Another indicator of civic engagement would include statistics on the quantity and equality of engagement in such practices as volunteering, attending public meetings where there are discussions of community affairs, working to address community problems, and making charitable donations.
The U.S. Census Bureau already collects valuable information about many of these actions and behaviors, he noted, but current data do not capture engagement that occurs in the digital sphere, such as communicating electronically with elected officials or joining online groups. Asking about whether respondents have written a letter to the editor, for example, is no longer the best way to track engagement, he explained, and tracking media consumption now needs to include new venues. Following the evolving nature of involvement, however, means giving up on some of the longitudinal data. “You have to think about how to handle that—but it doesn’t mean you can ignore it,” Kahne said.
New media are particularly important influences on the ways people obtain information. Kahne noted that research has shown a close association between reading, watching, discussing, and otherwise engaging with news that concerns societal issues and being well informed about civic and political life (e.g., Deli Carpini and Keeter, 1996; Popkin and Dimock, 1999). But this area also has changed significantly. For example, many people now get their news from friends or members of online groups who share it with them, rather than through self-selected consumption of material published by a particular source. He suggested an indicator of learning through engagement with civic and political media sources, which would measure the quantity and quality of political and civic news consumption.
Also important to Kahne is an indicator of learning through engagement with diverse views on civic and political issues, which would include statistics on the quantity and quality of such engagement. Kahne noted that exposure to a diverse range of views related to civic and political issues is important. Research has suggested that such exposure can foster an individual’s ability to see other perspectives, appreciation for the legitimacy of the rationales put forth by those who disagree, and political tolerance for those with differing perspectives. At the same time, there is some evidence that such exposure may lead to reduced levels of participation (Mutz, 2006), a finding that Kahne suggested needs further investigation.
More general learning was the focus of his final indicator, which concerns such civic learning opportunities as learning content (e.g., history, economics, sociology, political science) that relates to civic and political life; discussing current events; having open and respectful dialogue about current events; engaging in community service; engaging in extracurricular activities; and participating in simulations of civic and political processes. Some of these opportunities occur in the context of formal education but others are less formal. Research has suggested that these opportunities promote civic and political engagement, but also that there is considerable inequity in access to such opportunities (e.g., Hart et al., 2007; Kahne, Feezell and Lee, 2012; McDevitt and Kiousis, 2004). However, Kahne noted that such opportunities and their outcomes are not generally measured.
Including these issues in the education indicator list, Kahne suggested, may reinforce the value of civic and political engagement and spur educators and others to place more emphasis on developing it. However, he cautioned that he could not see a