Youth as Political Citizens: looking forward

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Participation Thursday, June 27, 2013 View Count = 3060

Youth as Political Citizens: looking forward

This in the third in a three-part series of blog posts, from guest blogger Brodie Conley, on the socialization of young Canadians into the political system (read the first post here, and the second here). Conley recently graduated with an MA in political science from the University of Guelph, where he held a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship. During his master’s degree, Brodie worked as a research assistant on the early stages of a major survey research project examining political disengagement among Canadian adolescents. His master’s research project examined the determinants of confidence in political institutions among Canadian adolescents. You can follow him on Twitter@brodieconley.

Let’s take a quick second to re-cap. In my first post I wrote a bit about the importance of re-framing political citizenship to include children and adolescents. In the second I briefly reviewed some of what we know about how youth are socialized into the political system. In this final post I want to think through a few provisional ideas for ways in which youth may be integrated into the system as political citizens. It’s easiest to group recommendations into two categories: those that can be implemented in specific policy areas (‘policy initiatives’) and those that can be implemented within political institutions (‘intra-institutional initiatives’).

The most effective policy change would be to reconsider how civics education is delivered in elementary and high schools. While intervention in parent-based socialization is essentially off-limits for the state, education is one of the few policy areas in which governments may directly intervene to promote civic engagement. As I wrote in my previous post, there is a growing mass of research that indicates political engagement among youth is linked directly to an increased level of interest in, and knowledge of, politics. One effective way to encourage these attitudes is to simply increase the presence of politics in schools.

Currently, high school students in Ontario are only required to take a single, half-semester course in civics—hardly enough time to fully engage students interest in the political system. Further, policy-makers must broaden their focus to provide more opportunities for what can be termed ‘meaningful’ civic engagement. Actively engaging youth in politics, through activities such as mock elections, model parliaments, or simply encouraging positive civic behaviour through volunteer or service learning programs can help lay the foundation for lifelong political engagement.

In terms of intra-institutional initiatives, political parties might be inspired by some recent Canadian research. Heather Bastedo, for example, shows that the failure of parties to adequately represent the values of Canadian youth is closely related to declining voter turnout among young Canadians. Bastedo’s analysis might logically be extended to include other political attitudes and behaviours—by making politics more relevant to young Canadians, parties can, presumably, increase general interest in politics and, in turn, expand party membership among youth. Most importantly, Bastedo’s approach obligates politicians and parties to bring young Canadians into the political community, effectively shifting the responsibility for decreased political engagement away from youth (“What’s wrong with kids these days!”). If political parties are seriously concerned about the problem of youth disengagement, the first place they need to look for reform is within their own approach to politics.

These simple solutions would signal a strong commitment on the part of politicians to tackle the problem of youth disengagement. Governments, though, must also invest in additional research. Despite the recent return to socialization in political science research, it remains a limited field. It is especially important that we attempt to learn more about youth specifically within Canada, as most influences on socialization are context specific. If, as suggested above, we are to create new programs and initiatives that bring youth into the political system, it is important that we have strong research to guide their design and implementation.

want to end by noting that there are already a number of Canadian organizations doing amazing work to promote civic engagement among young Canadians. A quick web search yields remarkable results and proves that the tide of youth disengagement is turning. Organizations such as Historica-Dominion, the Forum for Young Canadians, and of course, Samara, are all making it much easier for young Canadians to learn about and to become involved in politics.   

Read More

"You Don't Have to be Big to be a Citizen": political citizenship in Canada (Conley's first post in this series)

Understanding Political Socialization: a daunting puzzle (Conley's second post in this series)

Samara's Democracy Talks

Samara in the Classroom

On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g