Mandatory service and government observations in a secondary government curriculum : a case study
McCurdy, Heather McMurray
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Over the past 15 years, service learning has become an increasingly popular pedagogical tool in schools. At the same time, scholars have shown concerns with decreased levels of civic engagement. The current study was designed to investigate how one suburban school of approximately 1,800 students incorporated a mandatory citizenship education program that was couched within the United States Government curriculum to promote the behaviors of adult citizenship. In the program, seniors were required to complete either service or government observations during the semester in which they took United States Government and then reflect on those experiences based on a written prompt. Using qualitative data consisting of student, teacher, administrator, and community member interviews as well as archival records, program documents, and student reflection papers, this study investigated both the structure of the program and student perceptions of their experiences as they related to their understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship. This study was conducted within the framework of Putnam’s social capital theory and Barber’s theory of mandatory service. Data related to program structure indicated that the choice to make the program mandatory was a function of having a previous program that was not mandated in which there was uneven participation. Program structure also indicated that the school’s collaboration with another mandatory program aided the policy development process. Teacher-coordinator release time was also found to be a critical component for purposes of student/program accountability. Finally, data related to program curriculum integration indicated that although students and teachers felt that the program received consistent attention through the course curriculum, more could be done to strengthen the student reflection component. Student data showed that service students tied their experiences to the curriculum through their understanding of civic virtue. Government students tied their experiences to the curriculum through their understanding of both civic virtue and the role of a democracy. Student data also revealed that both projects developed various social capital indicators. In comparing the outcomes of each project type, students engaged in comparable if not equal civic experiences.