Cultivating Youth Engagement: Race & the Behavioral Effects of Critical Pedagogy

  • Matthew D. NelsenEmail author
Original Paper


Political scientists attribute gaps in participation between whites and people of color to unequal access to political resources, political efficacy, and weak affiliations to political parties. I argue that the content of civic education courses also matters. I theorize that if courses were to incorporate critical pedagogy—an educational approach that centers the agency and grassroots political action of marginalized groups—that young people of color would be more likely to participate in politics. I test this theory using an experiment distributed to nearly 700 14–18-year high schoolers in the Chicago area. I find that content informed by this pedagogical approach bolsters the willingness of Latinx and black youth to pursue multiple forms of political participation. Such an educational intervention, coupled with other teaching tools, may provide a way to prepare an increasingly diverse generation of young people for active participation within American democracy. It also reveals how civic education in schools can play a crucial role in processes of political socialization and engagement.


Civic education Critical pedagogy Political participation Young people Race and ethnicity Experiments 



I am grateful for suggestions and feedback from Jamie Druckman, Cathy Cohen, Reuel Rogers, Traci Burch, Meira Levinson, David Campbell, Mary McGrath, John Bullock, Alexandra Filindra, Kumar Ramanathan, Sam Gubitz, Tabitha Bonilla, Ben Page, and Jessica Marshall, as well as participants at the 2018 APSA and Chicago Area Behavior Workshop annual meetings, the Northwestern American Politics Student Workshop, the Northwestern Political Behavior Workshop, and three anonymous reviewers. Special thanks to Natalie Sands for compiling the data set used in this study. I also thank Chicago Public Schools for allowing me to conduct this research.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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