A healthy and effective democracy depends on political participation from all segments of society. But what influences civic participation (registering to vote, casting a vote, community action), especially among young adults? Research has shown that among native-born Americans, the parent’s educational attainment makes a reliable predictor of the child’s civic participation. The same does not hold true, however, among children of immigrants. In their recent study, Chandra Muller and Rebecca Callahan found that the strongest predictor of political participation for children of immigrants is education in the social sciences. Because the children of immigrants represent the fastest growing sector of the American population and face numerous barriers to political participation, understanding how we can encourage engagement in the political process is essential to the healthy functioning of our system.
With this award, Muller and Callahan will follow-up their recent project on the role language plays in immigrant youths’ connection to their school and community, and how this affects their civic participation as young adults. In that study, the investigators discovered that the number of high school social science courses taken, and GPA in these courses, is the strongest predictor of political participation among immigrant (1.5 and second generation) young adults. Now, Muller and Callahan will also explore the link between social science courses and political participation for Latino immigrant youth. They will conduct focus groups and in-depth interviews with exemplary social science teachers and their former Latino immigrant students in five cities. Teachers will be asked to reflect on the relationship between the classroom and political participation. Muller and Callahan will also solicit students for their reflections on social science and civic engagement. These interviews will shed light on the actual processes in social science classes, both academic and interpersonal, that encourage civic engagement. The results will help show how educators and education policy can encourage political participation among young adult immigrants and contribute to the development of high school curricula for teaching immigrants.