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For the Students, By the Students: Redirecting Civic Education through the American Trustees Project
Unformatted Document Text:  (2002) research suggests that similar patterns exist outside of the United States, remarking that there is a “worldwide” turnout problem. As a result of all this, today we are confronted with young people who know less, care less, and do less politically than their forebears. How can we prepare them to inherit and maintain the democratic system? How can we give them a richer sense of civic possibilities? This paper reports on a class designed remedy several shortcomings of traditional civics instruction. Namely, Communication and Civic Participation was created to allow teachers to connect abstract materials (citizenship) with concrete examples that are close to students’ everyday life (role models). It also allowed students to have agency (they pick their approach to citizenship and their trustee), be creative and persuasive (through narrative and film), be reflective (through class discussion, presentation, homework, lab and final paper), be interactive (in a group, with their AT, with other students in class), become an instructor of citizenship (to classmates, their peers and younger audiences), and offer cues to Schudson’s (2000) call for a new language of citizenship (by creating films created by and for young people). Preliminary results from this case study analysis point to some important results, as well as some key questions for the future. Students were asked to define citizenship and good citizenship as well as to name good citizens at the beginning and at the end of the semester. Admittedly, there are limitations to such forms of data collection and one must be cautious in reporting the findings from any case study. Nevertheless, student definitions of citizenship were longer, broader and more nuanced, and more accessible after completing the American Trustees assignment. Whereas they were likely to regard good citizens as national figures at time one, they were more likely to see good citizens in their midst at the end of the semester and had a stronger sense of what everyday people could do to merit this label. Students described the construct with greater affect, more change-oriented language and a firmer sense of place(s) at the end of the term. From their post-tests, final projects and final presentations, students also displayed an increase in efficacy, a decrease in cynicism and an increase in optimism. While this project and preliminary evaluation points to information gain and attitude change, it also raises a set of questions. How, in what ways, might the American Trustees film project lead to behavior change? What are the long-term effects of this program? How effective will the current films be in the future? How well do the films resonate with different types of students? The authors are currently teaching another semester of this course. Following our presentation, we look forward to discussing our syllabus as well as the strengths and limitations of the concepts of narrative filmmaking and role models, of strategies to assess student learning in such an assignment, and, ultimately, the promise to the U.S. civic system (as well as those of other countries) of such efforts. ReferencesBennett, W. L. (2008). Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Bennett, W. L. (2001). News The politics of illusion. (4 th Edition). New York: Longman. Bucher, A. A. (1997) ‘The Influence of Models in Forming Moral Identity’, International Journal of Educational Research Vol. 27 No. 7. www.annettestrauss.org | 11

Authors: Jarvis, Sharon. and Han, Soo-Hye.
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(2002) research suggests that similar patterns exist outside of the United States, remarking that there is
a “worldwide” turnout problem.
As a result of all this, today we are confronted with young people who know less, care less, and do less
politically than their forebears. How can we prepare them to inherit and maintain the democratic
system? How can we give them a richer sense of civic possibilities?
This paper reports on a class designed remedy several shortcomings of traditional civics instruction.
Namely, Communication and Civic Participation was created to allow teachers to connect abstract
materials (citizenship) with concrete examples that are close to students’ everyday life (role models). It
also allowed students to have agency (they pick their approach to citizenship and their trustee), be
creative and persuasive (through narrative and film), be reflective (through class discussion,
presentation, homework, lab and final paper), be interactive (in a group, with their AT, with other
students in class), become an instructor of citizenship (to classmates, their peers and younger
audiences), and offer cues to Schudson’s (2000) call for a new language of citizenship (by creating
films created by and for young people).
Preliminary results from this case study analysis point to some important results, as well as some key
questions for the future. Students were asked to define citizenship and good citizenship as well as to
name good citizens at the beginning and at the end of the semester. Admittedly, there are limitations to
such forms of data collection and one must be cautious in reporting the findings from any case study.
Nevertheless, student definitions of citizenship were longer, broader and more nuanced, and more
accessible after completing the American Trustees assignment. Whereas they were likely to regard
good citizens as national figures at time one, they were more likely to see good citizens in their midst
at the end of the semester and had a stronger sense of what everyday people could do to merit this
label. Students described the construct with greater affect, more change-oriented language and a firmer
sense of place(s) at the end of the term. From their post-tests, final projects and final presentations,
students also displayed an increase in efficacy, a decrease in cynicism and an increase in optimism.
While this project and preliminary evaluation points to information gain and attitude change, it also
raises a set of questions. How, in what ways, might the American Trustees film project lead to
behavior change? What are the long-term effects of this program? How effective will the current films
be in the future? How well do the films resonate with different types of students?
The authors are currently teaching another semester of this course. Following our presentation, we
look forward to discussing our syllabus as well as the strengths and limitations of the concepts of
narrative filmmaking and role models, of strategies to assess student learning in such an assignment,
and, ultimately, the promise to the U.S. civic system (as well as those of other countries) of such
efforts.
References
Bennett, W. L. (2008). Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
Bennett, W. L. (2001). News The politics of illusion. (4
th
Edition). New York: Longman.
Bucher, A. A. (1997) ‘The Influence of Models in Forming Moral Identity’, International Journal of
Educational Research Vol. 27 No. 7.
www.annettestrauss.org | 11


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