Government and Politics

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for purposes of indoctrination. Yet, even in democracies, where local schools are not under the pervasive control of the national government, political education will generally reflect the norms and values of the prevailing political order. In the view of conflict theorists, American students learn much more than factual information about our political and economic way of life.

They are socialized to view capitalism and representative democracy as the "normal" and most desirable ways of organizing a nation. At the same time, competing values and forms of government are often presented in a most negative fashion or are ignored. From a conflict perspective, this type of political education serves the interests of the powerful and ignores the significance of the social divisions found within the United States.

It is difficult to pinpoint a precise time in which politics is learned. Fred Greenstein argues that the crucial time in a young person’s psychological, social, and political development is between ages 9 and 13. In the same vein, one study found that children 13 and 14 years of age were much more able to understand abstract political concepts than were children a few years younger.

Specifically, in response to a question about the meaning of government, older children tended to identify with Congress, whereas younger children identified with a more personal figure such as the president. Other research, however, points to a significant leap in political sophistication during the ages of 13 to 15. Surprisingly, expression of a preference for a political party often comes before young people have a full understanding of the political system.

Surveys indicate that 65 to 75 percent of children aged 10 and 11 express commitment to a specific political label, including "independent. ".

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