Limitations of the Educational Structure in Political Socialization

Today was the first day in the second semester, and it was like other days. I went to school early, and they gave us new books, also I took some marks from my teachers. My friends and I were talking about what happened in Gaza and how we felt when school was over.

—14-year-old female from a village

Educational Institutions and Political Socialization

While unstructured educational systems are pervasive in all aspects of daily life, this chapter will concentrate on structured educational systems because they are an important influential factor on children’s and youth’s political socialization; however, it is imperative to note that this concentration on structured education does not negate the importance of unstructured education; in fact, both are intertwined and affect children’s and youth’s socialization. For example, impacts made by schools, and/or civic education programs, typically spearhead the structured educational systems. on the other hand, unstructured education in schools such as dialogue among peers also impacts children’s and youth’s political socialization. one 14-year-old male journal study participant from a village mentioned, “I’m in ninth grade [and] a member of the daily school podcasting. I talked about Saddam’s execution and if you are with or against it, the Homeland Day, occasions and feasts, massacres, the external conditions, political and internal conditions.” This podcast takes place in a school setting; however, this

© The Author(s) 2017

J. Habashi, Political Socialization of Youth,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-47523-7_6

participant makes it clear that the dialogue and discussion come directly from him rather than the school authority. To understand this interaction of youth political socialization, this chapter analyzes the structured educational systems, civic curricula, and programs to engage youth in the community.

Along with the family, schools are considered a central avenue for political socialization in the top-down model and perpetuate the political structure of the society through civic or citizenship education (Donnelly, 2009; Habashi & Woley, 2009; Linimon & Joslyn, 2002; van Deth, Abendschon, & Vollmar, 2011). Curricula of civic education significantly contribute to students’ political knowledge (McDevitt & Chaffee, 2002). The focus of research concerning political socialization of children and youth has been mainly on the understanding of adults’ provision of political knowledge provided in the school curricula, family, and media interaction (Gordon & Taft, 2011; Youniss, 2011). Top-down political knowledge has been assumed to be the foundation of children’s political socialization whereby governments appropriate political knowledge and community engagement through school curricula. This assumption is accompanied by the belief that children and youth are empty vessels without the cognitive ability or agency to deconstruct or comprehend political knowledge associated with national discourse, political processes, and civic engagement. This top-down model highlighted in the school curricula has been the singular measured framework of children’ s political socialization studies in which adults and policy makers and researchers are emphasizing political socialization without considering youth agency. The foremost critique of the top-down model stems from the lack of understanding regarding children’ s ability to comprehend ideas associated with politics, governments, public discourse, and other abstract concepts. Therefore, the top-down model view is that children are unable to truly understand complex ideas related to political structure (Muldoon, McLaughlin, & Trew, 2007; Peterson-Badali & Ruck, 2008). This notion is based on the proposition of learning theorists such as Piaget and Kohlberg, who concluded that political concepts are no match to children’ s cognitive ability. The suggestion is that age is the benchmark for children to unpack complicated abstract concepts of politics, thus cognitive development is the milieu of competence. Such theoretical assertion is based on linear perspectives that ignore the ways intersectionality, intergenerationality, and experiences over the life course influence children’s perspectives and agency (Hopkins & Pain, 2007). In addition, these theoretical perspectives narrow down the appreciation of children’ s and youth interactions and interconnectedness with multiple events found in the ecological theory of political socialization (Amna, Ekstrom, Kerr, & Stattin, 2009). van Deth et al. (2011) rebuffed the notion that children are not capable of understanding politics by studying the political knowledge, orientation, and political attitudes of children between 5.5 and 7 years of age in 17 primary schools in a German city. Pictographic images for 100 questions were the medium of communication. The findings revealed that children have an understanding of the country’s political structure and several political issues. Some children emphasized political issues over others due to their socialization through intersectionality and intergenerationality. For example, children from high-income brackets acknowledged global warming as a political issue compared to other students. Children are innately political and their political behavior and knowledge are refined through the relationship with various people and environments (Habashi & Worley, 2014; Kallio & Hakli, 2011). Hence, such evidence does not negate the central discussion of age and political knowledge, especially when it does not enforce adult-directed political socialization. Age as an inherent marker of chronicle progression of political understanding limits our understanding of children’s and youth political agency. This emphasis is merely based on the top-down model embedded in governmental institutions that aim to perpetuate a political structure through adult-directed political socialization (McDevitt & Chaffee, 2002; Warren & Wicks, 2011). The paradox is that adults’ presumption of children’s cognition and age is concerning the understanding of public discourses but does not entangle the practice ofpresenting political information to children through civic and social science curricula (McFarland & Thomas, 2006; Youniss et al., 2002). The consensus is that children are unable to comprehend processes of government and political concepts, yet these same concepts are introduced at an early age to mainstream their future political prospects and engagement (Hart, Donnelly, Youniss, & Atkins, 2007; Hart, & Kirshner, 2009). Formal political socialization aims to ensure future compliance of young generations within the state-assigned channels and values (Donnelly, 2009). The practice manifested in school curricula and civic education attempts to govern the outcome of political knowledge and limit children’s political agency (Habashi & Worley, 2014).

