Growing Democracy: Examining Children's Civic and Rhetorical Practices in Election Years
Cassie Brownell

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Toronto

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
One purpose of U.S. schooling is to prepare children to participate as adults in society democratically. Typically, democracy is defined as civic participation in governmental processes. By contrast, recent research offers reconsiderations of civics to account for children’s evolving individual and group identities and the sociopolitical rhetoric they employ. Amidst this renewed interest in civics within education, much of the research focuses on youth close to the voting age because many still dismiss younger children's voices. Instead, they position children as naïve and apolitical. However, children enact politically relevant social identities beginning in early childhood. Framed by critical sociocultural theories, this qualitative study is among the first of the new millennium to trace how U.S. children’s civic and rhetorical practices evolve across time, age, and political landscapes. Punctuated by three presidential election cycles, this comparative case study addresses how children engage with broader discourses and how they (re)produce political rhetoric. Findings will render the complexity of contemporary U.S. children's political lives visible, illuminate how schools support or constrain children's civic and rhetorical practices, and outline critical, child-centered research methods for longitudinal investigations into political socialization. This work is vital in politically polarized U.S. society.
About Cassie Brownell
Cassie J. Brownell is an assistant professor of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. She uses critical ethnographic methods to challenge perceptions of children as apolitical by showcasing how children enact social identities through writing, talking, and playing. A 2020 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Research Development Awardee, Brownell’s publications across academic journals – such as AERA Open, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Teachers College Record, and Theory into Practice – and practitioner-oriented outlets – like the Bank Street Occasional Paper Series, Language Arts, Science & Children, and The Reading Teacher illustrate children as powerful rhetoricians whose abilities as communicants are frequently underestimated. Since completing her Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education at Michigan State University in 2018, Brownell has garnered recognition from the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund, Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the National Council of Teachers of Education. Additionally, Brownell was named a 2021 Concha Delgado Gaitan Presidential Fellow by the Council on Anthropology and Education (a section of the American Anthropological Association) and received the 2023 Emerging Scholar Awardee for AERA’s Early Education & Child Development Special Interest Group. She recently won the 2024 Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies from AERA’s Division C. Previously, Brownell was an early childhood and elementary educator in New Orleans. She also holds a B.A. from Marquette University and an M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame.

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