What is the role of public education in youth civic engagement?

Societies undergoing major political-economic transformations, as seen during the 1980s and 1990s in emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa, have used public education, specifically civic education, to guide young people toward the specific ideologies associated with democracy.  The overall goal of civic education (also referred to as citizenship education or democracy education) is the promotion of civic engagement and support of democratic or participatory governance.  For example, with regard to the Soviet Union, the disintegration of communism left democracy as the major political ideology, however, the majority of individuals in those countries making up the former Soviet Union had little practical knowledge or experience of the workings of democracy.  Similar concerns have been echoed in other countries and states around the world that experienced democratization.  In countries like Croatia, for example, reforms include education on “democratic citizenship,” required not only for a transition from socialism to democracy but also for acceptance in the European Union.  In countries with longer histories of democracy, like the United States, defining citizenship is no less contentious, such as in current debates about immigration, the rights of sexual minority students or debates about prayer in schools.  Nevertheless, public education typically deals with the nature and role of civic education more neutrally, if at all.  Current educational requirements for youth volunteering are, for example, open for individual opportunity and choice, but may also raise the question of whether civic engagement can or should be mandated.  In addition, other issues related to civic engagement (e.g., the civic empowerment gap or youth activism) are not explored in depth, if at all.

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