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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“Signifying Nothing”: Identifying Conceptions of Youth Civic Identity in the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards and the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Reading Framework

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This manuscript examines how national reading policies in the United States shape specific kinds of civic identities for K–12 students. We engage in a thematic discourse analysis of two contemporary national policy documents—the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading Framework—to understand the ways citizenship is defined and constructed at the national level. By reading these documents for how they conceptualize civic-based educational outcomes, we interrogate the disconnects between this language and the civic contexts—and potential outlets for civic action—that young people are navigating in the United States today. We examine how seemingly benign policy documents define citizenship in increasingly narrow visions of individualist passivity, and how such definitions run counter to the expansive visions necessary to honor the lived experiences of young citizens of color. Our analysis highlights how these policy documents structure literacy practices, including the variety of texts that students encounter, opportunities to analyze those texts, and specific forms of engagement with media and messages found in society, in ways that stymie a Freirian reading of the word and the world. Ultimately, we suggest how educators might work within the limited pedagogical spaces of these policies toward liberatory ends.


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