Notre Dame Political Science Professor David Campbell recently received a grant of more than $300,000 from the Spencer Foundation for a three-year project called “Family Matters: How Home and Family Life Affect Youth Civic Engagement.”
“A fundamental challenge facing every democratic society is to ensure that the citizenry is both politically active and informed,” says Campbell, who also directs the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters.
“My research seeks to shed light on what makes for an active, informed citizenry.”
With a particular focus on research that strengthens the connections between education, policy, and practice, the Spencer Foundation aims to “cultivate knowledge and new ideas about education in order to improve students’ lives and enrich society.”
Campbell’ s new project will feature a large survey of adolescents and their parents, asking them to describe their civic activity. Questions will range from those about the frequency with which the families discuss civic life and politics to how much influence the parents’ opinions have on their children as compared to the swaying power of the media, school, and extracurricular activities.
“Over the course of my career, virtually all of my research has sought to answer the question of why some people are involved in civic and political activity and others are not,” he says. “My first book examined the effect of schools; my next one looked at places of worship. Now, this project will turn to studying what happens in the home.”
Campbell says he is pleased to know other scholars see the value in studying these issues.
“A generation ago, far more social scientists were interested in studying the influences of home and family. That interest waned over the years but has begun to return,” he says. “Hopefully, this project will foster still more work on the important question of how our young people learn about civic and political life.”
Topics related to civic activity in the home aren’t the only ones Campbell has been investigating. In October 2012, Harvard Education Press published Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation, a book he co-edited with Meira Levinson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. In it, he and his co-editors survey the history and current practices of citizenship in the United States.
“We compiled research from a group of top scholars on the subject of civic education in our schools,” Campbell says. “What methods for teaching civics work? What more do we need to learn?”
In addition to analyzing what students and teachers do as civic participants, the book also offers a plan for the new generation’s civic education.
Campbell is in the process of co-authoring a book with John Green of the University of Akron and Quin Monson of Brigham Young University, as well. Tentatively titled Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics, it is the first in-depth examination of the political views of Mormons and how voters react to Mormon candidates.