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Voice in the Classroom: How an Open Classroom Climate Fosters Political Engagement Among Adolescents

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Abstract

Does civics instruction have an impact on the political engagement of adolescents? If so, how? Analysis of data from CIVED, a major study of civic education conducted in 1999, finds that an open classroom climate has a positive impact on adolescents’ civic knowledge and appreciation of political conflict, even upon controlling for numerous individual, classroom, school, and district characteristics. Furthermore, an open classroom environment fosters young people’s intention to be an informed voter. Results further show that exposure to an open classroom climate at school can partially compensate for the disadvantages of young people with low socioeconomic status.

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Notes

  1. See Niemi and Junn, however, for a discussion of articles in the empirical literature that, prior to the publication of their book, also suggested that civics instruction has a measurable impact on adolescents’ political knowledge (pp. 17–19). Because this research generally has not appeared in typical venues for political science scholarship, political scientists were largely unaware of it and the conventional wisdom remained that civics classes had little or no effect.

  2. See Baldi et al. (2001) and Williams et al. (2002) for more details on the administration of CIVED. See http://www.wam.umd.edu/~jtpurta/ for the instrument itself, and numerous technical reports on the data.

  3. Although note that (Hess 2002a) argues that there is little discussion in American classrooms.

  4. Using data at the school level for the factor analysis produces nearly identical results.

  5. Note that for the classroom climate index, a missing value on any one item in the index was imputed using the responses to the other items in the index (using the IMPUTE command in Stata 9.0). This was also done for news media and home discussion (described below). In all cases, imputed and non-imputed variables provide the same substantive results. Details available upon request.

  6. Response options are very bad, somewhat bad, somewhat good, and very good.

  7. See the Appendix for the details of the factor analysis.

  8. See the Appendix for more details. Factor analysis reveals three other dimensions of engagement as well, which do not pertain to this analysis.

  9. Data regarding schools and school districts were taken from the Common Core of Data (U.S. Department of Education 2002) and merged with the CIVED data.

  10. This item is aggregated to the classroom level because students within a given class did not always agree on the frequency of instruction. Results are substantively identical when an individual-level measure of social studies instruction is included instead of the classroom mean.

  11. All statistical relationships discussed here are significant at the .05 level or less, as determined by a one-tailed test. A one-tailed test is appropriate given the directional hypotheses.

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Correspondence to David E. Campbell.

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This research has been supported by the generous assistance of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Leaning and Engagement (CIRCLE) and the National Academy of Education’s postdoctoral fellowship program. Additional funding for research assistance has also come from the University of Notre Dame’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Earlier versions were presented at the annual meeting of the CIRCLE advisory board, and Notre Dame’s Program in American Democracy workshop. Able research assistance has been provided by Jacqueline Genesio.

Appendix

Appendix

Results from Factor Analysis

Table A1 Appreciation of conflict
Table A2 Voting index

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Campbell, D.E. Voice in the Classroom: How an Open Classroom Climate Fosters Political Engagement Among Adolescents. Polit Behav 30, 437–454 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-008-9063-z

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