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Fall Into the (Knowledge) Gap: An Examination of the Political Knowledge of Adolescents in Co-Educational and Single Sex Environments
Unformatted Document Text:  which means that we must also attend to the effects of Catholic schooling. Indeed, there is evidence that Catholic schools provide benefits in achievement, college placement, and political activism, although the size of the effect is contested (see Jenks 1985, Marsh and Grayson 1990). The Catholic school environment may affect political attitudes, as well (Lee and Byrk 1986; Lee and Marks 1990; Riordan 1990). Campbell (2001) finds that relative to their public school counterparts, students in Catholic schools score higher on a variety of desirable political attitudes, including political knowledge. The home environment may also affect the learning and retention of political information (Hess and Torney 1967; Langton 1969; Niemi and Junn 1998). Early studies found that children from traditional family structures, defined as families with an active, male head-of-household figure, fared better in the development of political orientations than did children from father-absent families (Jaros, Hirsch, and Fleron 1968; Langton 1969). Later research contradicted these conclusions, finding instead that mothers play a more pivotal role in political influence on children (Jennings and Niemei1968; Jennings and Langton 1969, Niemi, Ross and Alexander 1974). However, family structure has undergone considerable change. For instance, twenty-four percent of all families with children are now headed by a female householder with no husband present (U.S. Census). This may signal that the dynamics of family socialization to political orientations are also undergoing change. Education is a significant factor in most analysis of political activity because it affects the acquisition of skills and “fosters psychological and cognitive engagement with politics” (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995, 433). Further, it becomes the main pathway for intergenerational transmission of political involvement. Parents’ education is significantly correlated to levels of political knowledge in adolescents (Jennings and Niemi 1974), and probably indicates parents’ expectations for their children, in turn, giving these children a greater incentive to learn (Niemi and Junn 1998). Niemi and Junn’s comprehensive study also includes other indicators of family characteristics that affect political learning. The amount of literature in the home is thought to increase the exposure that the adolescent has to information about government and politics. Conversely, they find that frequent television viewing leads to less exposure to political information, especially since data on adolescents’ television viewing habits 5

Authors: Prough, Elizabeth. and Herring, Mary.
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which means that we must also attend to the effects of Catholic schooling. Indeed, there
is evidence that Catholic schools provide benefits in achievement, college placement, and
political activism, although the size of the effect is contested (see Jenks 1985, Marsh and
Grayson 1990). The Catholic school environment may affect political attitudes, as well
(Lee and Byrk 1986; Lee and Marks 1990; Riordan 1990). Campbell (2001) finds that
relative to their public school counterparts, students in Catholic schools score higher on a
variety of desirable political attitudes, including political knowledge.
The home environment may also affect the learning and retention of political
information (Hess and Torney 1967; Langton 1969; Niemi and Junn 1998). Early studies
found that children from traditional family structures, defined as families with an active,
male head-of-household figure, fared better in the development of political orientations
than did children from father-absent families (Jaros, Hirsch, and Fleron 1968; Langton
1969). Later research contradicted these conclusions, finding instead that mothers play a
more pivotal role in political influence on children (Jennings and Niemei1968; Jennings
and Langton 1969, Niemi, Ross and Alexander 1974). However, family structure has
undergone considerable change. For instance, twenty-four percent of all families with
children are now headed by a female householder with no husband present (U.S. Census).
This may signal that the dynamics of family socialization to political orientations are also
undergoing change.
Education is a significant factor in most analysis of political activity because it
affects the acquisition of skills and “fosters psychological and cognitive engagement with
politics” (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995, 433). Further, it becomes the main
pathway for intergenerational transmission of political involvement. Parents’ education is
significantly correlated to levels of political knowledge in adolescents (Jennings and
Niemi 1974), and probably indicates parents’ expectations for their children, in turn,
giving these children a greater incentive to learn (Niemi and Junn 1998).
Niemi and Junn’s comprehensive study also includes other indicators of family
characteristics that affect political learning. The amount of literature in the home is
thought to increase the exposure that the adolescent has to information about government
and politics. Conversely, they find that frequent television viewing leads to less exposure
to political information, especially since data on adolescents’ television viewing habits
5


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