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Coming of Political Age

American Schools and the Civic Development of Immigrant Youth

Rebecca M. Callahan, Chandra Muller

Publication Year: 2013

As one of the fastest-growing segments of the American population, the children of immigrants are poised to reshape the country’s political future. The massive rallies for immigration rights in 2006 and the recent push for the DREAM Act, both heavily supported by immigrant youth, signal the growing political potential of this crucial group. While many studies have explored the political participation of immigrant adults, we know comparatively little about what influences civic participation among the children of immigrants. Coming of Political Age persuasively argues that schools play a central role in integrating immigrant youth into the political system. The volume shows that the choices we make now in our educational system will have major consequences for the country’s civic health as the children of immigrants grow and mature as citizens. Coming of Political Age draws from an impressive range of data, including two large surveys of adolescents in high schools and interviews with teachers and students, to provide an insightful analysis of trends in youth participation in politics. Although the children of both immigrant and native-born parents register and vote at similar rates, the factors associated with this likelihood are very different. While parental educational levels largely explain voting behavior among children of native-born parents, this volume demonstrates that immigrant children’s own education, in particular their exposure to social studies, strongly predicts their future political participation. Learning more about civic society and putting effort into these classes may encourage an interest in politics, suggesting that the high school civics curriculum remains highly relevant in an increasingly disconnected society. Interestingly, although their schooling predicts whether children of immigrants will vote, how they identify politically depends more on family and community influences. As budget cuts force school administrators to realign academic priorities, this volume argues that any cutback to social science programs may effectively curtail the political and civic engagement of the next generation of voters. While much of the literature on immigrant assimilation focuses on family and community, Coming of Political Age argues that schools—and social science courses in particular—may be central to preparing the leaders of tomorrow. The insights and conclusions presented in this volume are essential to understand how we can encourage more participation in civic action and improve the functioning of our political system.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation


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Title Page

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pp. 3-3


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pp. 4-4


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pp. v-vi

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-x

About the Authors

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-13

The simple act of voting gives voice to the needs and desires of a population and is a critical aspect of political participation and civic engagement. Voting offers a measure of citizens’ perceived agency in society. As a citizenry grows and changes, the political processes associated with its governance are...

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1. Immigration, U.S. Schools, and the Changing Youth Vote

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pp. 14-32

Recent, dramatic demographic changes in the school-age population initially prompted our questions about the political development of children of immigrants. High rates of immigration to the United States over the last twenty to thirty years, coupled with an unprecedented geographic dispersion of immigrants, have made immigrants and their children a growing presence throughout...

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2. Adolescents’ Families, Schools, and Communities: Shaping Political Engagement in Young Adulthood

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pp. 33-44

During adolescence in America, an individual’s social world widens greatly. As a child, his or her world and identity development were centered in the family and the home. During adolescence, however, the individual begins to branch out, making connections with friends and other community members beyond the fold of the home. The world of the adolescent...

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3. Children of Immigrants and Their Schools

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pp. 45-61

When children of immigrants walk through the doors of their high school, they enter a world with peers and teachers from different backgrounds and they experience the academic curriculum from a U.S. perspective. Their academic and social lives are shaped by shared courses, relationships with peers and teachers in the school, and participation in extracurricular...

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4. Academic Opportunity and Stratification Among Children of Immigrants and Children of Native-Born Parents

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pp. 62-77

We hypothesize that American high schools shape future political participation through two primary pathways. First, high schools stratify students, sorting and ranking them into courses at different levels, with different demands, and assigning indicators, like grades, of academic performance and college readiness. Such stratification contributes directly to students...

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5. Social Science Preparation and the Adolescent Children of Immigrants

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pp. 78-96

We turn our attention now to the second way in which schools prepare students for political participation: the social science courses designed to develop civic knowledge and skills. Since its inception, the U.S. high school has evolved to guide youth toward professional and civic participation in adult society, and all high schools today simultaneously prepare youth for...

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6. Schools and the Political Participation of Children of Immigrants

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pp. 97-120

In prior chapters, we discussed immigrant political participation, academic preparation, and schooling at the start of the twenty-first century, as well as the impact of these factors on young adults’ political participation. We have explored a number of ways in which schools may contribute to adolescents’ political development and their early adult political participation, with an eye...

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7. Conclusions and Implications: Adolescent Children of Immigrants and Their Schools

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pp. 121-132

We began this study with the premise that high schools are important venues for adolescents’ political development, providing experiences that help them become active in our nation’s democratic process. Schools not only prepare young people for labor force participation but also socialize them in important ways to become independent adults who contribute to...


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pp. 133-142


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pp. 143-144


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pp. 145-162


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pp. 163-170

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447942
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545787
Print-ISBN-10: 0871545780

Page Count: 186
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 844727831
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Coming of Political Age

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Children of immigrants -- Education -- United States.
  • Children of immigrants -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Community development -- United States.
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