Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. ?-86
1993 National Council for the Social Studies
This study concludes that a hands-on model incorporating the school's societal environment in general, and a cocurricular program such as the student press in particular, could improve citizenship education within the social studies. The model flows from McNeil's (1988c, 485) rejection of the prevalent search for a single, standardized education model. The alternative discussed here is not a model curriculum for all schools as much as a design that addresses some of the deficiencies of citizenship education.
John J. Patrick (1988) suggests that part of the problem in educating for citizenship may come from equating "teaching" or "study" with "learning." Observing that students study the Bill of Rights at least four times before graduation, Patrick (1991) identifies what students fail to learn and proposes ways to reconcile the study and the understanding of citizenship. He supports a curriculum model that blends substance and process, that combines solid subject matter with opportunities to question and apply that material.
Deficiencies in Citizenship Education
Scholars who have looked closely at civic education during the past decade have not liked what they have seen (Anderson et al. 1990; Hoge 1988). Research has painted a fairly clear picture of what school officials say they are teaching and a realistic view of how resources and time shape curricula and constrain classroom teachers. Criticism has focused on three school topics: teaching techniques and environment, textbooks and resources, and curriculum priorities.
Critics, who outnumber reformers, list deficiencies that await a systematic attack that could strengthen citizenship education. A review of critical research should help identify worthy allies within the school environment and curriculum.
Teaching Techniques, Teacher Perspectives, and the Environment
Upon release of the 1990 Nation's Report Card, a survey of sixteen thousand students by the U.S. Department of Education, then-Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos offered this assessment (Mehle 1990):
Our students are mastering basic facts and skills in history and civics, but they must also know how to apply what they've learned....Less than half [of the students] can draw conclusions and demonstrate understanding-and that is unacceptable.
John D. Hoge (1988) observes that students who profess a commitment to democratic values do not consistently apply those ideals to unpopular individuals or ideas. Why? Where citizenship training is part of the curriculum, students may discuss, read and write about, then be tested on the principles of participatory democracy. Practicing good citizenship in the classroom, however, often means obedience, moral outcomes, and compliance (Levenson 1972; Lortie 1975).
Linda McNeil (1988a, 338) examined the difficulty of teaching democratic
citizenship within an institution that "subordinates education to routine credentialing." Teachers who face administrators preoccupied with maintaining order too easily become part of the control process, withdrawing into "routine and impersonal teaching of simplified content." Classrooms then reflect efficiency over substance, McNeil contends (1988b, 434), as teachers trivialize content by using it to control students and by teaching defensively to encourage compliance (McNeil 1988c, 481).
Conflicting with these pressures to comply and conform are studies telling teachers to use controversial topics as concrete, contemporary applications that enable students to understand and appreciate the implications of abstract constitutional principles. Douglas Lynch and Michael McKenna (1990) note that students may misunderstand, resist, or reject controversial issues discussed without careful guidance and a meaningful context.
Dennis Goldenson (1978), however, found that high school seniors who addressed controversial topics during a three-week civil liberties unit showed significantly more positive attitude changes regarding civil liberties than those in controversy-free classrooms. Tenth and twelfth grade students who felt free to express themselves in class and who took courses in which controversial issues were discussed have been found to be more tolerant of dissent than their peers (Grossman 1974).
R. Freeman Butts (1988) has called for a new model civic education curriculum that incorporates critical thinking, basic democratic values, and historic perspective. Such a curriculum may require a classroom setting in which students are free to ask questions, and a teacher who has both the ability to make decisions after negotiations and compromise and the willingness to "relinquish the role of font of all knowledge" (Court 1991, 118).
A critical perspective may be more important than ever, Margaret S. Branson (1988) suggests, because youth today, pragmatic and patriotic, condemn those with views out of the mainstream, resist doctrinaire positions, and doubt their power to influence public policy. Although Jon D. Miller (1985) found civic education in secondary schools a poor predictor of the kind or amount of political participation among adults, Hoge (1988) noted that superficial and shallow commitment to civic attitudes and democratic values was linked to limited civic participation among young adults.
Critics repeatedly label "inadequate" any teaching that focuses on concepts and principles at the expense of true understanding and an ability to apply those principles. Sandra Stotsky (1991) considers civic education every teacher's responsibility. Calling for an open and supportive classroom environment, Patrick (1988) notes that teachers too often fail to convey the meaning of the Bill of Rights, tolerance for its contemporary applications, and the ability to analyze constitutional issues rationally. Teachers should serve as a guide and model in a setting in which students are free to express ideas and question popular beliefs (Patrick 1991).
Although teachers and students alike may resist them (Lynch and McKenna 1990), classroom discussions of controversial issues can have a positive influence on student attitudes, according to Carole J. Hahn (1988). Her research links an open classroom environment to less cynicism about government and politicians, a belief that citizens can influence the political system, and increased civic responsibility. Students exposed to this classroom setting are likely to be politically active and express opinions about political issues with family and friends. When students can discuss controversies in a receptive environment, Hahn concludes, they achieve higher levels of cognitive reasoning, higher quality problem solving, greater creativity, and more accurate perspective than those who have not enjoyed such opportunities.
