Citizenship Education

Citizenship Education

Citizenship Education ties into many aspects of school, meaning that without necessarily realizing, we learn what makes a good citizen, and how to effectively function as a “good” member of society.

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.’s article discussed three types of citizens.

What kind of citizen do we need to support an effective democratic society? In mapping the terrain that surrounds answers to this question, we found that three visions of ‘citizenship’ were particularly helpful in making sense of the variation: the personally responsible citizen; the participatory citizen; and the justice oriented citizen” (p. 239).

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.

From my K – 12 experience I remember focus being on the personally responsible citizen as discussed in Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.’s article. This citizen would be “picking up litter, giving blood, recycling, obeying laws, and staying out of debt” (p. 241), and would give “to food or clothing drives when asked” (p. 241) and volunteer. These examples brought to mind memories of a recycling project one year, and every year in elementary school heading to the playground to pick up garbage. We also collected food for various organizations, and did volunteer hours in our community. Characteristics like honesty and integrity were emphasized as we learned about laws and the importance of respecting authority. Reading Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.’s article, specifically the personally responsible citizen model, brought to mind Kumashiro’s writings on “common sense” (week one post) and the “good” student (week two post). This citizen lacks in learning to communicate with those of varying opinions, or taking action against social injustice, or learning about democracy/decision making, as Joel Westheimer shares as being important. The danger with this citizenship education is it is more individualistic. We end up with a more narrow view when this “good” citizen image is solely portrayed – even if unintentionally.

“Conceptions of ‘good citizenship’ imply conceptions of the good society. The various perspectives on citizenship also have significantly varying implications for curriculum” (p. 238).

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.

As this article stated participatory citizen education aim to teach “students about how government and community-based organizations work and training them to plan and participate in organized efforts to care for people in need” (p. 242). In history classes we learned about how the government works. There were also opportunities in the school for students to organize and lead events that would in some way help the community. 

In regards to the justice oriented citizen, I saw this in history class as we discussed current events and had opportunities to hear varying perspectives. Additionally, in my high school law class we engaged in discussion regarding social structures and learned to communicate with those of varying opinions from ourselves, as this article discussed the justice oriented citizen doing. However, we often avoided discussion about taking action in regards to social injustice, leaving the impression that action is not very valuable.

“In a very real sense, youth seem to be ‘learning’ that citizenship does not require democratic governments, politics, or even collective endeavors. … Educators who seek to teach personally responsible citizenship and researchers who study their programs focus on individual acts of compassion and kindness, not on collective social action and the pursuit of social justice (Kahne, Westheimer, and Rogers, 2000)” (p. 244).

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J.

The approach we take to citizenship instruction tells us what society sees as a “good” citizen and what is valued in that place. Each citizen Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J. describe have characteristics that are clearly valued. I believe it appears society values a more individualistic citizen, as the participatory citizen model is quite evident in schools, lacking in leadership or push to make society better for all. This is dangerous in that less value is placed on working together and taking action against social injustice.

Dr. Mike Cappello relates Treaty Education to citizenship in this podcast. In that, listeners are encouraged to consider commitments to Canada’s Indigenous peoples. We need to do more than just acknowledge whose land we are on. Rather, we need to respectfully see citizenship as tied in with those around us, taking action together for a better tomorrow.

“What would citizenship education look like that took that spirit and intent [of treaties] seriously?”

Dr. Mike Cappello

As educators we can help students see the value of growth and change, recognizing the need for action to accompany words, creating meaningful relationships for years. By introducing students to these varying perspectives of citizens we are working collectively towards a community where students feel better equipped to act and stand up for what they value.

2 thoughts on “Citizenship Education

  1. Hi Tamantha,

    This was a great and very detailed post which adequately answered all of the questions posed. I would agree with your observations that schools tend to teach mostly about being a personally responsible citizen, with less emphasis placed on participatory and justice-oriented citizenship, though it is good that in your schooling you did receive some of that education as in my experience I found it to be quite lacking. What do you think schools could do in order to improve their education in these areas? Do you think there is one type of citizen that is more important than others, or are they all equally important?

    1. Thanks Riley! Great questions.
      I think in school we need to talk more about things like social injustice, and actually figure out how we can take action to create lasting change. I found in my schooling we briefly discussed current events related to social injustice, but we were never really encouraged to examine these issues, question them, and actually try and create lasting change. Schools could also put more emphasis on community and working together. I think one thing about the personally responsible citizen is it has a more individualistic model, so expanding on that could encourage students to pay more attention to people around them. Those are some general thoughts, but I’m encouraged by your question to continue thinking of practical ways to present all 3 citizen types!
      I don’t think there is one type of citizen that’s more important than others. After we discussed it in lecture, I felt like we really do need all three types as they all contribute differently to society. Would you agree, or do you think one is more important than others?

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