(BEING CONTINUED FROM 1/02/15)
The personally responsible citizen adheres to the norms and standards of the existing society and acts responsibly within his/her community. Within this conception of citizenship,acting responsibly entails working and paying taxes, obeying laws, and volunteering in times of crisis. The core assumptions embedded within this conception, according to the authors, suggest
that solving social problems and improving society are dependent upon citizens having sound individual character.
The participatory citizen is an active member of community organizations and takes an active role in organizing community efforts to care for those in need. Additionally, the participatory citizen has knowledge of how government works and is aware of strategies for accomplishing collective tasks. Embedded within this conception of citizenship, Westheimer and Kahne (2004) explain, is the assumption that solving social problems and improving society involves the active participation and leadership of citizens in established systems and community structures.
Finally, the authors explain the characteristics and core assumptions underlying the notion of the justice-oriented citizen. The justice-oriented citizen critically assesses social,political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes; seeks out and addresses areas of injustice; and knows about democratic social movements and how to effect systemic change.
This vision of citizenship implicitly assumes that to solve social problems and improve society,“citizens must question, debate, and change established systems and structures that reproduce patterns of injustice over time” (240).
In “Teaching democracy: What schools need to do”, Kahne and Westheimer (2003) attempt to address what they call “an important gap in our education agenda:
preparing students to be effective democratic citizens” (35). They draw from a study in which they examine 10 educational programs that make central educating for democratic citizenship. In doing so, the authors identify specific goals and curricular components that, if given appropriate attention, can help schools “fulfill their historic ideal of laying the foundations for a democratic society” (35).
Primary among these goals, the authors argue, is teaching young people to engage civically,
socially, and politically, to draw their attention to the issues that most directly affect their lives,
and to provide opportunities for them to develop opinions about and act upon them.
Kahne and Westheimer (2003) lay out in clear and accessible terms the competing notions of what a commitment to democracy and, thus, citizenship, entails. They explain that,For some, a commitment to democracy is a promise to protect liberal notions of
freedom, while for others democracy is primarily about equality. For some, civil society is the key, while for others, free markets are the great hope for a democratic society. For some, good citizens in a democracy volunteer, while for others, they take active parts in political processes by voting, protesting, and working on political campaigns. (36)
They go on to identify a number of school-based programs that are intended to promote particular conceptions of democratic citizenship. Community service and character education programs aim to develop individual character traits but are largely lacking in focus on social transformation, collective action, and systemic change. Following from this, the authors claim,
“If democracy is to be effective at improving society, people need to exert power over issues that affect their lives” (39). This can best be accomplished, they explain, through opportunities to connect academic knowledge to analysis of social issues, knowledge of democratic processes,and by instilling democratic values such as tolerance, respect for individual and group identities,
concern for the greater good, and the ability to communicate across differences while also promoting one’s own goals in political arenas.
Through an examination of three programs that the authors define as successfully teaching democracy, they identify three broad priorities: promoting democratic commitments,capacities, and connections to others with similar goals. Teaching Commitment involves showing students that society needs improving and providing positive experiences seeking solutions. Capacity is related to helping students understand how they can engage issues,offering students opportunities to participate in real-world projects, and providing students with the skills, knowledge, and networks to feel they could be effective agents of change in their
communities and beyond. Finally, connections consist primarily of providing students with a supportive community of peers and connections to role models that have been successful in promoting social change.
One of the primary shortcomings of Kahne and Westheimer’s consideration of teaching democracy and forms of citizenship are the normative assumptions that underlie what form of democracy their explorations are intended to promote. In other words, they seem to take for granted the liberal democratic state itself and, with it, its centralized bureaucracy, strong ties to dominant economic interests, the obstacles it poses to community self-management, and the hierarchical relationships embedded within it. In “Education and the Democratic Person:
Towards a Political Conception of Democratic Education”, Gert Biesta (2007) goes considerably further in uncovering and unpacking some of the normative assumptions that Kahne and Westheimer take for granted.
In this article, Biesta (2007) seeks to revisit fundamental questions regarding how we should understand the relationship between democracy and education and what the role of schools is in a democratic society. His conclusion, briefly, is that the answers to these questions depend on “our views about the democratic person…on our ideas about the kind of subjectivity that is considered to be desirable or necessary for a democratic society” (743-744). Whereas Westheimer and Kahne attempt to delineate certain types of behavior that constitute democratic citizenship and the organizational structures that promote the development of such behaviors,Biesta’s (2007) aim is to uncover the conceptions of subjectivity that are implicitly assumed as necessary for a democratic society.
