CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

CIRCLE Online Seminar: What is the state of youth civic learning and engagement?

January 24th, 2014
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Who are the online seminar participants?

We want to start off this week’s blog post by providing a bit of an overview of who the seminar members are.  The group is definitely female dominant.  From analyzing the introductions, sign up information, and pre-surveys completed thus far, participants represent a diverse set of sectors — K-12, higher education (both research and campus engagement), out-of-school time, community-based and nonprofit interests, civic organizations, local government, policy advocates, and broad based civic engagement organizations that reach beyond youth.  The group is comprised of  young people, youth workers, educators, researchers, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and even a few folks working on the international development scene.  In short, seminar participants are a broad, multi-sector group and exactly the right start needed to make the recommendations in the report real.  Of course, there are still many more that need to be brought to the discussion.

The Conversation thus Far

Over the past week, we asked participants to reflect on the two fundamental goals for youth engagement presented in the All Together Now report: free expression and civil deliberation, and equity and quality of political engagement opportunities. A couple of major points of discussion via multiple venues (Facebook, Twitter, blog post) included:

  • Does free expression and civil deliberation first require equity and quality political engagement opportunities? As one participant explained, “Young people who have the opportunity to engage and learn about how local government works, and how to influence the political process will have more to say, discuss, and deliberate.”

  • What kinds of environments enable youth voice? One participant asked, “do we think youth engagement happens best when that engagement…is led by youth (with adults mentors?” Many participants recognized that organizations and institutions should recognize that youth are not passive, but are agents, and consequently adults should share space with youth. Overall, participants agreed that nurturing civic skills, as well as having an open (and well-facilitated) environment is critical to free deliberation.

  • One challenge highlighted in the equality of civic opportunities is access to higher education. (More on this below)

Our first live chat session also yield some interesting insights.  You can check out an archive of the session and add your own comments and insights on the Facebook Group.

Digging into the Report

The All Together Now report combined existing research, knowledge and expertise in the youth civic engagement field.  In all, we surveyed or interviewed 6,913 people and scanned the relevant laws of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The details of these efforts can be found on page 9 of the report.  Additionally, the commission scanned countless other reports and trends happening in the field. A range of unique challenges and opportunities emerged roughly in these four areas:

1. Deep polarization and ideological conflict causing young people to distrust government

  • 76% of registered voters said that American politics had become more divisive and 74% believed this was a bad trend
  • 55% agreed that political parties were more divided than the public
  • Communication environment is confusing; dialogue and deliberation are not modeled in our national politics

2. Growing inequality of civic opportunities

  • 40% of 18-29 have never taken a college level course of any type
  • Children of families in the top 25% of the income distribution have an 80% chance of attending college; it is 17% for the bottom quarter
  • Only 10% of socioeconomically disadvantaged youth attend the “very”, “highly”, “most” competitive colleges
  • Youth with ANY college experience are 2 times more likely to vote than non-college youth
  • White, wealthy students are 4 to 6 times more likely as Hispanic or Black students from low-income households to exceed the “proficient” cut-off for NAEP Civic Assessments
  • Only 9 states require students to pass a social studies test in order to graduate

3. An increasingly diverse youth population

  • Thirty-eight percent of the 18- 29s are people of color.
  • More than one quarter of young Americans (ages 18- 29) have at least one parent who was born in a country other than the United States.
  • Only 15.2% of White public school students attend multiracial schools, those with at least a tenth of their students coming from three or more groups.
  • Students who attend multiracial schools are least likely to discuss current events with families and friends,
  • Young adults are less likely to vote if they attended racially diverse schools.
  • Young people who attend diverse schools AND experience discussions of current events or belong to extracurricular groups that address social problems are more engaged and knowledgeable

4. A powerful role for social media

  • In 2012, 92% of youth (18-29) in the United States used at least one social media site, up from just 8% in 2005.
  • 40% of young adults who used a social media site promoted political material by posting or “liking” it.
  • 94% or more youth have Internet access and it varies only a fraction among racial groups.
  • Recent research shows that participation in social media empowers Latino youth as information leaders in immigrant communities.

Resources to Flesh out the Context

In addition to research in the report, CIRCLE has engaged in countless other studies and efforts that are designed to inform those interested in engaging youth in civic and political life.  Here are a few key resources to check out:

Guiding Questions for Week 2 (#civicyouth)

  • In what ways do the main findings/messages of the report resonate with or depart from your experiences?

  • What is the state of youth engagement where you are?

  • Youth Radio producers took the report and tackled it from a youth point of view.  The radio piece talked about the positive civic outcomes that accrue when young people are able to discuss current and controversial issues that included a diversity of perspectives in a meaningful and productive way.

    • How are you thinking about diversity and a diversity of perspectives in your work?

    • What strategies, efforts and / or resources are needed to create environments that can incorporate diverse perspectives in a civil way?

  • All Together Now and several of the additional resources above highlight the dramatic inequality of opportunity among youth at the K12 level and between youth who do and do not have college experience. As a result, the report focuses a great deal on the importance of strengthening K-12 civic education as a way to close the civic opportunity gap. In no way does this focus mean that higher education has less of a role. If you work in higher education, what civic experiences and skills do your students bring to college? How do those experiences and skills (or the lack there of) influence higher education efforts? What can higher education do to assist in narrowing the civic opportunity gap?

Join us for a LIVE video conversation on Friday, January 31st from 2pm to 3pm ET.
Don’t worry if you can’t join us; we’ll record the session and share for later viewing and engagement.

Additionally, share your thinking on the seminar’s Facebook group, in the comment area below, via Twitter (#civicyouth), or on your own blog or website (provide us with the link and use #civicyouth in the title or body).   You can always return to the seminar’s web portal to access all items related to the seminar.

One Response to “CIRCLE Online Seminar: What is the state of youth civic learning and engagement?”

  1. Bradley Kurgis Says:

    Bradley Kurgis…

    CIRCLE » CIRCLE Online Seminar: What is the state of youth civic learning and engagement?…