Jason Fitzgerald, Ph.D., assistant professor of Curriculum & Instruction, recently published an article titled, “Civic Thinking and Public Policy Analysis: A Comparative Approach To Political Decision-Making” in the Journal of International Social Studies.
As calls for better civics education grow, Fitzgerald asked whether the models that teachers use to teach students to “do civics” mirror the ways that civic leaders approach public issues. To answer this question, he explored the ways that (1) action civics curricula, a form of youth participatory action research, compare with (2) the public policy analysis model, a process by which public policy is created, and (3) the ways that civic leaders plan for civic action.
With slight variation, Fitzgerald argues, the action civics model aligns well with the public policy analysis model. Both models engage individuals in identifying a public issue, researching the issue and the impacted community, planning action, taking action, and reflection. Fitzgerald also suggests that neither model accounts for the role of community deliberation in the process of effective civic action. While civic leaders do follow the action civics/public policy model when they plan civic action, they do it with a heavy focus on community connections and communication, Fitzgerald observes.
What does this mean for how we prepare the next generation to engage and lead our democracy? While it important to teach youth civic knowledge and skills, it is also important that they know their neighbor, their neighborhood, and their community-at-large. This community knowledge, Fitzgerald concludes, must go beyond “having friends” and “small talk.” Youth need to be embedded in the civic discourse of their communities – thinking, arguing, deciding, and acting with others that do not look, think, or believe like them. If we can teach youth to not only “do civics” but be vibrant members of their communities-at-large, we will have a much stronger and meaningful democracy in the years ahead.