The top-down model of directed political socialization is intertwined with the formal political socialization in the school systems, whereby the civic education attempts to govern the outcome of political knowledge and scaffold children’s political development (Donnelly, 2009; Habashi & Worley, 2009; McDevitt & Chaffee, 2002). Formal political socialization is founded on the reciprocal assumption that children who are training in civic education in school systems will respond by promoting specific political behavior as in voting, participating in government, and being a good citizen to ensure the continuity of a stable structure of the country. Political knowledge is part of the curricula that enhance the endorsement of the societal political structure. Formal political socialization is promoted in civic education designed to prepare a competent and responsible citizen. Levinson (2010) articulated the expected outcome of the US civic education in four major skills. First, individuals should appreciate the country’s history, democracy, and community issues and be able to engage in a constructive dialogue of different perspectives. Second, students and citizens should be active members by working on their community’s concerns and interests. Third, members of the community should be able to act politically to enhance the public discourses through voting, petitioning, protesting, and solving problems. Fourth, citizens should endorse civic virtues such as social responsibility, tolerance, and respect for all. In a way, civic education should cover three areas: (1) civic knowledge that entails political knowledge and an understanding of government function and structure; (2) civic attitude such as community participation, tolerance, and respect to others; and (3) civic action such as participating in democracy via voting (Hart et al., 2007; Hart & Kirshner, 2009; Youniss, 2011). To ensure the outcome of civic educational curriculum, schools should provide learning experiences about current events, history and government, community challenges, and strategies to respond. The learning climate of civic learning should foster open discussion, simulant engagement, and give students experience of interacting with service learning because high or low grades do not necessarily produce the expected outcome of civic education (Feldman, Pasek, Romer, & Jamieson, 2007; Gimpel, Lay, & Schuknecht, 2003; Kahne & Middaugh, 2009; McFarlnd & Thomas, 2006). Students need to have the opportunity to engage in voting, public discussion, and community engagement because political knowledge is not a predicator for community engagement (Hart et al., 2007). The assumption is that school civic education is more effective with a practical component. Social councils, Kids Voting, Student Voice, and other leadership programs and extracurricular activities such as music groups or drama clubs are considered to support the tenants of civic education and enhance the expected outcome of the curricula (McFarland & Thomas, 2006). It was found in the current journaling research study that Palestinian youth participated in several extracurricular and leadership activities including music, sport, team building, and after-school educational programs that related to school, as a 14-year-old male participant from a village stated, “Thursday, 5/4/2013, is Child’s Day and it will be a beautiful day because I’m part of the event organizing team.” The notion of civic education being implemented in schools was seen in students’ participation, as another 14-year-old male from a refugee camp stated, “One day the school’s parliament and the school’s team vowed to keep the school clean, so they told the boys to not throw rubbish in the playground and in the classrooms and the one who does this will be punished. Because of this, the school is clean and they will give awards to students who keep the school clean to encourage them and to punish the students who don’t. I want my school to be the cleanest school ever.” Another example that echoes the role of Palestinian schools in civic engagement is through participating in competition, as another 12-year-old male study participant from a city indicated, “School chose me to participate in the Chemistry Olympiad contest, so in the holiday I am supposed to study two books. Today is Monday, I wish to win in this contest to travel to Tunisia Insha’ Allah [God willing], I will go and I will be the winner. ” The assumption is that students, regardless of political status, income, or gender, benefit from such programs and curricula. Civic education benefits students personally as it acts as a buffer from risky behavior, improves school grades, self-esteem, and communication with peers (Limber & Kaufman, 2004; Perez, Espinoza, Ramos, Coronado, & Cortes, 2010). Further, Feldman et al. (2007) indicated that civic programs such as Student Voices equalized the interest in community engagement of diverse student groups, knowing that minority students lagged behind their White counterparts in political knowledge and interest. A similar assertion is indicated in the research of Perez et al. (2010), which revealed that undocumented students have high rates of civic participation. A major premise of the civic engagement in schools is to translate these behaviors, knowledge, and skills into adulthood. Hart et al. (2007) indicated that students who participated in community service in school years tend to have a high rate of voting during adulthood. In addition, students who participated in extracurricular activities have a high rate of volunteering in adulthood. However, many have argued that students’ engagement with the community while at school does not indicate continuity during adulthood (Flanagan, 2009; Hart et al., 2007). There is no consensus regarding the relationship of civic engagement, adolescence, and adulthood. Hartley (2009) disputed the premise that community engagement in adolescence or youth would lead to increased community engagement in adulthood. The argument is based on students in higher education since some courses require in-service learning and reaching out to the community. Students’ engagement in the community is valuable as it connects knowledge with hands-on experiences. Hence, students should “never be asked to grapple with the socio-political forces that cause the problem to begin with or to imagine how a problematic status quo might be effectively challenged. Disciplinary preparation and democratic participation are potentially complementary ends but each requires a purposeful strategy” (Hartley, 2009, p. 25). Within this perspective, even though students are not demonstrating radical changes, they are achieving the goals of top-down model of political socialization by maintaining the status quo of the political structure. The measurements of youth agency within the civic education are to cultivate civic knowledge, attitude, and action experience during adolescence and carry them on during adulthood. Students are expected to interact with community and school contents to showcase their agency in community participation within the parameters of society. To achieve such expectations, schools should provide experiences of open discussion about current problems and government process as well as community engagement and extracurricular activities to ensure students’ civic engagement beyond school years. These resources should be appropriate to build community trust, exercise freedom of expression, and accept dissent (Youniss, 2011).

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