of them: do not like politics, are not easily inspired by sanitized civic discourses, and have a difficult time learning empowered citizenship in the “hidden (hierarchical) curriculum” of the schools. This paper reports on a program that uses narrative theory, role models, a group assignment and documentary filmmaking to re-engage university level Communication students in civic life. Specifically, we detail how the American Trustees project makes civics instruction more concrete and meaningful, how it gives students opportunities to exercise agency and engage in self-reflection, and how it provides cues to a new, more youthful “language of citizenship” (as these films are created by and for young people). An evaluation of the course provides encouraging findings as well as questions for future research. BackgroundThe United States is facing a political predicament. Today’s young people are less likely than their parents were (at the same age) to read the newspaper, to be interested in public affairs, to have political discussions, to feel a sense of identity, pride or obligation associated with American citizenship, to be knowledgeable about the substance or process of politics, to participate politically through voting or by making their views known, or to trust their fellow citizens (Bennett, 2001; Delli Carpini, 2000; Graber, 2000; Lopez et al., 2006; Macedo et al., 2005; Mindich, 2005; Sherr & Staples, 2004; Zukin, et al., 2006). And, as Wattenberg’s (2002) analyses show, these trends threaten other advanced democracies, as well. While some scholars argue that youth are behaving consistent with their political moment and compare well to young people in other democracies (Bennett, 2008; Dalton, 2007), the future of our system hinges on socializing the next generation of citizens to participate in government centered activities (Bennett, 2008; Macedo et al., 2005). Traditionally, many have looked to the schools to train youth for citizenship (Garver, 1926; Ehman, 1980; Nie & Stehlik-Barry, 1996; Niemi & Junn, 1998; Torney-Purta 2002). Indeed, the American public school system was born out of a simple belief: an educated citizenry is essential to the health of a democratic nation. The nation’s founders realized that political institutions alone were not strong enough to maintain a constitutional democracy. They knew that ultimately a free society must depend on the knowledge, skills, and virtues of its citizens. Scholars continue to believe that schools should 1

Authors: Jarvis, Sharon. and Han, Soo-Hye.
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background image
Sharon E. Jarvis and Soo-Hye Han
## email not listed ## ## email not listed ##
For the Students, By the Students:
Redirecting Civic Education through the American Trustees Project
Abstract
Traditional efforts to engage young people in democratic life have largely been relegated to
Government and Political Science courses and have primarily focused on teaching large amount of
historical and political information. Infocentric approaches, ironically, have done little to motivate
young people to care about their systems and tend to deny three realities of college students, including
how many of them: do not like politics, are not easily inspired by sanitized civic discourses, and have a
difficult time learning empowered citizenship in the “hidden (hierarchical) curriculum” of the schools.
This paper reports on a program that uses narrative theory, role models, a group assignment and
documentary filmmaking to re-engage university level Communication students in civic life.
Specifically, we detail how the American Trustees project makes civics instruction more concrete and
meaningful, how it gives students opportunities to exercise agency and engage in self-reflection, and
how it provides cues to a new, more youthful “language of citizenship” (as these films are created by
and for young people). An evaluation of the course provides encouraging findings as well as questions
for future research.
Background
The United States is facing a political predicament. Today’s young people are less likely than their
parents were (at the same age) to read the newspaper, to be interested in public affairs, to have political
discussions, to feel a sense of identity, pride or obligation associated with American citizenship, to be
knowledgeable about the substance or process of politics, to participate politically through voting or by
making their views known, or to trust their fellow citizens (Bennett, 2001; Delli Carpini, 2000; Graber,
2000; Lopez et al., 2006; Macedo et al., 2005; Mindich, 2005; Sherr & Staples, 2004; Zukin, et al.,
2006). And, as Wattenberg’s (2002) analyses show, these trends threaten other advanced democracies,
as well. While some scholars argue that youth are behaving consistent with their political moment and
compare well to young people in other democracies (Bennett, 2008; Dalton, 2007), the future of our
system hinges on socializing the next generation of citizens to participate in government centered
activities (Bennett, 2008; Macedo et al., 2005).
Traditionally, many have looked to the schools to train youth for citizenship (Garver, 1926; Ehman,
1980; Nie & Stehlik-Barry, 1996; Niemi & Junn, 1998; Torney-Purta 2002). Indeed, the American
public school system was born out of a simple belief: an educated citizenry is essential to the health of
a democratic nation. The nation’s founders realized that political institutions alone were not strong
enough to maintain a constitutional democracy. They knew that ultimately a free society must depend
on the knowledge, skills, and virtues of its citizens. Scholars continue to believe that schools should
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