Civic Engagement: Passport to Your Future

A Civic Engagement Curriculum
for High School-Age Youth
in Traditional or Non-traditional Educational Learning Environments

Designed as a Teacher's Guide
With Web-based Downloadable Activity Components
and Link Resources

Created by
The Center for Urban Research and Learning
Loyola University Chicago

August, 2002

This curriculum was developed with funding support from the
Technology Innovation Challenge Grant Program
U.S. Department of Education

Download this document as a PDF file (Click here)

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, Americans turned inward to reflect and examine their sentiments of patriotism, democratic ideals, and history. "God bless America" and "Let freedom ring" became universal expressions of solidarity and national pride. At some levels, we are a united people who value our democratic freedoms and understand what is at stake when we are threatened with any prospect of the loss of freedoms. At other levels, September 11 reminded many that the depth of understanding of democratic principles and the practice of participation in the democratic process do not match the rhetoric.

Long before 9/11, there has been a growing concern, especially among educators, that youth are not being prepared to function in a democratic society. As stated by educator and historian Diane Ratvitch, students "need a better understanding of our own democratic ideals, where they came from, and how many sacrifices have been made by others to assure the present generation of Americans the basic rights and freedoms that we now enjoy" (The Center for Educational Reform, 2002).

Many others have advocated a similar position. Recent political polls indicate that an increasing number of Americans, particularly young Americans, are disengaged from the current political processes (McGuire, 2000). Furthermore, prior studies have shown that high school students lack basic knowledge of civics and an in-depth understanding of political processes, which may inhibit them to fully participate in civic activities and be agents of change (Kim, Parks, & Beckerman, 1996). Hobson and Zack (1993) have suggested that students need to learn how to participate in the system if they want to make changes.

Given the prior and current need for civic education, especially among young Americans, The Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) at Loyola University Chicago developed a curriculum, designed as a teacher's guide, to engage high school-age youth in civic life and public policy. The Civic Engagement: Passport to Your Future curriculum seeks to provide an inviting, interesting format for instilling political and civic knowledge to youth … so that they will become active and informed citizens. The curriculum is offered free of charge by CURL and Loyola University Chicago through the CURL Web site The hope is that the curriculum will be a useful tool for youth civic engagement education, both in traditional or non-traditional educational learning environments, such as community-based afterschool programs.

Curriculum Development

In 1999, CURL received a grant from the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant Program, U.S. Department of Education, to design a civic literacy program with an emphasis on the use of technology. Aware of the critical need for developing an innovative model of civic engagement curriculum for youth, CURL began the project by bringing together community partners with a known interest in this area. The goal was to create a curriculum that could be utilized in multiple community-based settings, i.e., in afterschool or alternative school programs, as well as traditional classrooms. CURL created a team of researchers, including a political scientist, a graduate student, community practitioners, and CURL staff to develop the hands-on curriculum

Over a two-year period, the Civic Engagement: Passport to Your Future (Passport) project developed. While its structure evolved and altered over time, the result is a teacher's guide for youth civic engagement, which incorporates technology. In its present form, Passport offers instructors, whether in a traditional or non-traditional educational setting, challenging, well-researched materials. While it utilizes technology, it is not dependent upon the ready availability of computers for students. Rather, it assumes computer access only for instructors who can utilize downloadable handouts.

Since Passport was developed within an urban setting, it presumes that most users will be urban. The intent is that students will relate to the issues of urban neighborhoods. Passport includes a collection of 10 units or chapters that address a range of topics, including citizenship, public policy, voting rights, and political access, among others. Although each unit can be implemented independently, the curriculum provides a comprehensive sequence of topics and class projects (see Curriculum Outline). As part of the implementation process, it is expected that each unit would generate class discussion, provide online research projects, and Web links to Internet sites for further inquiry on issues related to American civic literacy.

About the Center for Urban Research and Learning

Founded in 1996, Loyola University Chicago's Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) is a non-traditional university research center that promotes equal partnerships between the university and Chicago's communities. Drawing from both academic expertise and proven community leadership, CURL is dedicated to developing practical approaches to positive community change that improves the quality of life in the Chicago metropolitan area. As part of a new model of learning and teaching, CURL promotes partnerships between Loyola researchers - both faculty and students - and community-based organizations, citywide organizations, and government. This commitment to collaboration changes how university, community, and government partners expand their approaches to innovative, action-oriented solutions. Working together, community needs are addressed, and the academic experience is enriched.


The Civic Engagement: Passport to Your Future curriculum was made possible through grant support to the Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL), Loyola University Chicago, from the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. We are indebted to Liza Araujo-Rouse, the program officer with whom we worked most directly, who provided gracious and helpful assistance throughout the project.

Many persons contributed to this project with great dedication, commitment, and effort. The primary author and researcher was Brian Shea, CURL Graduate Fellow and Ph.D. candidate, Department of Philosophy. Alan Gitelson, Ph.D., Professor, Political Science Department, provided invaluable expertise, guidance, and good humor in the development of this civic engagement curriculum. Nelson Portillo, CURL Graduate Fellow and Ph.D. candidate, Department of Psychology, was the evaluator and provided technical support. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Associated Professor, provided evaluation supervision. Linda Von Dreele, CURL staff, contributed administrative oversight, writing, and editing.

Particularly in the initial stages, the project greatly benefited from the participation of students from an alternative high school, Howard Area Alternative High School (HAAHS), and two community-based organizations, Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) and Family Matters (FM). Staff who assisted were: Christine DeNevue, HAAHA; Ric Estrada and Maria Matias, ENH; and Twanna Brown and Kim DeLong, FM. We are indeed grateful to our partners for their able and constructive assistance.

We value the help of Phyllis Henry, Ph.D. candidate, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago, who contacted many of the reviewers for the evaluation process. We also appreciate the assistance of all reviewers who helped us improve the quality of our civic engagement curriculum, including Erin Peterson, David Arredondo, Ratib Al-Ali, Andrew Coneen, Vanessa Lal, Jennifer Lemkin, Demetra Makris, Jacqueline McCord, Joan Podkul, and Christopher Wilberding. The realistic critique of these educators from Chicago and as far away as Ohio and California has greatly enhanced the potential for the curriculum's implementation as a quality tool for youth civics education and activism.