Blog Post #5 – Citizenship and Education

During my K-12 schooling experience I can remember various teachings that had to do with citizenship education. I can remember learning things like picking up garbage, cleaning up after yourself, leaving a place nicer than we’d find it, taking the time to recycle items that could be repurposed, and placing trash in the appropriate bin. I remember learning that being a good citizen meant taking care of the planet and the community and being a good friend to all in the community. These lessons were integral during my elementary education years more so than my high school years, and they reflect the personally responsible citizen mold (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). As I entered into high school, the participatory citizen idea became more popular and known. We were now challenged with involving ourselves in community tasks/ and social matters (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). We discussed the importance of voting and looked at the hierarchy of government (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). This type of perspective on citizenship made it possible for myself as a student to find greater purpose in things like picking up garbage if I would see it flying in the wind, or helping out a neighbour if their car got stuck in the snow, etc.

What became impossible was seeing the root causes of issues in society. In a sense the education surrounding citizenship made looking at community issues from an upstream perspective very difficult as it narrowed my approach to look at how I could impact the world as a citizen from an individual level. It failed to show me the possibility of being a justice-oriented citizen. This approach also narrowed the lens on cultural history and left many blind spots to what being an engaged and invested citizen really looks like. The education I received regarding citizenship provided a great foundation, however, it left many uncertain areas when it came to actively engaging oneself beyond the surface issues associated with social, political, and economical structures. As Mike Cappello explains, “If we want justice-oriented citizens, I suggest that we have a little bit of work to do. That teaching critical engagement, critical thinking, anti-racism, anti-oppressive education, creating opportunities for kids to lead to act out, to enact those beliefs; schools have not been good at this.”

Ultimately, if we only want the personally responsible citizen then we should keep doing what we are doing, but, if we want the justice-oriented citizen, it is time for changes to be made. We as future educators have the most perfect position to start doing this from the moment, we enter out first classroom. As Joel Westheimer mentions in an interview, schools have always been focused on the broad goals of shaping citizens, but in today’s society a lot of people view schools today as an opportunity for job training. “They are not about shaping who we are as people” (Westheimer- Video Interview). This speaks primarily to the fact that the role and the type of citizenship that is important depends on the place/community/country/etc. where it is being taught. It aligns with the society’s goals. It tells us what the society perceives as important. It tells us what the curriculum makers value and what type of qualities they are looking for in the “good student” (check back to my blog post #2). By remaining focused on developing personally responsible citizens, curriculum makers are silently suggesting that justice-oriented matters are not important. They are contributing to the way that these issues linger and fester. Citizenship is an important component of the overall educational experience and learning that students are exposed to from grade K-12. It extends beyond the walls of the school and will impact them for the rest of their lives in the community and global picture. As a future educator, I need to further educate myself on this topic, and I need to find creative ways to inspire students to not only be citizens who are  personally responsible and who participate in community matters, but I also need to show them how to be citizens who explore big topics and gain knowledge to find creative solutions to these complex problems.


Westheimer, J: What Kind of Citizen? . June 16, 2016.

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J. (2004). What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy. American Educational Research Journal41(2), 237-269. doi: 10.3102/00028312041002237

Cappello, M. OHASSTA Talks – Citizenship [podcast]. Education.


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