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Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2007

Enseñando Democracia (Teaching Democracy)

Fulbright grant to fund IU researcher's study of teaching democratic citizenship in Mexico

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2007

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Bradley Levinson

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University School of Education professor is the winner of a prestigious and competitive Fulbright fellowship that will take him to Mexico to study how the country is teaching democratic citizenship. Associate Professor Bradley A.U. Levinson will spend 10 months traveling among three states in central Mexico after being granted one of only 21 Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad fellowships from the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the award description, fellows are selected to carry out proposals "to contribute to the development and improvement of modern foreign language and area studies in the U.S. by providing opportunities for scholars to conduct research abroad."

Levinson plans to broadly study secondary education reform in Mexico, but also will take a closer look at one particular program the Mexican government is implementing in national schools. Secondary education in Mexico consists of the secundaria, which is equivalent to U.S. grades seven-through-nine.

"My proposal is to study in-depth both the whole reform process that's occurring in Mexico with secondary education," Levinson said, "and more particularly an aspect of that reform, which is democratic civic education."

He will conduct his work in the states of Morelos, Michoacán and Veracruz.

The Mexican government began a citizenship program for secondary schools in 1999 called "Civic and Ethical Education" (Formación Cívica y Etica). The program, which has been undergoing changes, is required in both public and private institutions. Levinson describes the program as part of a broad-based effort to "form citizens" for a democratic culture. The government is trying to build democracy in a country that has a history of authoritarian regimes by educating students on how to conduct themselves as citizens.

"It's only recently that Mexico's been experiencing a much more democratic system," Levinson said. "So the education system needs to kind of catch up to that. (Teaching) this subject at the secondary level (represents) one of the hopes that they'll be able to create new democratic citizens to catch up to some of the democratic openings in the political process that have happened over the last twenty years or so."

Levinson adds that the course is also part of an overall attempt at reforming Mexican education.

"The hope is that this new subject will almost serve as the "seed bed" for a new kind of culture in the schools," he said, explaining that the teaching style would move away from the traditional authoritarian teacher role. Students would be encouraged to participate more and raise more questions about citizenship.

Whatever his findings reveal, Levinson said the purpose of the program is clear.

"The idea is that if you really can educate citizens to critically question what their leaders do and say, to have active minds, to be participants in a variety of levels in the political process," he said, "it will be that much more difficult for an authoritarian government to come to power again."

With social studies low among the priorities of many U.S. schools, Levinson said Americans could learn something from this program.

"I would argue that, in fact," Levinson said, "Mexico is, at this point, much further along and taking much more seriously the goal of educating democratic citizens."

The Fulbright-Hays fellowship furthers Levinson's research on Mexican education and Latino issues. He's written two published papers on the creation of the citizenship program in the last few years. In February, he co-authored a report called "Integrating Indiana's Latino Newcomers: A Study of State and Community Responses to the New Immigration," which examined community responses to immigrants (www.indiana.edu/~ces).

The following mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Levinson says relatively recent democratic success in Mexico has set the stage for the citizenship program:

"So, it's only been really recently that Mexico's been experiencing kind of a much more democratic system. So the education system needs to kind of catch up to that. So this subject at the secondary level, which is called "civic and ethical formation," is one of the hopes that they'll be able to use this to kind of create new democratic citizens to kind of catch up to some of the democratic openings in the political process that has happened."

Levinson says one goal is to make Mexican students more active in their democracy by making them more active in the class:

"Rather, encouraging students to become much more participatory -- active, questioning, to identify problems and try to solve those problems. There are a lot of different elements to this subject. And it involves re-training teachers, which is one of the great challenges. Their hope is that teachers who get into the school to teach this subject will serve as resources and models for the other teachers who are teaching all the other subjects, and this style of teaching, which is deemed to be most appropriate for creating the new democratic citizen, will become more generalized beyond just that particular class and will be incorporated into even mathematics, or science, or language classes."

Levinson says U.S. educators could learn something from the program:

"I would argue that in fact, Mexico is, at this point, much further along and taking much more seriously the goal of educating democratic citizens. In the meantime, in this country, a lot of civic education has kind of fallen by the wayside as we experience a very strict kind of testing regime that emphasizes exclusively math and reading and language arts, and we know over and over again social studies teachers are feeling relegated. They can't really do as much as they'd like to do."

One goal of the program, Levinson says, is clear:

"The idea is, if you can really broadly educate citizens to critically question what their leaders do and say, to have active minds, to be participants in a variety of levels in the political process, that it will be that much more difficult for an authoritarian government to come to power again."