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Becoming a Democratic Citizen A Study Among Adolescents in Different Educational Tracks
The central research question of this dissertation was: What are the views and experiences of adolescents regarding democracy and decision-making, and how do these develop over time? The five empirical chapters collectively answered this question. This research has shown that adolescents in both pre-vocational and pre-academic educational tracks have democratic views about decision-making in everyday life and the political domain. The adolescents’ views on democracy in everyday life are rich and mostly multidimensional, which means they are well able to formulate their preferences, provide answers to questions, explain their views, and take several democratic principles into account. However, this is much less the case with regard to decision-making issues related to political democracy. Although these adolescents, and especially the pre-academic students at a later age, are better able to explain their preferences, they have difficulties in explaining their views about democracy, politics, and parliament. Politics continues to be, especially for pre-vocational students, an abstract domain. Contrary to expectations, the adolescents do not develop more complex views as they grow older. The pre-academic students that become more familiar with politics predominantly start to focus more strongly on only one democratic principle. Their initial rich views about everyday situations are colonized by the way they perceive political democracy. Young peoples’ experiences of democracy in everyday life provide greater insight into the background of the observed trend of them having one-dimensional views. This study shows that adolescents from both educational tracks have only limited experiences with democracy at school and in other social contexts (such as at home and in associational life). In their experience, they seldom encounter the complex character of democracy. Combined with the one-sided image that pre-academic students in particular develop of the workings of political democracy, this explains the diminishing of complexity in the views of adolescents in the higher educational tracks. Finally, in this dissertation I have found no evidence that schools compensate for inequalities in students’ experiences of democracy outside of school. Between the second and fourth grade, the differences in experiences between students from different tracks are increasing, and schools seem to be reinforcing these differences. The possibilities that exist for schools to provide their students with positive experiences of democracy (such as letting students participate in decision-making and discussions about society) are not fully utilized. Schools offering pre-vocational education especially do not seem to be relevant arenas for young people to learn to reflect on democratic issues and to develop positive attitudes towards democracy.