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Civics research may provide better understanding of human rights and citizenship

Students need to be taught civics education in schools, says a New Mexico State University College of Education professor.



New Mexico State University College of Education professor Azadeh Osanloo is researching the importance of civics education and social justice in schools and will conduct a pilot study with Las Cruces Public Schools in 2009. (NMSU photo by Robert Yee)

"Students need sufficient opportunities to study civics and government as they progress from kindergarten through grade 12," said Azadeh Osanloo, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Management and Development. "This increases the potential for promoting competent and responsible citizenship and for reducing the prevailing alienation from public life."

Using a civic education framework she has researched, Osanloo will conduct a pilot study during the summer of 2009 with Las Cruces Public Schools students in kindergarten through third grade who attend a longer school year to help with literacy preparation.

During the study, she will give students a pre-test. She will then teach several lessons, having the children use their own personal experiences as a way to understand the terms and skills introduced.

The students will be given another test after the lessons to see how much they have learned. A focus group also will be conducted with educators as part of the study.

From this research, Osanloo is hoping to find that civic and human rights education matter and can make a positive difference in the lives of students if taught in schools, while taking into account diversity, multiculturalism, freedom, democracy and justice.

She also would like to perform a longitudinal study with the same students for three years, to see how the information they learned has helped them to achieve a more global view.

Ideally, the civic education lessons would be implemented in school curriculum as a separate subject, central to student and school success.

Osanloo thinks the information will be well-received by both students and teachers.

"Schools are the place conversations about this subject can happen. The intent would be not to convince the students to think this way, but to get them to discuss the different ideas involved," she said.

As a graduate student and now as a professor, Osanloo's research has focused on civic and democratic education and cosmopolitanism, and aims to assist with the teaching of social justice to students from pre-kindergarten up to 12th grade.

Democratic education is an educational approach based on respect for human rights and a broad interpretation of learning. Cosmopolitanism is the idea that all people, regardless of their political affiliation, belong to a single global community.

Civic education stems from both democratic education and cosmopolitanism. It helps develop an understanding of democracy, while also teaching the skills needed for children to become productive and responsible citizens.

The information and skills taught in civic education also give students the tools needed to view the world from a more cosmopolitan perspective.

Osanloo has researched these concepts from a philosophical and theoretical viewpoint by investigating current civic education practices and the underlying issues of citizenship and democracy. She has used books, other current studies and her own experiences to establish a framework of ideas which can then be used to create curriculum to teach civics in schools.

"In the long term, the lessons garnered from the research may have the potential to cut down on discrimination such as racism, sexism, hate crimes and homophobia," Osanloo said.