Teaching Democracy to Students
Buerkle, K. (2008, May). Teaching Democracy to Students. Presented at AAPOR 2008, New Orleans, LA.
Can democratic political orientations be learned in school? Many donors and foreign governments underwrite school-based civic education in new democracies with the hope it can. They hope school-based civic education will jumpstart social change by orienting students into a political culture that will further cement the country’s democratic trajectory. These civics courses aim to teach the voters of tomorrow the basic mechanics of the new (and often still changing) governmental structures, instill an ethos of participatory citizenship (in places where until relatively recently, participation in the public sphere was circumscribed) and inculcate students with a set of democratic attitudes such as political tolerance and support for democratic decision making (in places where these values are not widely or deeply held).This project explores the success of schools in teaching students knowledge versus values by analyzing responses to a survey sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that measures of the political knowledge and democratic attitudes of 750 students who recently completed a year-long civic education course in Kyrgyzstan. Students’ responses are compared to a control sample of 600 somewhat older youths (20 to 24 year olds) who graduated from high school before the inclusion of a civic curriculum in the Kyrgyz educational system. Short interviews were also conducted with each student’s high school civic instructor (n=150) to evaluate how teachers’ experience level and teaching styles affect outcomes.Results indicate that the educational system is adept at imparting knowledge, but less so at changing values. Civics students are more knowledgeable about their political system than the control sample and give more tolerant answers to question related to the position of women in society. However, the results are more mixed when examining other democratic political orientations.