Biesta (2007) draws distinctions between some of the dominant conceptions of what type of person is seen as necessary. These include the rational individual capable of free and independent judgment in which case schools are expected to “make children ‘ready for democracy’ by instilling in them the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will turn them into democratic citizens” (742). The author views this perspective as extremely problematic in that it is overly “instrumentalistic” and requires an “individualistic approach to democratic education…focused on equipping individuals with the proper set of democratic knowledge,
skills, and dispositions, without asking questions about individuals’ relationships with others and about the social and political context in which they learn and act” (742). This conception of the democratic person and, thus, democratic education rests upon an “individualistic view of democracy, one in which it is assumed that the success of democracy depends on the knowledge,
skills, and dispositions of individuals and on their willingness as individuals to act democratically” (742).
We are reminded by Biesta (2007) that there have been a variety of interpretations put forth regarding what democracy might mean and that each of these interpretations carries with it certain implications regarding what ruling (kratos) means (i.e. direct participation vs. indirect representation) and who, exactly, constitutes the people (demos) (745). Biesta draws from Beetham and Boyle’s (1995) definition of democracy as “’the twin principles of popular control over collective decision-making and equality of rights in the exercise of that control’” and reinforces that with Dewey’s (1916/1966) notion of democracy as “’primarily a mode of
associated living’” to come up with his own definition of democracy as “inclusive ways of social and political action” (746).
He goes on to argue that the two most common ways of viewing the relationship between education and democracy is as “education for democracy” and “education through democracy”.
“Education For Democracy” privileges the idea of schools providing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions or values necessary for participation in democracy. “Education Through Democracy”, on the other hand, puts forward the view that the best way to educate for democracy is through establishing and enacting democratic structures and processes within schools themselves; that is, providing young people with the opportunity to experience participatory democracy first-hand, as it were. According to Biesta, both of these approaches are problematic in that they both conceive of democracy “as a problem for education” for which
educators, schools and other educational institutions are to provide a solution (748).
The crux of Biesta’s (2007) argument revolves around three different conceptions of the democratic person based upon the writing of Immanuel Kant, John Dewey, and Hannah Arendt,respectively. In short, Kant tends to promote an individualistic conception of the democratic person, Dewey a social conception, and Arendt a political conception. Kant’s conception,according to Biesta, is focused upon the Enlightenment notion that the individuals necessary for a democracy are those that can exercise their ability to reason without direction from another or the capacity for rational autonomy. Dewey’s conception, on the other hand, views the individual’s ability to think and reflect not as an inherent capacity of the individual subject but as a quality that has a social origin and develops through social interaction. As Biesta (2007) explains, “The idea of the subject as a shaper of the conditions that shape one’s subjectivity is the central idea in Dewey’s notion of the democratic person” (752).
As an answer to the equally individualistic notions of the democratic person put forward by Kant and Dewey, Biesta offers Hannah Arendt’s conception of subjectivity, rooted as it is in “the active human life” (753). Arendt’s notion of subjectivity finds its expression in labor,focused upon the maintenance of life; work, which takes form in the ways human beings actively change their environments; and action, within which the human subject, in either word or deed,brings something new into existence. It is within the realm of action that the individual brings his/her uniqueness into the world and therefore assumes subjectivity, but this cannot be done in isolation. In other words, this process is dependent upon our sharing this with others and “how others…respond to our initiatives” (755). In this sense, action, and subjectivity itself, is dependent upon the plurality of and interaction with the action of others. Arendt’s conception of subjectivity has important implications for how we think about the democratic person.
According to Biesta, “individuals may have democratic knowledge, skills, and dispositions; but it is only in action – which means action which is taken up by others in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways – that the individual can be a democratic subject” (757). Following from this, Biesta argues, “this means that the first question to ask about schools and other educational
institutions is not how they can make students into democratic citizens. The question to ask rather is: What kind of schools do we need so that children and students can act?” (758). And,because schools are not isolated entities but are embedded within the broader social milieu, it is only necessary to ask: “What kind of society do we need so that people can act?” In exploring
Arendt’s conception of democratic subjectivity and drawing from it these important questions about the relationship between education and democracy, Biesta makes space for us to move beyond the individualistic Enlightenment notion of education as the production of rational subjects and into a consideration of whether or not and to what degree schools and, more importantly, the broader society prioritize and nurture the conditions for action.
