14 SES 07 A, Communities Participation
This paper addresses the role of educational institutions in connection and partnership with the local community, in the development of students’ civic engagement.
Although the expression “civic engagement” has many different definitions, and embraces a wide range of interventions in education, it commonly refers to practices and attitudes that sustain the quality of democracy in a society, based on citizens’ participation in political and social life (Banyan, 2013; Milana, 2020). As Amna (2012) argues, civic engagement has to do with “a person’s outward-looking”, as it emerges from the ability to see beyond ones’ private sphere and to move towards participation to the public space, in different ways. This ability is what Arendt (1958) puts at the core of the political act, the human possibility of speaking and taking action, with others, towards common goals in the public scene.
John Dewey (1916) described the connection between education and democratic societies by highlighting the special status of the school as a community that continuously interacts with society, and the experiences that occur outside the educational institution itself, thus contributing to the development of both cognitive and social skills that build an active, involved citizen. Previous research has identified schools and other educational institutions as key actors in promoting civic engagement (Adler, Goggin, 2005; Valli et al., 2018).
Our research attempts an understanding of the practices, and embedded meanings of civic engagement, that schools carry on in interaction with the outside world (aka the community).
Specifically, it interrogates: What prompts schools to connect and partner with the community? What educational practices emerge from school-community interactions? In which ways are such practices related to students’ civic and social engagement?
This research is part of a wider project titled: Research at the service of educational fragilities (Re-Serves), funded by the Italian Ministry of Education among the projects of national interest. Re-Serves aims to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection of vulnerability, marginality and education through the analysis and problematization of current educational practices in a variety of contexts, both in and outside school.
We are particularly interested in the ways school staff, and other community actors partnering with schools, signify their connections and partnership, hence on the ideas of civic engagement they pursue through school-community interactions. Accordingly, our research is framed within a constructionist epistemology, as proposed by Crotty (1998), which combines the interest for the subjective construction of meaning with a realist ontological position. This position is particularly important to remember that personal representations and meanings always refer to objects that are outside in the world, and that the actors define and connect. This perspective also reminds us of the high value of every voice in doing research on human phenomena in specific contexts. The fieldwork involves 7 educational institutions in the Municipality of Verona (Italy): 2 comprehensive schools, 2 high schools, 2 vocational training centers and 1 Center for Adult Education (CPIA). 25 semi-structured interviews have been conducted with school principals and teachers. Additional interviews with community actors involved in civic engagement programs in Verona are been conducted at the time of writing this proposal and are not included in this presentation, which is focused on the school’s perspectives on civic engagement. The interview guides have been constructed following a common frame on the partnerships oriented to promoting civic engagement, and adapting the questions and main topics to the different interviewees. All interviews have been transcribed and are been coded and analyzed using N-Vivo. The coding of each interview involves at least two members of the research team, whereas the cross-interview analysis is a whole team endeavor. The fieldwork has been preceded by a systematic analysis of the literature concerning the collaboration between schools and communities in the promotion of civic engagement (Rapanà, Milana, Marzoli, in press). The systematic review has outlined the different representations of civic engagement in education, the effects of the programs of civic engagement based on the collaboration between educational institutions and local communities, and their conditions for efficacy. While we follow an inductive process for analyzing the interviews, the knowledge base derived from the literature review supports the theoretical coding.
Although the analysis is still in progress, the interviews thus far collected and analyzed provide a complex web of meanings attached to civic engagement that emerges from school-community partnerships. This helps understanding the ways civic engagement is conceptualized and translated into concrete actions by the educational institutions. The systematic review (Rapanà, Milana, Marzoli, in press) has proposed to situate these actions along a continuum starting from “service” actions directed to specific needs of the community, moving to “research” for understanding the underlying causes of needs and problems, and ending with “action” aimed at deeply challenging the roots of the social issues identified. In our analysis of the interviews we can see the interaction and overlapping of these dimensions, as well as the main emerging meanings that shape civic engagement practices in the construction of partnerships between schools and local communities: the ideas of education and citizenship, of the role of teachers and educational institutions, the perceived impact of the actions oriented to civic engagement on the students, the families, the school community, the representations of social belonging, of power, of social (in)justice, and the key competences that the different actors consider fundamental to develop when educating for civic engagement.
Adler, R. P., & Goggin, J. (2005). What do we mean by “civic engagement”?, Journal of Transformative Education, 3(3), pp. 236–253. Amnå E. (2012). How is civic engagement developed over time? Emerging answers from a multidisciplinary field, Journal of Adolescence, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp. 611-627. Arendt (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Banyan, M. E. (2013). “Civic engagement.” Encyclopædia Britannica, https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.nottingham.ac.uk/levels/collegiate/article/civic-engagement/600861. Crotty (1998). The Foundations of Social Research. London: SAGE. Dewey J. (1916/1966). Democracy and education. New York: The Free Press. Milana, M. (2020). Civic-social engagement. In M. Milana & P. Perillo (Eds.) RE-SERVES project: Glossary. https://www.re-serves.it. Rapanà F., Milana M., Marzoli R. (in press), La collaborazione tra istituzioni scolastiche e territorio per la promozione dell’impegno civico e sociale. Encyclopaideia. Valli L., Stefanski A., & Jacobson R. (2018). School-community partnership models: implications for leadership, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 21(1), 31-49.
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