Building Good Citizens: The Roles of School Size and Community Context in the Development of Democratic Values

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This project examines the role of place in the socialization of young people into civic values, such as participation and tolerance. Are smaller communites better able to foster democratic values than larger ones? Are young people growing up in racially, economically and politically heterogeneous environments more likely to be politically active than those in homogeneous communities? These questions are related to perennial issues within political science, and are also closely tied to important questions in education policy related to school size. The case made by educational scholars that smaller schools are better for most educational outcomes is similar to the arguments others make about the benefits of small communities. I test whether smaller schools are better for democratic values, and examine the relationship between school size and community context. Are smaller schools better because of their size, or because they are most often found in smaller, more homogeneous communities?

The results show that young people growing up in smaller towns, and those in less heterogeneous communities have higher levels of political knowledge and participation in school activities, but are less racially tolerant than adolescents living in larger, more diverse communities. In addition, the findings show that school size has very little influence on democratic values, except that young people in smaller schools are more likely to participate in school activities; and, smaller schools are of some benefit to children in urban areas. The final chapter discusses these results in terms of their normative and policy significance.