Textbooks and Teaching Resources
If citizenship education has been stymied by what John Goodlad (1983) calls "extraordinary sameness in the ways of teaching," the most widely used textbooks may compound the problems schools face (Patrick 1987b). Textbooks for government and civics courses are said to be the main indicators of what and how students are taught about the Constitution (Remy 1981). When 90 percent of all social studies teachers rely on textbooks as their primary instructional tool, content and quality of those resources become important predictors of classroom success (Remy and Wagstaff 1982).
Unfortunately, textbook evaluations over the past decade have been consistently negative. According to Patrick (1987a, 1), studies of standard secondary school textbooks have revealed "restricted coverage and shallow treatment of basic principles, values, and issues of constitutional government." An evaluation of five 12th grade government textbooks and five 9th grade civics textbooks led Remy (1981) to conclude that texts at both levels include definitions but lack explanations and ignore the dynamics of an evolving democracy. Summarizing the Project '87 textbook study described above, Patrick and Remy (1985, 10) argue that "students who rely on these textbooks have little opportunity to know how the Constitution affects the lives of citizens."
In a more recent but equally discouraging report, six prominent educators evaluated thirteen government and five civics textbooks. They described them as well researched, well designed, well illustrated, and rich with factual detail; they characterized the texts nonetheless as "intellectually and pedagogically dull tools for inspiring effective participation in the democratic political process" (Carroll et al. 1987, 11). They rated civics texts slightly better than government texts. Reviewers said that the latter group often avoided controversial subjects, seldom asked students to use the information conveyed, and failed to challenge students to think critically or to participate in the political process (Carroll et al. 1987).
Critics of citizenship education have also identified a third problem, a problem teachers list as their major obstacle and the one over which they may have the least control: the adopted curriculum. Although civics education is well established in the social studies, and civics and government courses are high school graduation requirements in more than thirty-five states (Hoge 1988), four of five social studies and journalism teachers in a recent survey said that course-content constraints were most responsible for limited time spent on the study of freedom of expression (Eveslage 1987).
During the 1980s, tight budgets, a mandated curriculum, standardized tests, and the push for teacher accountability squeezed citizenship education, according to Marshall Croddy (1991) of the Constitutional Rights Foundation. The CRF responded with an infusion strategy that led them to develop educational materials that would fit and enrich themes already part of what teachers complained was a set and crowded curriculum.
What students learn about citizenship undoubtedly depends upon the substance and design of their lessons and how their teachers present them (Hoge 1988). The heavy influence that a standardized curriculum and textbook, organizational constraints, and administrative priorities (McNeil 1988c) play in setting each lesson's agenda, however, calls for more than a change in classroom behavior.
Addressing the Problem
Social scientists who have identified classroom barriers to citizenship have offered constructive options. An overview of these measures should help determine whether scholastic journalism deserves a role in the reform of citizenship education.
Patrick has called for incorporating contemporary citizenship issues (1987b, 15), case studies, and an open, supportive classroom environment for discussion of those issues (Patrick 1988, 2), and for a "continuous and systematic blending" of essential subject matter and effective ways to teach and learn the content (Patrick 1991, 230).
Perhaps because the bicentennial has inspired new curriculum materials on the Constitution and Bill of Rights (e.g., Foundations of American Citizenship  and A Teacher's Guide to the U.S. Constitution video ), including many from media organizations attempting to encourage study of the First Amendment (e.g., Education for Freedom , Citizens Together [Garrett and Morrison 1990], and The Bill of Rights and Beyond ), supplemental classroom resources have become a more popular remedy during the past five years.
A recurring suggestion is to give students firsthand experiences to help solidify the foundations of citizenship. They may be called youth participation programs (Reische 1987), community-involvement programs (Turner 1981), work-study, or internship (Carroll et al. 1987). Such direct experience, where citizenship becomes a laboratory subject, uses interaction with the real issues, people, and situations of civic life to reinforce classroom study (Newmann 1987).
Because of institutional obstacles discussed earlier, few proponents of the bring-citizenship-to-life philosophy have advocated using the laboratory called school-that microsociety where everything a student does (or is not allowed to do) becomes a lesson in citizenship. A less authoritarian, democratic school climate has been shown to foster democratic civic attitudes and behavior (Ehman 1980; Hepburn 1983). Yet, with few exceptions (Rodriguez 1988), educators seem to believe that hands-on preparation for citizenship after high school necessitates experience outside of school (A Teacher's Guide 1987).
Practicing citizenship, influencing public policy, and participating in the political process are all worthwhile ways to bridge the classroom and the larger community. Within the school setting, however, additional opportunities reinforce daily the classroom citizenship message. Both internal and external outlets have roles to play in the education process.
