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Recent evidence suggests that there is a growing problem of civic disengagement among youth in the United States. Young people in high school report having little interest in civic and political affairs and little knowledge of or trust in the political system (Levine & Lopez, 2002; National Commission on Service-Learning, 2001; Rahm & Transue, 1998; Torney-Purta, 2002). Results from a recent poll indicate that many young people do not feel they can make a difference, solve problems in their communities, or have a meaningful impact on politics or government (Lake Snell Perry & Associates and The Tarrance Group, Inc, 2002). Policymakers and educational leaders alike have noted the woeful lack of interest in civic activities among youth and express concern about the future of democracy (for example, Education Commission of the States, 2002; National Commission on Service-Learning, 2001). Lack of engagement in the political system is particularly pronounced for young women and urban youth (Niemi & Junn, 1998; Hart & Atkins, 1992). There are also differences between students based on achievement levels. Research has shown that students with a stronger record of academic achievement demonstrate greater political knowledge (Niemi & Junn, 1998), and higher rates of community participation (Nolin, Chaney, Chapman, & Chandler, 1997) than those with lower achievement levels.


Circle Working Paper 33