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Title: Active Civics: How Civic Education Shapes Political Engagement
Authors: Willeck, Claire
Advisors: Mendelberg, Tali
Contributors: Politics Department
Subjects: Political science
Educational psychology
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Civic education is fundamental for creating politically engaged citizens, and we need politically engaged citizens to have a well-functioning, healthy democracy. Yet, the way we teach civics today is ineffective at promoting political engagement. In this dissertation, I use multiple methods to explore how we can teach civics to increase students’ engagement in class and eventual engagement with the political system. I focus specifically on teaching civics using active learning (active civics) which is a way of teaching where students are the drivers of their learning. I use definitions and a theory that are motivated by a chapter on the historical underpinnings of active learning and civic education in the United States. In the first empirical chapter, I use six different data sources, including three original datasets, to show that active civics is positively related to political engagement. To understand whether active civics causes an increase in students' engagement, I conducted a national field experiment where teachers used active and passive civics lessons in their classrooms. I collected survey, interview, and audio data to measure students’ engagement. Since I cannot completely control what happens in the classroom, I conducted five survey experiments where I delivered civics instruction to respondents to supplement the field experiment. In a multimethod approach, I find that active civics, regardless of how it's implemented, increases students' cognitive engagement and situational interest in class and their political interest and expressive political participation, regardless of how it's measured, and these increases to not come at the cost of learning. In the last chapter, I provide suggestive evidence that active civics also has the potential to influence the political engagement of their close social networks. These findings are substantively valuable since using active civics is a low-cost and scalable solution for teachers to provide high quality civics education to nearly every secondary student in the US. My collaboration with iCivics, an education non-profit, allows my findings to reach hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students and to provide insights into how to increase young people’s political engagement and reduce the political participation age gap leading to a more representative democracy.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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