Case Studies of Effective Learning Climates for Civic Reasoning and Discussion

Published date01 January 2023
AuthorJAMILA Lyiscott,Cati V. De Los Ríos,Christopher H. Clark
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterClassroom Climate for Civic Development
138 ANNALS, AAPSS, 705, January 2023
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231178627
Case Studies of
Climates for
Civic Reasoning
and Discussion
While the national media continues to highlight the
tensions of cultural politics in education, there is a need
for young people and educators to be equipped for the
daunting local, national, and global challenges that
mark their everyday lives. Many educators and young
people alike are interested in engaging youth in civic
reasoning and discourse that prepares them to meet
those many challenges. This article highlights applica-
tions of civic reasoning and discourse in three contexts:
a traditional high school social studies classroom, a
hybrid school-community action project, and an out-of-
school Youth Participatory Action Research program.
We argue that these case studies show a path forward
for developing students’ civic reasoning and discourse
skills because the students turn toward and lean into
what we define as moments of critical dissonance: in
each case, the students and educators work together to
engage, rather than avoid, complex sociopolitical reali-
ties, even while holding a variety of racial, ethnic,
political, and cultural identities.
Keywords: civic education; classroom learning; cur-
riculum; adolescent literacy
Jamila Lyiscott is an associate professor of social justice
education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
There, she is the founding codirector of the Center of
Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research, and co–
editor-in-chief of the Journal of Equity & Excellence in
Education. Her community-engaged research examines
race, language, and the capacity of African Diasporic
cultures to transgress coloniality.
Cati V. de los Ríos is an associate professor of adolescent
literacy at the University of California, Berkeley’s
School of Education. Her research explores the critical
literacies and civic engagement of Latina/o/x bilingual
youth and has appeared in Harvard Educational
Review, Applied Linguistics, Journal of Literacy
Research, and Race and Social Problems.
Christopher H. Clark is an assistant professor of sec-
ondary education in the department of Teaching,
Leadership, and Professional Practice at the University
of North Dakota. His research blends approaches from
political science, psychology, and communications to
focus on how students and teachers think about politics,
news media, and civic life.
In the U.S., public schools have become primary sites for volatile discursive
battles about how communities understand their complex shared histories and
the ongoing effects of colonialism, oppression, and struggles for racial and social
justice. With these battles comes a refusal to contend with the polarizing tensions
that arise from our long history as a nation. Instead, about half of all U.S. states
have moved to pass legislation or executive action to ban or otherwise limit teach-
ing and learning about racism, gender, and sexuality (Schwartz 2021), and politi-
cians, like those in the high-profile 2022 governor race in Virginia, have been
successful in leveraging said hysteria for political gains (Stein and Meckler 2022).
School boards have been rife with tension as they have been tasked with deci-
sions that require complicated trade-offs in public health, student social and
emotional well-being, and various stakeholders’ desires.
As the national media continues its commentary on the shifting cultural poli-
tics of education, calls have emerged for tangible examples of how youth engage,
inside and out of classrooms, in civic reasoning and discourses that respond to the
daunting local, national, and global challenges on the horizon. Civic reasoning,
according to the National Academy of Education (2021), is the ability to think
through public issues by using rigorous inquiry skills to weigh varying points of
view and available evidence. Civic discourse is an intentional communication
about challenging public issues in order to promote both individual and group
understanding. Moreover, “It also involves enabling effective decision-making
aimed at finding consensus, compromise, or in some cases, confronting social
injustices through dissent” (2021, 1).
The National Academy of Education’s (NAED) recently released report,
Educating for Civic Reasoning and Discourse (2021), highlights both formal and
informal educational environments as sites that educate students to engage with
civic and political issues and simultaneously interrogate them. The report
addresses the myriad ways both formal and informal settings—for example, K–12
classrooms versus digital platforms—can contribute to the development of stu-
dents’ civic reasoning and discourse as they confront the complexities of current
politics and civic life (Barber, Clark, and Torney-Purta 2021; Garcia et al. 2021).
In this article, we highlight applications of civic reasoning and discourse in
three varied contexts: traditional high school social studies classrooms, a hybrid
school-community project, and an out-of-school Youth Participatory Action
Research (YPAR) program. These three case studies serve as exemplars of what
we call critical dissonance in civic reasoning and discourse. The concept of critical
dissonance emerges out of our understanding of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive
dissonance is the mental discomfort that can emerge from conflicting/dissonant
beliefs that arise when our varying racial, ethnic, political, and cultural identities
engage with complex sociopolitical realities (Harmon-Jones and Mills 2019).
Critical dissonance means turning toward moments of cognitive dissonance, and
employing a critical lens that can illuminate, critique, and challenge the structural
and ideological forces that lead to discrimination and inequalities.

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