Drawing a different focus on the effects of globalization, Kathy Hytten (2008) highlights some of its more deleterious effects. As a result of globalization – a word for which there is no agreed upon definition, she admits – we see growing gaps between the wealthy and the poor, loss of job security, exploitation of workers, privatization of public goods and services, environmental destruction,diminishment of biodiversity, disruption of indigenous cultures, loss of community, increased global homogenization, and ultimately, the almost complete subordination of the developing world to the needs and desires of transnational corporations. (333)
In addition to recognizing this dire situation, the author does concede that globalization may offer some more progressive possibilities – namely, that it allows for the spread of a “robust” vision of democracy in which “citizens work together to address social problems, challenge inequities, provide equality of opportunity, and cultivate economic justice” (337). Much like the authors I have previously discussed, Hytten (2008) views this justice-oriented, participatory vision of democratic citizenship as ideal yet one rarely emphasized and cultivated within schools.
While I agree with Hytten’s call for a more robust conception of democracy, I have trouble with the viability of her call for students to “learn to be active and critical thinkers, to hold those in power accountable and responsible to common goods, and to engage in ongoing efforts to create and sustain social justice around world” (338). This appears to be a tall order for both students
and those who educate them. If we are to accept this call, there must be a more concrete and definable place to start.
James A. Banks (2008) also theorizes new conceptions of citizenship and citizenship education in light of social and political shifts occurring as a result of globalization. In “Diversity, Group Identity, and Citizenship in a Global Age”, Banks (2008) provides a
representative example of the way in which educational and political theorists alike conceive of citizens and citizenship. That is, Banks (2008) uses as the foundation for his exploration the assumption that there is a direct relationship between a citizen’s rights, privileges, duties, and identities and the nation-state. He does complicate this conception of citizenship by considering
the way in which the ethnic revitalization movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s demanded “the right to maintain important aspects of their [respective ethnic] cultures and languages while participating fully in the national civic culture and community” (130) rather than be fully assimilated into the dominant national culture. Through this consideration, Banks (2008) argues,
“conceptions of citizenship in a modern democratic nation-state should be expanded to include cultural rights and group rights in a democratic framework” (130). In essence, Banks (2008) argues that we must go beyond a universal notion of citizenship based upon the liberal assimilationist view, in which the rights of the individual are paramount, and move toward a multicultural citizenship in which “immigrant and minority groups can retain important aspects of their languages and cultures while exercising full citizenship rights” (132).
Banks (2008) appears to critique the fact that, “nationalists and assimilationists around the world worry that if citizens are allowed to retain identifications with their cultural communities they will not acquire sufficiently strong attachments to their nation-states” (133).
He argues that nation-states, in order to maintain a sufficient degree of cohesion as well as respect for and incorporation of different cultures, need to strike a balance between unity and diversity. In this effort, schools need to implement both multicultural and global citizenship which, according to Banks (2008), supports and enhances students’ understanding of and
commitment to their cultural communities, transnational community, and to the nation-state in which they are legal citizens (133).
Banks (2008) concludes his article with a typology of citizens that includes:
1) Legal citizen – a citizen who has rights and obligations to the nation-state but does not participate in the political process;
2) Minimal citizen – a citizen who votes in local and national elections on conventional candidates and conventional issues;
3) Active citizen – a citizen who takes action beyond voting to actualize existing laws and conventions;
4) Transformative citizen – a citizen who takes action to actualize values and moral principles beyond those of conventional
authority. In his conception of the transformative citizen, Banks begins to move beyond the implicit connection between a citizen and the nation-state. In fact, he claims “students experience democracy in classrooms and schools when transformative citizenship education is implemented” (137).
However, like most other contemporary theorists of citizenship and democracy, he does not offer an alternative theoretical or philosophical framework upon which to base transformative citizenship education and remains bound by the hegemonic construction of democracy as finding its greatest fulfillment in republican and representative forms of government. In other words, he claims the most desirable form of citizenship and citizenship education is beyond or above the state and its authority yet implicitly assumes the necessity of a centralized state for providing a system of education, amongst other things, that is intended to move people beyond the necessity of the state.
