Political Science Education and the Profession

Fostering Civic Agency in an American Government Course

Daniel Mallinson Penn State Harrisburg
Laura Cruz Pennsylvania State University
Scholars and commentators are increasingly concerned about the erosion of democratic norms in the United States. Political science education stands at the forefront of higher education’s mission to create an educated citizenry, and civic education is linked to outcomes like civic engagement and trust in government. Much of the research on civic education, however, examines how different classroom interventions affect students’ intentions of engaging civically in the future. This study argues that between intention and action lies agency. Specifically, it examines whether an introductory course in American government increases civic agency. A new scenario-based method of measuring civic agency is also introduced. The study finds that civic agency does in fact increase, with students sharpening their calculus of engagement. They better understand where they can best engage and how. Increasing agency lays the foundation for future engagement when students care about an issue enough to weigh in.