An Extracurricular Laboratory for Citizenship
Former public school teacher and administrator Joe Nathan (1990), now director of the Center for Social Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, advocates a model for participatory citizenship that establishes school and community service as a high school graduation requirement. Effective participatory programs, Nathan argues, have five features:
1.They address a real need.
2.They integrate and nurture academic skills.
3.They allow students to analyze problems, consider and try possible solutions, evaluate results, try again, and reflect on what they have learned.
4.They encourage collaborative problem solving between teacher and student.
5.They produce a tangible product as evidence of accomplishment.
A closer look at one school participatory program that offers students the benefits Nathan outlines illustrates the potential value of intraschool partnerships to teach citizenship values.
Most schools house at least one of this country's eighteen thousand junior and high school publications, often as an extracurricular activity. Many schools offer a journalism class. Research shows that students involved in extracurricular activities develop higher levels of political efficacy and participation in civic life outside of school (Ehman 1980; Hoge 1988). As student journalists probe and question, face obstacles and balance competing interests, and examine school issues and try to effect change, they exemplify citizenship in action.
In much the same way that linking language arts and civic education can be advantageous (Stotsky 1991), so can cooperation among social studies and journalism teachers enhance both programs and improve students' preparation for productive citizenship. Integrated learning is not new to the language arts. Writing across the curriculum (Silberman 1989), using the community as a classroom (Gillis 1992), and crossing disciplinary boundaries through team-teaching and collaborative projects (Kutz and Roskelly 1991) highlight the value of reinforcement in the language arts.
Jack Dvorak's (1988) research, which supports such a cooperative effort, identifies many benefits to students who apply their writing and critical-thinking skills through student publications. Of the nineteen thousand students studied who took the ACT assessment test, about 25 percent had worked on a school newspaper or yearbook. Student journalists had significantly higher social studies scores (74th percentile) than the 75 percent who had not worked on publications. Of those who went on to college, the student journalists had significantly higher high school grade point averages and better high school grades in both English and social studies than those not involved in journalism ("ACT Research" 1986).
Dvorak does not claim that his research shows a cause-and-effect link between publications work and greater academic achievement. But students who had completed a high school journalism class noted benefits of this academic and laboratory environment and provided data suggesting that practical application in a publications setting reinforces and enhances classroom learning, regardless of academic ability.
Dvorak's two-year study makes a compelling argument for scholastic journalism as reinforcement of academic objectives. Summarizing his research findings, Dvorak (1988, 395) notes that "certainly it can be assumed that high school publications provided a valuable outlet in which these students could practice their writing talents." The same argument can be made to link journalism and the social studies.
By incorporating a scholastic journalism component with course-long citizenship overtones, social studies teachers could reinforce with a contemporary richness the historical and philosophical context they provide in their classrooms. A successful interdisciplinary program acknowledges limitations within each discipline while recognizing the benefits of each.
Time constraints, inadequate textbooks or resources, and a crowded curriculum (or one that relegates journalism to extracurricular status) haunt the journalism teacher just as they do the social studies teacher (Eveslage 1987). Too many journalism teachers and advisors, meanwhile, lack the training or experience to capitalize on their forums for citizenship education. In her study of 325 North Carolina high school journalism teachers, Kay Phillips (1989, 4) found that teachers felt least prepared to teach about freedom of expression than any other part of their work.
Many teachers have felt the free-speech chill of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier message to the public schools (Eveslage 1988). Teachers, especially those in journalism less familiar with the law, have been intimidated by a court ruling that stresses the power of school officials over the free-speech rights of students. This has led some to retreat from the controversial issues so often linked to civic education.
In response to Hazelwood, many publications have strengthened their journalistic standards and continue to address important issues. If public discussion of issues that affect young people can reflect and reinforce sound citizenship principles learned in the classroom, a cooperative effort should respond positively to Hazelwood's call for responsible expression.
The Journalism Education Association's recent certification program, which includes rigid requirements for Certified Journalism Educator and Master Journalism Educator status (Brown 1988), is building on Dvorak's research to help make scholastic journalism a legitimate partner in citizenship education.
By no means the only answer, cooperation with the student press nonetheless provides many of the benefits that reformers of citizenship education seek from a laboratory experience. School publications can offer that springboard to community involvement. Young journalists who see their social studies lessons come to life in the student press, where freedom of expression can effect change, are likely to continue to be active citizens.
An Appropriate Time to Act
Linda McNeil (1988c, 485) has said that "genuine reform will have to address the structural tensions within schools and seek, not minimum standards, but models of excellence." The model offered here is not offered as the answer, but a worthy alternative amid evidence that alternatives must be sought.
For several reasons, it is time for those in the social studies to seek reinforcements and modify the curriculum in an effort to improve education for citizenship:
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