Civic education and engagement as goals of social studies : knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of pre-service teachers
Roach, Pamela Susan
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Promoting civic competence is the central purpose of social studies education (National Council for the Social Studies, 2001). But, the success of civic education has been in question. Young voters participate at low levels but also have low levels of political knowledge (Horwitt, 1999; Putnam, 2000). Research has shown that teachers can impact students’ political socialization (Horwitt, 1999). This study raised the question: how will younger pre-service teachers impact their students? A mixed methods design was used to examine secondary pre-service teachers’ perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about civic engagement and whether they perceived their role as one of promoting or developing civic engagement. Stratified, random sampling based on average voting rates by state was used to select the secondary social studies methods class at 13 large research universities (n=208). Most participants indicated that they would prefer to teach U.S. or world history classes than teach civics/U.S. government classes. Participants’ preferences for teaching history were matched by their content area coursework. Participants had taken an average of 7.81 history courses but only half as many political science courses. As expected, additional coursework in political science resulted in participants feeling more comfortable and prepared to teach civics and government topics. However, a considerable number seemed unsure how they would teach civics. Others indicated simulation/role-play, lecture/discussion, or active learning strategies. Some participants did not feel comfortable encouraging their students to be active citizens while a few thought it was inappropriate for teachers or beyond their job description. Personal political experiences or having experiences requiring debate, negotiation, or compromise appeared to positively affect pre-service teachers’ intentions to influence young peoples’ civic engagement. The policy implications of this study include advising pre-service teachers to take political science courses primarily in American politics or political theory, and supplemented by international relations and comparative politics. Teacher education programs should focus on providing opportunities for students to learn about and participate in activities requiring debate, negotiation, and compromise as well as in community government and politics. Professors, including teacher educators, should clarify for pre-service teachers the need to encourage their students to participate as citizens in a democracy.