Civic Education and Youth Participation

Civic Education and Youth Participation:

The Research of Henry Milner

This sections aims to highlight Canadian researcher Henry Milner's studies on youth apolitical behavior and examples of how different countries address it with civic education policies. His works helps us  better understand the mechanisms of political involvement in the 21st century. and is presented here with a focus on how his goals and ideas could be implemented in a classroom setting.  We focus in particular on his 2010 book: "The Internet Generation - Engaged citizen or Political Dropouts?"

1. About Henry Milner

Henry Milner (born in 1946) is a political scientist at the University of Montreal in Canada, and Umea University in Sweden, and co-editor of Inroads, a Canadian journal of policy and opinion. He is a specialist in the study of the democratic process in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, several Scandinavian countries, and within the European Union.

2. The Internet Generation - Engaged Citizens or Political Dropouts?

This book is an investigation of political disengagement among young people in parts of North America and Europe. Despite rising levels of education and mounting calls for increased democratic participation, recent years have seen a significant decline in voter turnout in many countries, and the erosion of civic duty that had brought an earlier generation to the polls.

Milner probes the decline of youth voting and attentiveness to politics, drawing lessons from observations in schools and other institutions. He aims to break down the wall between political life and "real" life that underlies political abstention among the Internet generation.

Finding that civic education is key to instilling habits of attentiveness to public affairs within young people (especially among potential political dropouts), Milner sets out a series of ways to bring the issues-and the political parties' stance on them-to the classroom in the form of  election and legislative simulations.

3. Milner's policy solutions

Milner's vision of a "Learning Democracy Plan" falls generally into three parts:

  • Part A- Current Events: Teachers should encourage pupils to keep current with politics by reading newspapers, or using the internet to search for relevant articles. Henry Milner shows in his book a positive relationship between this behavior and political knowledge, and an even stronger positive correlation when the teachers encourage independent current event research in their classroom.
  •  Part B- Service Learning: Milner explains that service learning involves intellectual skills, performing needed service, and producing real results that command respect. Service learning provides students the skills and virtues that enable them to participate fully in a civil society and "contribute to the sustainability of our democracy." For Milner, studies show a causal relationship between reported community service, and positive attitudes toward political participation and civic engagement. In that way, he is giving an extending meaning of the political participation, in order to include community service in the definition.
  •  Part C- Mock Elections and Parliaments: Milner's proposes two activities that can transform the learning process - mock elections and mock parliaments. Simulating the democratic process is a way to introduce it to young people in an interactive and informal way. Milner's studies prove that young people who are engaged in civic life have greater political involvement and regular participation in elections, and civics education is the key to cultivate a habit and culture of civic participation


These ideas of developing political knowledge with new social media, and giving a more concrete meaning to politics and the civic engagement, can be applied through concrete steps. Milner focuses in particular on what is already being done in the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

In Sweden, high school students participate in "The Swedish Skolval," or school vote. Occurring during Presidential elections, students form election committees that represent various parties, and even invite candidates to the schools to debate on the issues. During the week of the election, students vote on ballots that are identical to official ones, which are counted in the same manner as the nation vote. The reports of the Swedish Skolval are reported in the newspapers and on television as part of the live coverage of the actual elections. Such an institutional and engaging mock election not only teaches students about the election process in a hands-on manner, but introduces a voting culture.

To complement this mock election program, Sweden, as well as Denmark and Norway, has a strong mock parliament program. In Oslo, Norway, students in their last two years of compulsory school participate in a mock parliamentary committee decision-making process through role playing. Each student is given a card with the name of an individual Member of Parliament (MP), and his or her party. Students are placed in a committee responsible for dealing with one or two issues, and are given time to express their opinion on the issue(s) followed by the opportunity to express the opinion of the MP they are representing. The committee's deliberation is interrupted with phone calls and computer messages by lobbyists, constituents, party activists, and the like, to get a feel for the entire legislative process. These students then have to align of compromise with other parties in order to get the committee's legislation passed. Through this process, students learn firsthand how laws are made, about conflicting interests, and the constraints of parties and interested persons.

4. Apply Milner's civic education proposals in the United States

Milner has many concrete proposals: the main ideas that he wants to develop include mock elections, mock parliaments, and a community service project related to civic engagement. He suggests the use of media sources, especially the internet, in order to teach democratic processes and to promote incentives to vote.

While Milner focuses on national simulations, these ideas can be applied at many different levels in order to educate the internet generation about our democracy. Here we proposes ideas that can be applied at different levels, with specific suggestions on how they could be implemented by: an individual teacher; an individual school; a county school system; and a state legislature.



To move from a passive, to an active way to learn.

Henry Milner's Civic Education Ideas: A template for Teachers.

The first step to transform the learning process is most effectively done by those educators with the most contact with young people. In fact, Henry Milner says most of these ideas of greater youth participation must first be applied at a local level, so the students can understand the role of political involvement and voting in their everyday life and transform the learning of democracy and political participation from a passive activity to an active and hands-on lesson.

In order to help teachers who want to use Milner's ideas in their classroom, this document will serve as a template of what teachers can do to increase the effectiveness of their lesson plans related to youth participation.

Milner's main goal is to transform learning from a passive event to an active plan. Considering the fact that the Internet has become an important tool to new generations, using it will be a great way to involve students. The Internet can be use to reach students at home, and give to this program a larger dimension. With this tool, the programs can be more interactive, and less formal.

Learning democracy by using these tools can be helpful, but it can't work without a minimum knowledge of institutions, their roles, and the importance of voting. That's why before implementing these projects, we invite you to consult our curriculum with our glossary, which could help to introduce the basic knowledge required to the students. 

See our resources for holding a Mock Election and Mock Congress in your classroom today!