Civic Education and the Learning Behaviors of Youth in the Online Environment: A Call for Reform

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Abstract


Scholarly discourse in political science and communication studies is replete with empirical evidence lamenting the decline in civic engagement and political participation among adolescents and young adults. Scholars offer a variety of factors contributing to the disengagement of youth from the civic and political process including lack of attention paid to youth by politicians and the political process, the limited experience and a narrow frame of reference of young people in the political process, their aversion to traditional politics, and to poor quality courses and a decline in civic education in schools. Youth frequently lack civic and political knowledge as well as information and communications technology and social skills needed to engage in public life due in large part to the superficial coverage of substantive civic topics in textbooks and concentrating on knowledge level information that focuses on rights to the exclusion of obligations and participation. Civics curriculum often lacks opportunities for young people to embrace and communicate about politics on their own terms and frequently has little connection between the academic presentation of politics and the acquisition of skills that might help develop engaged citizens. Current approaches to civic education are at odds with young people’s experiences of informal participation with their peers in a nonhierarchical network. Traditional civics curriculum often treats subject matter as another academic subject with right or wrong answers arbitrated by the teacher as central authority and students in competition for grades. A growing body of literature discusses the affinity that youth have for Internet use and the possibilities of new media to address disengagement and to enhance new forms of citizenship calling for pedagogical reform in civic education.

Keywords


civic education; youth; online environment; participatory online environment

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