What examples of citizenship education do you remember from your K-12 schooling? What types of citizenship (e.g. which of the three types mentioned in the article) were the focus? Explore what this approach to the curriculum made (im)possible in regards to citizenship.
Citizenship education can be defined as “educating children, from early childhood, to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society”. Educators are continually “pursuing programs that aim to strengthen democracy through civic education, service learning, and other pedagogies” (1). However, there are debates surrounding what makes a “good” citizen.
I attended school (K-12) in three different places: Oromocto, New Brunswick, Oakville, Manitoba and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. They were all completely different in a variety of ways; school size, demographics, resources, teaching methods, etc. However, one thing they all had in common was their attention to citizenship education. This began at a young age with a focus on recycling, picking up garbage in the schoolyard, and raising money for different local groups. This would be considered the “personally responsible citizen [who] acts responsibly in his/her community” (3). As I entered high school in Portage la Prairie, MB there was a shift from just simply being a personally responsible citizen, to someone who “actively participates in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and national levels” (4). This was largely due to my participation in a student-led “Social Justice” club. This club was focused on helping others and ultimately, building a more just society. Joining this club allowed me to be actively engaged in “planning and participating in organized efforts to care for those in need” (4). Additionally, the club pressed me to think deeper about WHY there are these injustices in our society and HOW we can change it. There was an “emphasize [on] social change [that] seeks to prepare students to improve society by critically analyzing and addressing social issues and injustices” (4). We organized a variety of fundraisers/social projects/awareness events for things such as the Food Bank, Coats for Kids, and Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, I was lucky enough to attend a humanitarian trip in high school to Nicaragua, where I worked in the community of El Trapiche. While there I truly realized that helping others or “foreign aid” should go far beyond giving them money or food. We need to address the deeper rooted problems and provide support in allowing them to build a sustainable future for themselves, rather than pushing our ideals on them. My social justice club provided me the opportunity to be exposed to the two other forms of citizenship: the “participatory citizen” and the “justice-orientated citizen”. However, I do think that our education tends to prioritize the lowest level of citizenship, which is the “personally responsible citizen”.
I believe, that if I had not joined the Social Justice club, I would not have been able to gain some of the qualities of a “participatory” and “justice orientated” citizen. Considering there was only approximately 15 students in this club, out of 1500 students in the school, many students missed this same opportunity. The curriculum focuses on the “personally responsible” citizen, whereby students are taught that if they give a can of soup or drop a loonie in a collection that they have done their part to help the less fortunate. This, although beneficial, does nothing to get students and faculty to understand the systemic issues. Giving needs to go beyond just the material items and focus on the participation and justice orientated, in that only through “getting your hands dirty” can true change be achieved.