Political Science Now

Active Learning and the Acquisition of Political Knowledge in High School

Chapter 8: Active Learning and the Acquisition of Political Knowledge in High School

Diana Owen, Georgetown University and G. Isaac W. Riddle, Georgetown University 

This study assesses the effectiveness of high school civic education in conveying political knowledge which is an important precursor to political engagement.  Specifically, it addresses the question:  Is political knowledge acquisition related to the type of classroom civic education a student receives?  Using data from a 2014-15 study of Indiana high school students and their teachers, we find that students whose teachers had gone through the We the People professional development program gained more knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, government institutions, and race and politics than did other students.  In addition, students who take civics as an elective course gain more knowledge than students who take it as a required class.  We also find that an open classroom is conducive to students’ civic learning.

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About the Authors

Diana Owen is an associate professor of political science and teaches in the communication, culture, and technology graduate program, and has served as director of the American Studies Program at Georgetown University. She is the author of multiple books, including American Government and Politics in the Information Age (with David Paletz and Timothy Cook, 2012). She is the coeditor of The Internet and Politics: Citizens, Voters, and Activists (with Sarah Oates and Rachel Gibson, 2006), Making a Difference: The Internet and Elections in Comparative Perspective (with Richard Davis, Stephen Ward, and David Taras, 2009), and The Internet and Elections in the US, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (with Shoko Kiyohara and Kazahiro Maeshima, 2017). She is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters in the fields of civic education and engagement, media and politics, political socialization, elections and voting behavior, and political psychology/sociology. She has conducted studies funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Center for Civic Education, and other sources. Her current research explores the relationship between civic education and political engagement over the life course and new media’s role in politics.

G. Isaac W. Riddle completed his Masters in Communication, Culture, and Technology, at Georgetown University.  He is a former captain in the United States Marine Corps who served in roles as both an Intelligence and Reconnaissance officer.  He is interested in how citizens are socialized into the political actors they become and how the modern media and technology environment contributes to the formation.  This includes how notions of citizenship are changing and what this means for political participation. He is also passionate about civic education and research how it is linked to the acquisition of political knowledge, dispositions, and skills.

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association / pp: 103-120