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Developing Citizens in Divided Societies (DECIDES)

DECIDES (Developing Ethical Civic Actors in Divided Societies): A study of civic development in Northern Ireland, South Africa and the United States.

PI and Project Director: Sarah Warshauer Freedman 

Co Project Director: Karen Murphy, International Director, Facing History and Ourselves

Funded by the Spencer Foundation

How do varied legacies of conflict and division impede or enhance how adolescents develop as citizens? How do these legacies affect their understanding of what citizenship means and entails (locally, nationally and globally), their thinking about civic action, and the actions they take or plan to take?

With funding from the Spencer Foundation, this three-year project (2010-2013) explores how adolescent students (ages 14-16) in Northern Ireland, South Africa and the United States develop as citizens. The study takes place in secondary schools focused on students who are participating in Facing History and Ourselves (FH) courses, in which they learn to examine their roles as citizens in their respective communities and countries and their responsibilities to others. Of particular interest is understanding how they come to perceive and interpret civic action, and how they engage as civic actors, given their surrounding social, political, and cultural contexts.
Each locale is informed by different types of social division, both current and historic. In each setting, violence and segregation have played a role in the recent past. While all three locales have emerged from violent conflict and de jure segregation, each grapples with the legacies of these realities. All are experiencing a transition from one state of being (violence, legal  segregation) to another. While South Africa and Northern Ireland are only 16 years into their transition, the US has been engaged in this process, particularly in terms of race relations, for the past half century. We are interested in understanding commonalities across sites as well as how particular contexts shape and inform young peoples’ dialogues across groups, their thinking about civic action, and their actual civic engagement.
In each locale, we will work with (a) teachers of 14-16 year-olds who have participated in FH programs in which they have learned to teach about identity group conflicts and to consider issues of civic action and civic responsibility in light of such conflicts, and (b) students of these teachers. National surveys will provide a baseline for how FH teachers and their students think about civic identity and citizenship. Focus groups with teachers and with students will help us interpret the findings from the surveys and will provide additional information on how students develop as citizens. Finally, we will follow one class of students in each setting, for at least two years, directly observing how they develop as civic actors. The same teacher will teach the students for both years and will participate on the research teams. Our goal is to understand the role that schools can play in supporting students' thinking about civic engagement and their development as ethical, responsible, and active citizens in divided societies
Principal Investigator: