Citizenship Civics Education for 21st Century "Digital Term Paper

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Civics Education for 21st Century "Digital Natives": Educating the Next Generation of Citizens

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. - Thomas Jefferson

Given the nebulous but increasingly dangerous nature of the threats being arrayed against the United States and its interests abroad, young people today desperately need to understand just how important it is to remain vigilant in the exercise of their constitutional rights, particularly their right and responsibility as citizens to vote when they turn 18 years old. In this regard, Lawson and Scott (2002) report that citizenship is a status that is afforded those who are full members of a community: "There is no universal principle that determines what those rights and duties shall be, but societies in which citizenship is a developing institution create an image of an ideal citizen against which achievement can be measured and towards which aspiration can be directed" (181). Black's Law Dictionary (1990) defines the important role of "citizen" as being, "One who, under the Constitution and laws of the United States, is a member of the political community, owing allegiance and being entitled to the enjoyment of full civil rights" (244).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Term Paper on Citizenship Civics Education for 21st Century "Digital Assignment

In 2002, the federal government announced a new set of history and civic education initiatives that were intended to foster national identity and pride. These initiatives, President George W. Bush maintained, would serve to "improve students' knowledge of American history, increase their civic involvement, and deepen their love for our great country"; the president added that in order "to engender a sense of patriotism in young Americans, we must teach them that America is a force for good in the world, bringing hope and freedom to other people" (quoted in Westheimer at 608). Unfortunately, many Civics classes in the nation's high schools are still failing to inculcate this sense of responsibility to the political community and many young people are entering their adult lives as lifelong taxpayers without any true sense of what it means to be an active citizen in a democracy. In this regard, Parker (2005) emphasizes that, "People who customarily refer to themselves as taxpayers are not even remotely related to democratic citizens. What taxpayers do not do, and what people who call themselves taxpayers have long since stopped even imagining themselves doing, is governing. In a democracy, by the very meaning of the word, the people govern" (344). Furthermore, the nation's high schools are both tasked with this responsibility and are in an excellent position to rectify this situation by fine-tuning their existing civics curricula to better meet the needs of young learners today (Parker 344).

Purpose of the Study.

The purpose of this study is to provide a description of the current problems facing young people today as they seek to achieve full participation in the political community and why many of them lack the education to do so. To this end, a review of the scholarly and peer-reviewed literature provides a relevant background and overview, an analysis of the changes that have taken place in recent years in education, a discussion of the need for alternative civics education approaches, and what the implications of a failure to do so might be. A summary of the research and salient findings are provided in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview.

The need to educate the next generation of voters (and taxpayers) concerning the responsibilities and benefits of citizenship has assumed increasing importance in recent years. According to Beckerman, Kim and Parks (1996), an increasing number of high school students in the U.S. lack a sound understanding of American civics and studies have shown that a majority of these students do not have any depth of understanding of this important subject and what it means to be a citizen. For instance, while almost all high school seniors possessed a rudimentary knowledge of civics in terms of elections, laws, and constitutional rights, only about half of them understood specific government structures and functions (Beckerman et al. 171). The trends that have been emerging in recent years are even more alarming, and only 6% of the high school seniors surveyed by Beckerman and his colleagues had any type of knowledge and understanding of governmental institutions such as the cabinet or the judiciary. Likewise, the results of a 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress Report Card (NAEP) in Civics indicated that just 38% of 8th graders in the United States knew that Congress was responsible for making laws in this country (Beckerman et al. 171). The results of the 1998 NAEP civics examination were just as disheartening, indicating that fully 33% of fourth-graders could not explain the meaning of "I pledge allegiance to the flag" on a multiple-choice test and a majority of fourth-graders were unable to answer the question why "citizens elect people to make laws for them" in a democracy (Paige 2003:37).

The results of the NAEP 2001 U.S. History Report Card also reflected a similar lack of proficiency; once again, fourth-, eighth-, and 12th-graders were tested and the results indicated that fully 89% of high school seniors, 84% of eighth- graders, and 82% of fourth-graders were ranked below the "proficient" levels (Page 37). According to Paige, "The most recent data we have on the current status of civics knowledge in the United States is discouraging, to say the least. Some might even say that we have reached a crisis in this country with regard to civics education" (emphasis added) (37). In this environment, high school teachers are scrambling to identify better ways to deliver educational services but the playing field has changed in substantive ways for the young learners involved and educators must take these changes into account in order for such initiatives to be successful, and these issues are discussed further below.

Changes in Study Population and Their Implications.

Although the function of public schools in the United States has not changed in any fundamental way in recent years, the curriculum and the student body certainly have in ways that can be used to good effect for civics education, but only if these differences are recognized and understood by educators. For example, Prensky (2005) reports that, "Our students are no longer 'little versions of us,' as they may have been in the past. In fact, they are so different from us that we can no longer use either our 20th century knowledge or our training as a guide to what is best for them educationally" (emphasis added) (8). According to Salopek (2003), young people today have been accustomed to using technology all of their lives and now work and play at a completely different pace from previous generations in what Prensky has termed "twitch speed." In January 1998, Prensky defined the new learning environment for young people today as follows: "This generation grew up on video games ('twitch speed'), MTV (more than 100 images a minute), and the ultra-fast speed of action films. Their developing minds learned to adapt to speed and thrive on it.... The under-30 generation has had far more experience at processing information quickly than its predecessors, and is therefore better at it" (3). Some of the more relevant points made by Prensky in this regard that may provide new opportunities for improving the delivery of civics education in the nation's high school are described further in Table 1 below.

Table 1.

Differences in Learning Styles between "Digital Natives" and "Digital Immigrants."

Cognitive Style


Twitch Speed vs. Conventional Speed

Little in real life moves as fast as the stimuli that confront learners on a daily basis. For instance, MTV, video games, streamed media all develop an unprecedented level of media expectations; learning offerings are challenged to not only meet the pace of "twitch speed," but to exploit this capacity to its fullest extent.

Parallel vs. Linear Processing

The occurrence of multi-tasking has become the norm among young learners. Whether listening to music while studying; while in classroom; downloading music while surfing the web; speaking on the cell phone while writing a paper, the capacity exists among young people for extensive parallel processing.

Random Access vs. Linear Thinking

The impact of new media has created a generation of learners that diverge from a single path approach. Hyperlinks, CD-ROMs/DVDs, and the internet in general have all been designed to allow maximum flexibility in navigation. The learner today has access to numerous resources that has never existed before. These resources will allow learners to create and explore in exciting new ways. The challenge will be to structure learning experiences so that students will have new opportunities to be creative and use their access to knowledge.

Graphics First vs. Text First

Graphics were previously regarded as a learning aid that reinforced the message communicated through text. Today, though, the opposite has become the norm. Modern learners, heavily influenced by music and the sound and video clip culture, increasingly perceive text as an aid to support audio and visual… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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