Political Science Now

Collaborative Civic Engagement: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Teaching Democracy with Elementary and University Students

Chapter 18: Collaborative Civic Engagement: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Teaching Democracy with Elementary and University Students

by Ann N. Crigler, University of Southern California, Gerald Thomas Goodnight, University of Southern California, Stephen Armstrong, University of Southern California, and Aditi RameshUniversity of Southern California

Civic engagement has been a hallmark of democratic practice since the beginnings of the American republic. The collaboration of citizens in building communities forms the basis of civic engagement and furnishes ongoing topics of research and teaching for political science. This chapter examines a complex multi-institutional and multidisciplinary pilot project: University of Southern California’s Penny Harvest. Our team of scholars and students creates a reflective, experiential learning environment, based in the political science department that fosters civic engagement in both undergraduate and elementary-level students. Political science students work in conjunction with others from across the university and beyond to build an experience that employs philanthropy as a tool for youth to discuss issues and learn about resources that can help to address community needs. At every level, the program practices collaborative civic engagement; as such, it evolves dynamically and organically over time. Stakeholders shift and adopt new approaches as topics, interests, and opportunities change. This chapter discusses the elements of the program, the collaborations and political science initiatives, and the initial evaluations. The five-year effort shares Alexis de Tocqueville’s view of civic engagement that collaboration is foundational to American democracy. We follow John Dewey’s injunction to match experience to activity in order to cultivate informed citizens. Penny Harvest in Los Angeles strives to assemble a space where everyone can work together successfully.

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About the Authors

Ann N. Crigler is professor of political science with appointments in the Price School of Public Policy and the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California.  She has published numerous books, articles, and essays on political communication, elections, emotions, and political behavior. Her coauthored and edited books include: Common Knowledge: News and the Construction of Political Meaning (University of Chicago Press, 1992); the award winning Crosstalk: Citizens, Candidates and the Media in a Presidential Campaign (University of Chicago Press, 1996); The Psychology of Political Communication (University of Michigan Press, 1996); Rethinking the Vote: The Politics and Prospects of American Election Reform (Oxford University Press, 2004); and The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior (University of Chicago Press, 2007). Her current research examines the role of social media in US elections, emotions and political decision-making, and youth civic engagement. She and her students are currently working with elementary schools in Los Angeles to conduct research and increase children’s civic skills, involvement and community networks through the USC Penny Harvest.

G. Thomas Goodnight is a professor at the University of Southern California in the Annenberg School of Communication. Argumentation, deliberation, and the public sphere comprise his primary areas of inquiry. He has directed doctoral studies in communication at USC and Northwestern University, where he directed the Owen L. Coon Debate Society. Having directed 52 dissertations, he has been accorded career awards by the National Communication Association and been named among the five top scholars in argumentation of the last 50 years by the American Forensics Association.

Stephen Armstrong is currently a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in political science. He has worked on the Penny Harvest program for over two years—serving as an assistant coach for the elementary school children, program assistant with the university classes, and student research assistant. Stephen has also taken both of the undergraduate classes that focus on the Penny Harvest. In addition, Stephen is an avid musician and composer. He enjoys spending his time repairing and trading old guitars. In the future he hopes to continue his involvement in community service as well as his studies in political science.

Aditi Ramesh is currently a junior at the University of Southern California, majoring in economics/mathematics. Ramesh has been conducting research under Ann N. Crigler in the department of political science since the beginning of her freshman year, and has assisted with a variety of projects. Ramesh one day hopes to pursue a master’s in data science and work at the intersection of big data and humanitarian work. Since freshman year, Ramesh has actively worked with nonprofits in Los Angeles through a pro-bono student consulting organization, Los Angeles Community Impact. Through this, she has served with many clients in the area, from homeless shelters to after-school educational projects.

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association