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Education for Democracy and Citizenship in the United States:
 
In a Time of Inequality and Social Division
 
Yuichi Furuta, Ph.D., Osaka International College
 
JERA Research Session II, Gakushuin University
 
August 8, 2019
 
 Every single student has a voice, and every single voice matters. And so, we have to make sure that in all of our schools and all of our classrooms, every single student has the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way
.  – LaTanya McDade, Chief Education Officer of CPS
 
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Introduction
 
Preparing young people for civic life has been one of the central missions of  public schools in the United States (Carnegie Corporation of New York & CIRCLE 2003, Levine 2007, Gould 2011). Meanwhile, civic education in the U.S. has been facing multiple challenges in recent years, such as inequality and social division. The country’s founding ideal of “E Pluribus Unum” might be on the verge of a crisis.
 
The purpose of this presentation is to give an overview of current challenges of American democracy and civic education, and to investigate how to empower disadvantaged and marginalized youth through civic education.
 
I. Challenge of Democracy and Civic Education in the U.S.: Inequality and Social Division
 
A. Inequality
 
It is important for healthy democracy that people from diverse background exercise their voice and participate in the society. Yet, there are profound gaps in civic and political activities in the U.S. depending on their socioeconomic status (SES) and racial/ethnical background. For instance, as shown in Figure 1, people in higher-income groups voted at much higher rates in national elections than low-income people. These trends are not limited to voting; there are similar gaps in various civic and political  participation including volunteering, campaigning, and membership in political organization (Verba et al. 1995, Corporation for National and Community Service and
1
 Heather Van Benthuysen & Erica Hodgin “Talking Across Political Differences” https://www.teachingchannel.org/tch/blog/talking-across-political-differences
 
 
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 National Conference on Citizenship 2010).
 
Figure 1: Voter Turnout Gaps in Recent National Elections
 
Source: U.S. Census
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Young people are no exception; low-income youth, youth of color, and immigrant youth are less likely to be civically or politically engaged. For example, the gap in voter turnout described above can be also seen in young generation; during the 1996 to 2008 presidential elections, young adults with some college experience constantly voted at rates much higher (more than 20 points) than those with no college experience, and white and black youth usually voted at higher rates than Latino and Asian youth (Callahan & Muller 2013). A study on broader youth civic engagement, released by CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) in 2011, found that youth with no college experience were more than twice as likely as their college-attending peers to be categorized as “Civically Alienated”, which meant almost complete disengagement from civic and political life (Table 1) (Godsay et al. 2012).
 
There are various factors for this phenomenon, but one important factor is their  political socialization environment. First, civic learning opportunities in schools, such as discussion on controversial issues and service-learning, are not equally distributed; youth living in urban area tend to have limited access to high-quality civic learning opportunities in their schools (Kahne & Middaugh 2009). Second, there are also opportunity gap outside the school (Hart & Atkins 2002), such as amount of political discussion in families, clubs/activities that contributes to youth civic development, and adult role models of civic and political engagement. Finally, in addition to these opportunity gaps, young people’s
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 United States Census Bureau “Voting and Registration: Data Tables” https://www.census.gov/topics/public-sector/voting/data/tables.html
 
0.010.020.030.040.050.060.070.080.090.0Under$10,000$10,000to$14,999$15,000to$19,999$20,000to$29,999$30,000to$39,999$40,000to$49,999$50,000to$74,999$75,000to$99,999$100,000to$149,999$150,000and over20162018
 
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daily experiences of injustice and hopelessness in poor, urban neighborhood, which are often far from the ideals of American democracy, also impede their civic development (Rubin 2007, Gimpel & Pearson-Merkowitz 2009, Furuta 2015). These intertwined inequalities shape what Meira Levinson called “civic empowerment gap” (Levinson 2012a). Economically disadvantaged and/or socially marginalized youth tend to be also  politically disempowered – they feel that they cannot make changes in the society.
 
Table 1: Youth Civic Engagement Clusters by Education (2010)
 
Any College
 
Experience
 
 No College
 
Experience
 
Civically Alienated
 
Almost completely disengaged from civic and political life
 
14.6%
 
35.7%
 
Broadly Engaged
 
Involved in several different aspects of community & political life
 
26.7%
 
13.5%
 
Political Specialists
 
Mainly involved in activities connected to elections
 
20.3%
 
13.6%
 
Under Mobilized
 
Registered to vote, but did not vote that year 
 
13.6%
 
13.7%
 
Talkers
 
Frequently discuss civic/political issues, but did not take action
 
12.4%
 
13.8%
 
Donors
 
Donated money or goods, but were largely otherwise disengaged
 
12.4%
 
9.7%
 
Source: Godsay et al. (2012) pp.12-13
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.
 
