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Civic Learning through Action: Generation Citizen

A new CIRCLE report highlights this promising approach to providing an effective, action-oriented civic education to students.

In “Civic Learning through Action: The Case of Generation Citizen,” CIRCLE staff describe Generation Citizen’s theory of change and preliminary evidence from its program evaluations. We use Generation Citizen (GC) as an example of the concept of “Action Civics.” GC works with middle and high schools in diverse communities by offering a curriculum, coaching, and support. GC trains college students to visit classrooms twice a week, teaching civics through a standardized curriculum.

A perennial debate in civic education is about the role of “action”: whether to involve students in political or civic activities in addition to simply asking them to discuss or study politics and civil society. This debate goes back at least to the early 1900s, when the great American philosopher John Dewey argued that civic education had to be experiential. Yet action-oriented civics programs have often been marginal, compared to curricula rooted in textbooks.

In 2010, six groups—including GC and CIRCLE–came together because of their common interest in promoting experiential civic education that involves underserved and marginalized youth working for social change (now the National Action Civics Collaborative). They were not the only organizations that share that commitment, but they launched a promising effort to expand the scope and prominence of their approach. One of their early steps was to coin the phrase “Action Civics.” The GC’s theory of change and initial evaluation results exemplify the goals of this movement.

In this new CIRCLE short report, “Civic Learning through Action: The Case of Generation Citizen,” we explain the definition of “action civics,” its theoretical foundation, and in that context then describes the goals and research on Generation Citizen.

This report was written with support from the Spencer Foundation.