Finally, in considering the relationship between education, democracy, and citizenship education, it is important to consider how the meaning of these concepts change over time and within different social contexts based upon the discourses used to describe, define, and regulate them. Obviously, shifts in the discourses of citizenship will determine how we understand this concept and, in turn, how we view its relationship to education and democracy. In their article,“Contemporary Discourses of Citizenship”, Kathleen Knight Abowitz and Jason Harnish (2006) aim to identify the multiple discourses of citizenship circulating in contemporary Western democracies through a Foucaultian discourse analysis of a wide variety of K-12 curricular and policy texts. They conclude that contemporary notions of citizenship and citizenship education continue to be dominated by the citizenship discourses of civic republicanism and liberalism.
However, they also found that there are a variety of competing and often oppositional discourses of citizenship that have recently emerged which critique and challenge the dominant discourses of citizenship in public schools. These multiple discourses – those rooted in civic republicanism and liberalism and those that challenge them – the authors claim, offer “diverse ideological
orientations that are shaping our thinking about civic life and political participation” (656).
Abowitz and Harnish (2006) identify and discuss in detail what they call critical citizenship discourses that have emerged from but also challenge the civic republican and liberal discourses that tend to dominate formal school curricula. Not surprisingly, these critical discourses (i.e. feminist, cultural, queer, and reconstructionist), which offer critiques of and raise questions about traditional meanings of citizenship and of the nation-state itself, are marginalized in curricular texts. Therefore, the authors argue, the civic republican and liberal discourses of citizenship go relatively unquestioned and unchallenged within K-12 education. “The
diminution of [critical] discourses in the taught curriculum”, the authors explain, “means that much of our schooling in citizenship fails to reflect the continual struggles of democratic politics,” forecloses the “multiple forms of democratic engagement”, and ultimately reduces,confines, diminishes, and depletes citizenship meanings within schools (657). In other words,
most students in most schools are left with a very limited notion of what constitutes citizenship and politics, and therefore, leave schools with a rather static and narrow vision of what democracy looks like in practice.
The authors go on to define the contours of each of the critical discourses of citizenship that they identify and explain how they differ from or stand in opposition to those of civic republicanism and/or liberalism. Most importantly for my purposes is the discourse of reconstructionism which the authors define as being composed of two threads: the progressive,
populist thread that emphasizes “more inclusive, involved, active, participatory democracy that engages in public (often local) problem solving and work” and the Marxist or critical thread which “employs a more revolutionary rhetoric and practice in constructing notions of civic identity, as well as a more hegemonic analysis of government and corporate power” (671).
Within these broad strands, reconstructionist discourses of citizenship attempt to address a variety of pertinent social, economic, and political issues such as the unresponsiveness of US institutions to the needs of marginalized groups, the increasing influence of multinational corporations on government policy and public life, and the deleterious effects of consumer culture. As Abowitz and Harnish (2006) explain, some theorists participating in this particular discourse go so far as to say that state-run schooling, in as much as it is about order and loyalty,is antithetical to notions of reconstructionist visions of citizenship.
Most of the claims put forward within reconstructionist discourses of citizenship mesh quite well with the notions of citizenship, politics, and direct, participatory democracy advanced by social ecology. However, as the label suggests, reconstructionism (so named, the authors explain, to capture the vision of George Counts and other early 20th century progressives and Marxists) was intended to advance a radical reconstruction of “U.S. political, economic, and social institutions and systems” as the only means to see true democracy achieved (671). Having largely disavowed any direct connection with Marxism proper and having embraced the identity focused issues raised by postmodernism, many of the educational thinkers and theorists participating in this discourse lack a broader social and political theory in which they can anchor their ideas and unify their vision. In other words, while Marxism and other left-leaning critical discourses within education have failed to provide us with a coherent conception of citizenship and citizenship education that both directly challenge and move beyond civic republicanism and liberalism and are firmly rooted in a broader vision of revolutionary social transformation, social ecology seems well-poised to do both and, in the process, to expand rather than foreclose the multiple forms of direct democratic engagement that are possible for our students.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
By Kevin J. Holohan
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY