The recent crisis in Washington, D.C., has once again laid bare the deep polarization and partisan divisions among our elected leaders. This political climate makes civic education both more challenging and increasingly important: teaching tomorrow’s leaders to be informed, responsible citizens emerges as a vital long-term solution to political dysfunction.
To that end, the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge has released its report “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement.”
A bipartisan group of distinguished scholarly experts from diverse disciplines and institutions, the Commission was convened by CIRCLE to study aspects of youth political engagement. The report, which was presented on October 9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., is a detailed yet wide-ranging look at the current state of civic education, informed voting, and political engagement of the nation’s youth. It is based, in part, on data collected for the Commission from more than 6,000 young adults and 720 high school civics or government teachers, and an analysis of all states’ voting and education laws.
The report highlights some of the Commission’s previously released findings, but also presents brand-new findings that further shed light on these issues, such as:
- Non-college youth had a lower 2012 voter turnout in states with photo-ID laws, while same-day registration improved overall youth turnout.
- Attending racially diverse high schools predicted lower levels of electoral engagement and informed voting.
- Only eight states include social studies in their assessments of school performance, and only 10 states require civics or government teachers to be certified in those subjects.
- Nearly a quarter of civics or government teachers surveyed believe parents or other adults would object to “bringing politics” into their classrooms.
The report also outlines some of the most pressing challenges to improving civic education and engagement, and recasts them as opportunities that can and should be seized. The dearth of inspiring and effective forms of civic education for disadvantaged young people highlights the need to improve K-12 civics that reaches everyone and promotes equality. Civic discussions and debates are more difficult in diverse settings, but teaching youth to deliberate and collaborate with peers of different backgrounds is a critical civic skill. Online media can lead to greater polarization if young people only see and share content from like-minded sources, but social networks are also powerful tools for engagement, dialogue, and constructive interactions.
Overcoming these difficulties and taking advantages of these opportunities will require concerted efforts from every corner of our society. With that in mind, the Commission makes a set of recommendations to parents, teachers, communities, school districts, youth organizations, and policy makers at every level. Among them:
- Revise state civics standards and assessments so that they encourage deliberation about current events and experiential learning.
- Lower the voting age to 17 in municipal or state elections so that students can be encouraged to vote while they are taking a required civics class.
- Make voting more accessible through same-day registration, as well as online and mobile registration.
- Align states’ high school civics curricula with voting reforms that encourage pre-registration in schools
- Support the discussion of controversial issues in schools, with accompanying teacher professional development.
- Implement multiplayer role-playing video games as tools for civic education.
All of these recommendations are based on the latest CIRCLE research, as well as the experiences of respected leaders and scholars. With its focus on collaboration and innovation, All Together Now is a valuable tool for shaping an informed, skilled, and civically active generation.
For audience-specific shareable graphics and other materials, go here. Over the next six weeks, CIRCLE will also be sharing audience-specific resources and suggestions for how to use this report.
The research was funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, W.T. Grant Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and the Youth Engagement Fund.