|Teaching Civic Engagement Globally is the result of collaborative work spanning scholars from multiple disciplines, fields, and careers. Political scientists, educators, and students have joined to produce important, timely research.|
by Emily Beausoleil and Claire Timperley, Victoria University of Wellington
The key aim of civic education is to increase students’ sense of civic agency, “the necessary attribute of civically engaged citizens.” Conventionally, this has been done by fostering civic literacy and other relevant capacities, with a particular emphasis on civic action in relation to formal political and civic institutions. Yet many of the issues that most concern our students, from climate change to wealth inequality to racism, are best described as structural issues that are sustained by far more than the mechanisms of formal politics. And with global surges of climate strikes and social movements, our students are witnessing and experiencing a range of extra-institutional civic activities. How might we reconfigure civic education when such features characterize the contexts within which our students as citizens seek to act? In this chapter, we offer an account of an upper-level undergraduate political science course that sought to foster a sense of agency among our students through a novel approach to civic education: a structural approach.
We outline two substantive innovations in this course that take a distinctly structural approach. The first is a systems understanding of key contemporary sociopolitical issues, giving students a new evaluative lens through which to understand key sociopolitical challenges. The second is the study of a diverse repertoire of largely extra-institutional forms of civic action that affect the broader structural field in different ways, at different points, via different means. Student reflections on their learning following this course demonstrate two things: first, that the course had direct and significant impacts on students’ sense of their agency as well as the extent and diversity of their civic activities; second, that these impacts can be linked to the distinctly structural dimensions of the course. 90% of our students over 2019 and 2020 noted a greater perception of their sense of agency as a result of taking this course, and 37% specified particular civic actions they were now taking as a response to what they learned. Surveyed 6 months and 18 months after the course had ended, 66% of students stated this course had been very relevant or useful to them as a citizen. Importantly, students linked these impacts to their structural understanding of both contemporary issues and civic action to address them.
In light of these results, we argue that a structural approach to civic education both enriches students’ analytic capacities regarding many of the sociopolitical issues that they as citizens seek to engage, and enhances their strategic capacities when discerning and designing appropriate forms of civic action to address such issues. Understanding the contexts in which we act as complex, dynamic systems demystifies issues that can feel monolithic and impenetrable, and reveals multiple sites of intervention; likewise, understanding our own actions in such terms both broadens and nuances students’ sense of the diverse forms of action available to them, and how these impact the broader context. In these ways, a structural approach offers a novel and effective approach to fostering civic education’s core aim: a sense of agency.
About Teaching Civic Engagement Globally
Educators around the globe are facing challenges in teaching politics in an era in which populist values are on the rise, authoritarian governance is legitimized, and core democratic tenets are regularly undermined. To combat anti-democratic outcomes and citizens’ apathy, Teaching Civic Engagement Globally provides a wide range of pedagogical tools to help the current generation learn to effectively navigate debates and lead changes in local, national, and global politics. Contributors discuss key theoretical discussions and challenges regarding global civic engagement education, highlight successful evidence-based pedagogical approaches, and review effective ways to reach across disciplines and the global education community.