No child left thinking

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

On my more bleak days, I think this is government policy, but all I have to do is to read one of Mr Gove's speeches to be myself again.

Actually, it's the title [ No Child Left Thinking – democracy at risk in American schools ] of a paper by the University of Ottawa's Joel Westheimer.  It begins ...

Imagine you were visiting a school in a totalitarian nation governed by a one-ruling-party dictatorship. Would the educational experiences be markedly different from the ones experienced by your children in your local school? I do not ask this question facetiously. It seems plausible, for example, that a good curriculum used to teach multiplication, fractions, or a foreign language — perhaps with some adjustments for cultural relevance and suitability — would serve equally well in most parts of the world. But if you stepped into a school and asked to ob- serve a lesson related to the country’s political ideals about governance or civic or political participation, would you be able to tell whether you were in a totalitarian nation or a democratic one?

... so you can see where it's going.  It's about north America, of course, but reading it with the question: So what about the UK ...? in your head is instructive.  It draws on

Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J. (2004). What kind of citizen? The politics of educating for democracy. American Educational Research Journal. 41(2), 237-269.

and there is some resonance with sustainability.  The section on three kinds of citizenship says this:

Personally Responsible Citizen

Here, the core assumption is that, in order to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must have good character; they must be honest, responsible, and law-abiding members of the community.  For example, they …

  • Act responsibly in their community
  • Work and pay taxes
  • Pick up litter, recycle, and give blood
  • Help those in need, lend a hand during times of crisis
  • Obey laws
  • Contribute food to a food drive

Participatory Citizen

Here, the core assumption is that, in order to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must actively participate and take leadership positions within established systems and community structures.  For example, they …

  • Are active members of community organizations and/or improvement efforts
  • Organize community efforts to care for those in need, promote economic development, or clean up environment
  • Know how government agencies work
  • Know strategies for accomplishing collective tasks
  • Help to organize a food drive

Social-Justice Oriented Citizen

Here, the core assumption is that, in order to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must question and change established systems and structures when they reproduce patterns of injustice over time.  For example, they …

  • Critically assesse social, political, and economic structures
  • Explore strategies for change that address root causes of problems
  • Know about social movements and how to effect systemic change
  • Seek out and address areas of injustice
  • Explore why people are hungry and act to solve root causes

There are shifts here that fit into received patterns within environmental & sustainability educations, and within theories of social change ...

  1. from doing what you're asked or expected to do within the status quo,
  2. to being proactive and making a difference – still within the world as it is
  3. to asking why the world can't be different, and trying to act on that

The last of these sounds rather political, but that's the point of citizenship / sustainability – isn't it?

Well, up to a point, perhaps.  I'm just watching pictures of burning buildings and demonstrating citizens across what we're encouraged to call "the muslim world", and wonder if that fits this positive picture of social-justice oriented citizenry, or is violence beyond this stage?  Maybe there's a 4th kind of citizenly action where violent direct action is ok (necessary, maybe), because the greater end justifies it.  And would that extend (a 5th kind) to killing people, I wonder?

Thought not.  But, it goes to show how tricky this citizenship education is.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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