Abstract 1- Volume 4, Number 3, Winter 2009

Social Studies Research and Practice

Volume 4, Number 3, Winter 2009



Understanding Core Democratic Values and Citizenship in the Fifth Grade

Carolyn O’Mahony
Oakland University


In Michigan’s state-wide social studies test, eleven-year-old students have been expected to defend or challenge a piece of public policy, citing a core democratic value in their written argument. In this study thirty-six fifth graders across three schools were asked to define a number of these values and to talk about them. Few students made explicit connections between these values and civic life. Many students spoke to the role of the physical classroom environment in reinforcing the rote learning of definitions. Boys and girls cited different sources for their knowledge. Differences in the quality of responses across schools illustrate how students’ understandings of citizenship were shaped by teachers’ practices and individuals’ experiences in their communities.

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