What kind of citizen? Political choices and educational goals

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Westheimer, Joel
Kahne, Joseph
Education policy , Citizens , Conceptualization , Democracy , Policy making , Justice , Civism
The notion of democracy occupies a privileged place in our society. Educators and policymakers are increasingly pursuing a broad variety of programs that aim to promote democracy through civic education, service learning, and other pedagogies. The nature of their underlying beliefs, however, differs. `What Kind of Citizen?' calls attention to the spectrum of ideas represented in education programs about what good citizenship is and what good citizens do. Our argument derives from an analysis of both democratic theory and a two year study of educational programs in the U.S. that aim to promote democracy. The study employed a mixed-methods approach, combining qualitative data from observations and interviews with analysis of program documents and quantitative analysis of pre/post survey data. We detail three conceptions of the 'good' citizen: personally responsible, participatory, and justice oriented that emerged from literature analysis and from our study. We argue that these three conceptions embody significantly different beliefs regarding the capacities and commitments citizens need in order for democracy to flourish: and they carry significantly different implications for pedagogy, curriculum, evaluation, and educational policy. We underscore the political implications of education for democracy and suggest that the narrow and often ideologically conservative conception of citizenship embedded in many current efforts at teaching for democracy reflects not arbitrary choices but rather political choices with political consequences.
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