Montana Boys' State and Montana Girls' State : political socialization of the adolescents in transition to adulthood in the context of family, school and community

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Many young people in the United States are not being adequately prepared for the roles and responsibilities of democratic adult citizenship and political participation. Research has shown that the trends of increased disengagement have continued throughout the years. From elementary level to college level, students appear to be less informed and concerned with politics and political participation. Political socialization research attempts to explain the basically sociological conception of political activity. Bronfenbrenner’s ecology of human development theory provides the environment of family, school, community and the dimension of individually to study Elder’s life course transition of the adolescent to adulthood. The theories of identity formation, formal operational cognition and post-conventional moral development converge in adolescence. These theories provide multifaceted ways to examine the development of the life long trajectory of political socialization. The sample for the study were 16 to 18 year old boys (289) and girls (177) who were carefully chosen on the basis of leadership, citizenship and scholarship to represent Montana youth at the American Legion and its Auxiliary-sponsored Boys’ State and Girls’ State held in Helena, Montana in June, 2002. Respondents were a good cross sectional representation of various size schools and geographical locations in Montana. The questionnaire was developed by the researcher to specifically answer the question: How is this group of Montana students who were chosen to be members of Montana Boys’ State and Montana Girls’ State being politically socialized in the political and civic structures of society, and in what is often considered the “non-political” crucibles of family, school and community? The sampled youth appear to be more involved in church- related programs than in either voluntary or political activities. Surprisingly, the youth did not organize their thinking about sociopolitical policies or laws in accordance with their reported political partisanship or their religious affiliation. The values, beliefs and actions of prior generations are transmitted in the political and non political institutions of our society. The family, school and community and the influences operating within them are instrumental in politically socializing our youth and perpetuating democracy.




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