Curriculum as citizenship – What is Citizenship Education?

What is citizenship education?

First, we should define what a citizen is. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, a citizen is “someone who has the right to live permanently in a particular country and has the right to the legal and social benefits of that country as well as legal obligations towards it.” We as Canadian citizens have rights and privileges granted by the government, but with rights and privileges comes with responsibilities and legal obligations.  When we think of the rights we think of the right to vote and we think of legal obligations such as paying taxes. Then what is citizenship education? Joel Westheimer states that  citizenship education is “to advance the democratic purposes of
education.” In other words, educate the student to become good citizens. But what is a good citizen and what do they do?

According to Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne, there are three types of citizenships – The Personally Responsible Citizen, The Participatory Citizen, and The Justice Oriented Citizen.

Personally Responsible Citizens act responsibly for their local community. Examples would properly dispose of and recycle waste, donating to charity, obeying traffic laws, etc. Personally Responsible Citizens is driven by character education.  Character education teaches that if students are installed with good character such as being respectful, kind,  and helpful it will help them develop into Personally Responsible Citizens.

Participatory Citizen actively participates in the civic affair and social life of the community at the local, state, and national levels. Examples of this would be organizing a pancake breakfast at your local community center or church, organizing a neighbourhood watch, and voting in local, provincial, and national elections. Participatory Citizen’s aim is to develop students who are engaged in community-based efforts to care for those who are vulnerable and/or in need.

Justice Oriented Citizens is Personally Responsible Citizens and Participatory Citizen together but take is a step further. Justice-Oriented Citizens learn how to understand and analyze social problems. They search for the root cause and would try to fix it where the problem started.

My K-12 schooling never explicitly taught citizenship education, it was more implicitly taught.  When I look back many circumstances would be considered to be citizenship education.

The earlier memory of citizenship education came in the form of The Personally Responsible Citizen. I went to a private Christian in both my elementary years and high school years.  There was a big emphasis on character development in both schools.  Concepts such as “treat others the way you want to be treated” – respect and “love your neighbour as yourself” – love,  were taught. Another example would be teaching us to pick up trash and not litter.  They never directly told use that picking up trash was your responsibility as a citizen, instead, they taught that it would help keep the environment clean.

An example of The Participatory Citizen is when I join the student leadership council (SLC) and the many school events we organized. One specific example is organizing a food drive. One of the main ideas I learn about participatory citizenship from organizing events like these is that healthy competition between people is beneficial to reaching a goal. One of the ways the SLC increase engagement among the students is that one of the incentives was the whichever class collected the most food got a reward.  Also, things, like informing the other students what kinds of food items they are able to donate, organizing/tracking the food items, and spending awareness about hungry in the city, taught me skills on how to be involved in a community.

Many of the times where I was taught citizenship education happened implicitly, but I think that this is an advantage as it demonstrated that citizenship education can be easily integrated into many subjects and activities in schools.

Works Cited

“citizen.” Macmillan Dictionary, Mcmillian Education Limited, 2020, Accessed 03 February 2020.

Westheimer, Joel. Joseph, Kahne “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating For Democracy.” American Educational Research Journal, Vol 41, no.2, 2004.

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Teacher in training.

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