New research on young people learning to care about public life

In the midst of the U.S. budget impasse of July 2011, it’s fascinating to reflect on how some inspiring teachers & schools are working to get high school young people engaged in their communities. It doesn’t start with high-minded debates about tax policy vs. Medicare, of course; it starts with what young people care about and encounter in their everyday lives.

In a recently published study in the journal Journalism, my collaborator Rachel Monserrate & I found that encouraging teens to engage in media production is a way to help them see themselves as part of a community that’s broader, and that has more shared concerns, than their immediate friendship circles. Maybe this is a start on the road to getting young people to develop empathy for those whose life experiences are different from their own.

Here’s the abstract from the article published in a recent issue of the journal Journalism:

This article examines how involvement in high school journalism contributes to socialization into citizenship and, most crucially, to the development of a collective sensibility. Recent work by W Lance Bennett (2008), Zukin and his colleagues (2006), and Sara-Ellen Amster (2006) provides an interpretive lens for considering young people’s experiences with journalism and with citizenship. Interviews with 45 high school journalists from 19 different schools are analyzed, highlighting emerging definitions of citizenship as reflected in how young people discuss their work as student journalists. The study suggests that participation in the culture of high school journalism can provide young people with opportunities to develop the skills and experiences necessary for civic engagement, including the experience of collective decision-making. This study also argues that some young people come to understand the costs of engaged citizenship after negative experiences with their school’s administration, as such experiences reveal differing understandings of the roles of authority, journalism, and collective responsibility within the high school community that its high school journalism is meant to serve.

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