Civic Engagement Lab


Local Development, Service Learning, and Participatory Citizenship

Directors: Nancye McCrary, Susan Wood & Kate Larken

Department of Curriculum & Instruction

College of Education

University of Kentucky


Civic Engagement and Critical Literacy

The Civic Engagement Project will culminate in student-produced performances as a strategy for representing community problems in compelling ways that have the potential to motivate action (Rawlinson, Wood, Osterman, & Sullivan, 2007). The writing and performing of dramatic works will be integrated into core language arts and/or social studies classes in middle schools with well-sequenced instruction provided both by participating artists and middle grades’ teachers. The Civic Engagement Curriculum involves four phases: 1) Planning, 2) Curriculum development, 3) Teacher training and implementation, and 4) Analysis and dissemination. The curriculum may integrate other art forms–music and composition, dance and choreography, the visual arts, and audio-visual media–in the production phase of the project.

  • Education for participatory democratic citizenship has long been one of the primary purposes of schooling in the United States (Hahn & Torney-Purta, 1999). The development and maintenance of a free society depends on the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and social action of its citizens (Hahn, 1998; Parker, 2006).
  • Engaging students in real world community-based problems situates learning in social contexts, personalizes social action, extends civic knowledge, and promotes participatory citizenship.
  • Engagement in social contexts during early adolescence has the potential to build a civic-efficacy that extends beyond adolescence to adulthood and can have long-term impact for the common good of communities in Kentucky.
  • Low performing eighth-grade students in three diverse Kentucky communities will engage in a community-wide empowerment project, a service learning curriculum employing action research methods to address real-world critical issues in their local communities (Vernarec, 1999).
  • Students will read their communities through observations, interviews, public documents, and a range of non-traditional texts to identify a critical community-based problem.
  • Students will utilize multimodal literacy increasing understanding of art as literacy, which needs to occupy a “permanent and central place in our curriculum” (Ohler, 2000, p. 4). The arts, according to Eisner (2005), are not only “deeply engaged in the development of mind” (p. 10), but also a fundamental means of human expression and representation.

Works Cited

Eisner, E. (2005). Opening a shuttered window, Phi Delta Kappan, 87, 1, 8-10.

Hahn, C. L., & Torney-Purta, J. (1999). “The IEA civic education project: National and international perspectives.” Social Education, 63 (Nov.-Dec.), 425-431.

Hahn, C. L. (1998). Becoming political: Comparative perspectives on citizenship education. Ithaca: State University of New York Press, 1998.

Ohler, J. (2000). Art becomes the fourth R. Educational Leadership, 58, 2, 16-19.

Parker, W. C. (2006). Public discourses in schools: Purposes, problems, possibilities. Educational Researcher, 35 (8), 11-18.

Rawlinson, K, Wood, S. N., Osterman, M., & Sullivan, C. C. (2007). Thinking critically about social issues through visual material. Journal of Museum Education, 32(2), 155-174.

Vernarec, E. (1999). Health care power shifts to the people. Business & Health, 17, 8-13.


Updated by on July 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

College of Education University of Kentucky College of Education