The Spencer New Civics Early Career Scholars Program
at Harvard Graduate School of Education
Worldwide, we hear laments that young people are not voting and are ignorant of politics. For some this is about democracy, for others, it is concern that young people are disaffected. However this picture is incomplete. Many young people, even while saying they are ‘not interested in politics’, are actively involved in single issues, especially around the environment or ethical targets, and many are involved in community work. These are compelling evidence both of civic responsibility and the confidence to be effective. Nationally and internationally, we see examples of young people rapidly becoming highly involved in social movements when they feel engaged by the issues and empowered to influence change.
We need a new definition of ‘civic participation’ that encompasses what young people actually do in the public domain; we need a definition for ‘New Civics’ that takes a broader and more realistic view of civic action and engagement. We need to know what motivates and empowers such action – and also what inhibits it. We need research that contributes to a wider definition, where it fits in young people’s lives, and how it fits into social and political capital. We need these to create effective civic education programs, to harness young people’s civic energies, and to address alienation and disempowerment.
The Spencer Foundation is a major supporter of New Civics research and the development of practice in civic education. They have generously funded a Program at HGSE to train doctoral students for research in civic engagement and civic education – the New Civics Early Career Scholars Program. This year we have selected eleven students; we expect further intakes in future years. They take special courses and participate in two internships where they will work with appropriate research and practice teams, in Harvard, the local region and elsewhere, including internationally. Many of the Early Career Scholars already have international experience with peace education, refugee children, child soldiers, or minority groups. Their disciplines include psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and law: they bring these constructively to the community’s deliberations.
We use a regular Workshop for the community of Scholars to share experience, ideas and skills. We bring in experts from Harvard and elsewhere. We connect with many people at Harvard who are working in related areas, to strengthen ties across the University and provide a rich environment for developing this innovative field.
The Early Career Scholars’ Program builds on the flourishing Civic and Moral Education Initiative at HGSE which for four years has provided a very lively forum for seminars, workshops and collaborative activities; it now has a mailing list of over 700 people from a wide variety of professional and scholarly backgrounds. CMEI is part of HGSE’s signature and support for civic and moral education.
What we hope to achieve:
- A cohort of researchers who are well trained for developing research, policy and practice in New Civics
- A community of scholars who together will move forward, elaborate and disseminate a definition of New Civics that informs public and policy, as well as scholarly thinking about civic engagement.
- A framework for developing effective civic education, nationally and internationally, within and outside school, that promotes empowered young citizens
- A body of research from students, faculty and practitioners that significantly progresses civic-related theory, methodology and application across disciplines
The Early Career Scholars’ Program is run by Helen Haste, Robert Selman, Meira Levinson, Howard Gardner and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, with coordinator Julia Higdon. We are grateful to Dean Kathleen McCartney for her support for the Program. We are indebted to the Spencer Foundation and hope to achieve their goals as well as ours.