These perspectives can help policy-makers understand the various competing notions of civic literacy at work in school programs. For example, as we will detail later in this report, it seems that all provinces consider citizenship as grounded in the individual student’s understandings and knowledge, rather than in collective efforts to solve systemic causes of political problems. It is due in part to this foundation of curriculum and schooling structures that students and teachers within Ottawa schools expressed frustration that they could not “walk the walk,” “put feet to the ideas” or “make a change.” Regardless of the particular perspective of citizenship one adopts, most scholars, policy-makers and study participants agree that the knowledge, skills and dispositions that constitute civic literacy are all important for effective citizen involvement.
Trends in Youth Civic Participation
Trends in civic participation reveal that youth are increasingly disengaged from formal political activities. Whether they are simply turning to other forms of informal political action is under debate by researchers. The concern is that the benefit of these activities, like Internet chats or volunteering, may be accompanied by depoliticizing citizenship and ostracizing youth from the power of political voice. This section explores nationwide patterns of engagement in relation to the Ottawa youth in our study.
André Turcotte began his recent Elections Canada report on youth voter participation by musing that, if the “Do Not Vote Party” had fielded candidates in the 2004 Canadian general election, our new government would be overwhelmingly composed of its members.xx Only 60.9% of Canadian voters participated in that election, leaving almost 40% of the nation not voting.xxi More alarmingly, this rate of participation reflects a longstanding downward trend. As shown in Figure 1, between 1988 and 2000 alone, federal electoral turnout dropped substantially from 75% to 64%.xxii
Source: Elections Canada, 2004.
Many analysts observe that the decline in voter participation rates is largely attributable to those under 30 years of age. André Blais echoes the conclusions of many researchers: “If we want to