by Britt Wilkenfeld
Report Summary: A new CIRCLE Working Paper (#64) by Britt Wilkenfeld examines the effects of several systems of influence (schools, families, neighborhoods, etc) on civic outcomes. The author finds that there are processes inherent in each context that can account for the ways in which environments influence adolescents’ development. The most important processes seem to involve aspects of interpersonal relationships with parents (especially the level of discourse), patterns of activity within schools, institutional resources within neighborhoods, and the collective socialization that occurs in neighborhoods. Schools, among other settings, matter. The author finds that receiving a civics curriculum “appears to be more beneficial to youth attending schools in high poverty neighborhoods than to those attending schools in low-poverty neighborhoods.” For instance, this graph shows that receiving better civics instruction makes by far the most difference to students’ plans to vote if they live in poor neighborhoods:
Thus the paper indicates that the civic engagement gap can be narrowed when the learning opportunity gap is reduced. Schools, although implicated in the existence of a civic engagement gap, also have the potential to narrow the gaps between different groups of students.