Title

The emerging citizen : concepts of service and democracy among US high school students

Publication Date

1-1-2006

Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Martha Merrill

Abstract

Beginning in the 1970s and increasing over the last decade, Americans' involvement in politics, church groups, and community organizations has been on the decline. Such groups are the lifeblood of our communities, our "social capital," also known as the connections between people that encourage cooperation and trust (Putnam, 2001) in a society. If it is in fact true that U.S. society has recently become less cooperative, less trusting, and that Americans are less engaged with their communities (and therefore each other), what is the future of this democracy, a system inherently dependent on the involvement and participation of its citizens? This study documents attitudes by a small group of those who represent that future: the youth of America, their ideas regarding service in their communities, and their analyses of what it means to be a citizen in this ever-changing democratic experiment. In a case study of students who are actively involved in community service at their large public high school in California, notions of participation, democracy and the responsibilities of citizenship among teenagers are explored. The main findings in the case study show a new generation of active citizens who perceive connections between civic involvement and a strong democracy. It finds that young people recognize that their community involvement leads to the creation of a stronger community, and that civic engagement holds an important and positive role in a democratic society. The researcher then seeks to create recommendations for educators, schools, community leaders, and parents so that they may foster a future generation of active citizens, and work towards the reconstruction of a nation currently being diminished in both citizen participation and social capital.

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