B. Social Division
 
The nation is experiencing a deep, widespread social and political division, especially after Donald J. Trump became the president. The recent increase in the number of hate crimes
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 might be one example for such a division. Surveys conducted by Pew Research Center in 2017 revealed that the divide between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental values and issues was widening
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. The surveys also showed that while 88% of the Republicans approved President Trump’s job during the first year, only 8% of the Democrats approved his job, and this partisan gap is the widest in the past 6 decades.
 
Schools are facing various challenges from these social changes. As early as during the presidential campaign in 2016, more than two-thirds of educators reported young people in their schools, especially immigrant youth and youth or color, had
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 Its srcinal data (and some of the descriptions, though partly revised) are from Kawashima-Ginsberg & CIRLCE Staff (2011).
 
4
 “Hate Crimes – FBI” https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes
 
5
 Pew Research Center “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider”
 
https://www.people-press.org/2017/10/05/the-partisan-divide-on-political-values-grows-even-wider/
 
 
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expressed fear and stress (Costello 2016). According to the recent report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, 89% of principals report that “incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has considerably affected their school community” (Rogers et al. 2019, p.7). Many principals report hostile and hateful remarks of students, including those towards immigrant students (cf. Figure 2).
 
Figure 2: Problems Related to Political Division and Hostility in Schools in the Age of Trump
 
Source: Rogers et al. (2019) p.8.
 
Such political environments have influenced teachers as well; some teachers have felt uneasy about and often avoided to teach about elections or current/controversial issues (Costello 2016, Rogers et al. 2017). However, Diana Hess, an advocate for democratic education based on discussion on political and controversial issues, argues that “the most significant reason I am putting forward to encourage this particular kind of democratic education [based on cross-cutting political talk] is that while it is
inauthentic
 to the world outside of school, it is
authentic
 to what a healthy democracy demands” (Hess 2009, p.22). As her argument implies, schools are not just places which changes in the society penetrate into; schools also should (and can) “create their
own
 civic ecology” (Levinson 2012b, p.254) to make change in the society.
 
Thus, it is becoming more difficult, but also critical for schools and teachers to teach students the importance of respect and trust, and the value of discussion and
10.521.611.51536.853.147.150.352.725.341.234.70% 10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100%
Strong differences of political opinion amongstcommunity members or between communitymembers and school staff have had an adverseimpact on the schoolStudents have made demeaning or hatefulremarks towards classmates for expressingeither liberal or conservative viewsStrong differences of political opinion amongststudents have promoted hostile exchangesoutside of classStrong differences of political opinion amongststudents have created more contentiousclassroom environments
OccurredMultipleTimes Occurred1-2Times NoOccurrence
 
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collective action of people from diverse backgrounds. At the same time, we especially need to empower young people who feel marginalized from the society so they can exercise their voice to change the society.
 
II. Empowering Disadvantaged and Marginalized Youth through Civic Education
 
Meira Levinson, in her award-winning book
 No Citizen Left Behind 
, which explores the way to reshape civic education in urban schools to combat “civic empowerment gap”, claims that “schools need to take seriously the knowledge and experiences of low-income youth and adults of color—to teach in ways that are consonant with and that even build upon their knowledge and experience, in ways that are engaging and empowering rather than disaffecting and disempowering” (Levinson 2012a, pp.53-54). In order to empower disadvantaged and marginalized youth as efficacious and effective citizens, it is essential to hear their voices and understand their lived experiences. Teachers should connect their daily experiences to classroom discussion and civic learning to make them more meaningful (Rubin 2012, Cohen et al. 2018). It is also important to provide students with hands-on experiences of civic/political engagement so they can feel their voice and participation matter (Kahne & Sporte 2008, Levinson 2012a). Incorporating students voice into school governance and introducing action-oriented civic education programs into classrooms are some of the ways to achieve this goal.
 
One of the ambitious and pioneering examples in the U.S. is the recent civic education reform in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). CPS is one of the largest metropolitan districts in the U.S., whose students are mostly Hispanic (46.7%) or African Americans (36.6%), and many of them are economically disadvantaged (76.6%)
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. CPS recognized that it is critical to tackle with “civic empowerment gap” and started an enthusiastic, district-wide civic education reform. In 2016, CPS established a new department, the Department of Social Science & Civic Engagement, to take charge of the reform. They released their reform plan
 Ready to Engage
 (Chicago Public Schools 2016), and have launched multiple civic education initiatives.
 
A. Making curriculum relevant with students’ daily experiences and creating space for students to have a voice
 
CPS has created its srcinal high-school civics curriculum “Participate!”. The
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 Based on the statistics for school year 2018-2019.
 
https://cps.edu/About_CPS/At-a-glance/Pages/Stats_and_facts.aspx
 
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