Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Civic Education in Diverse Contexts: Challenges and Opportunities

Presented at the German-American Conference by Dr Patricia Avery

The resurgence of interest in political socialization and civic education in the past 15 years has been prompted, in part, by four trends: the new democracies in Eastern Europe, the recognition of the teacher's influence on students' civic knowledge and engagement, the increased number of non-native born students in U.S. classrooms, and the decline in young adult voting. These four factors have converged to prompt policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to reconsider how best to foster political and civic engagement among the youth in schools.

Avery focuses on four primary questions: 1. What do we know about promising pedagogical practices in civic education? 2. To what extent are these practices found in different classroom contexts? 3. What challenges prevent promising practices from being implemented in different classroom contexts? 4. How might we address these challenges?

There are different approaches which hold much promise. We have to find out which approaches are likely to be successful in which contexts and if some approaches are more likely to be successful with some groups of students rather than with others. There is evidence that minority, immigrant and lower income students have consistently fewer opportunities to engage in the research-based pedagogical approaches. These families and communities also tend to have fewer of the resources available to them to help their youth develop greater social and politial capital. This is a reason the promising approaches to civic education should be even more evident in their classrooms. The challenges to implementing the promising practices on a more widespread basis in schools and in civic-related classrooms are complex. Avery highlights two areas that have had an impact on the prevalence and quality of promising civics practices: the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and classrooms. Few states have high-stake civic-related assessments, that is, that students must pass in order to graduate from high school. Teachers need to know that there is evidence that when they teach critical thinking skills, problem solving and higher-level thinking, they are not only preparing students for low-level tests, but that they are preparing them for much more complex tasks. Avery describes how teachers need to be prepared for this.

At the end of her presentation Avery concludes: What we have is instead a „civic opportunity gap“, and it is that gap to which we should devote our attention.


Patricia Avery is an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. She has published over 50 articles on issues related to teacher education and social studies education.

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