Evidence That It Works
Researchers compared two different high school programs in the United States where students learned about democracy and citizenship. One program focused on participatory citizenship in an East Coast suburban/rural high school (almost all students were European Americans). The other program focused on justice-oriented citizenship in a West Coast urban high school (38% African American, 38% Asian or Pacific Islander, 5% Latino, 5% White, 10% Other; 40% lived in public housing).
The results? Both programs were successful in achieving each of their goals, but they also had different outcomes based on their priorities. After completing both programs, teens in both groups followed the news more frequently, felt greater civic efficacy, and supported greater government responsibility for those in need.
Teens in the participatory citizenship program also felt greater personal responsibility to help others and greater leadership efficacy following the program. They also had a clearer vision of what to do for their community, and had greater knowledge of the skills needed for community development. What’s more, teens in the justice-oriented citizenship program also had greater understanding between structural and individual explanations for poverty, and greater interest in politics following the program.
The researchers highlighted that teens benefit from both types of program priorities–nurturing participation and cultivating the ability to analyze the underlying structural biases that lead to injustice–because focusing on promoting one does not guarantee the other will be fostered automatically in teens as well.
Why Does It Matter?
Teens need support in building skills that will help them to solve societal problems. They also need to learn how to recognize when societal structures perpetuate inequities and how to take collective action to foster justice.
Equity and justice involve basic human rights for all people, but the majority of children across the world are living with inequity and injustice. What’s more, these unfair realities affect not just the development of children from marginalized identities because privileged children bear witness and are influenced by the existence of inequity and injustice. In many cases, privilege is derived from exploiting children and communities from particular identities, which have negative ripple effects on entire societies.