Curriculum as Citizenship

As the semester progresses, I am continually being exposed to ideas of curriculum that do not fit the common-sense understanding instilled in society regarding curriculum. Beyond formal curriculum which outlines outcomes and indicators for specific subject areas, curriculum as citizenship is also important to consider as educators. I believe that all educators would agree that we are accountable for guiding our students to become “good” citizens but the question then becomes, what makes a citizen “good”? Joel Westheimer outlines three kinds of citizens in his paper concerning the politics of educating for democracy and although they could all be classified as “good”, there are obvious variances between the three types. Firstly, the personally responsible citizen is law-abiding, recycles, pays taxes, and contributes to community fundraisers and collections. If we consider a food drive as an analogy, the personally responsible citizen is an individual who donates cans and other items. Secondly, the participatory citizen actively engages in activities concerning civic affairs and the social life of their community. Rather than simply donating cans, participatory citizens plan, organize, and advertise food drives in their communities. Lastly, the justice-oriented citizen focuses on addressing the root causes of social issues and actively strives for solutions. In our analogy, justice-oriented citizens are individuals who ask the question “why are people hungry?” and work towards finding solutions for their discoveries. The three kinds of citizens all place emphasis on different aspects of being a community member and express distinct societal values. Thus, as educators, we must be cautious about where we place emphasis concerning appropriate citizen behaviour and ensure that a balance of the three kinds of citizens is being encouraged in our classrooms.

Despite not always being specifically defined, my experiences as a student taught me many things concerning how to be a “good” citizen. Emphasis on being a personally responsible citizen could be seen through simple lessons such as sharing, recycling, collecting food, mitts and toques, or Christmas hamper items, and abiding by the rules of the school. I was also expected to obtain volunteer hours in my high school Christian Ethics courses. By encouraging volunteering, donating, tidiness, and following rules, my schools taught me that “good” citizens must partake in activities of similar nature. Unfortunately, hidden behind these positive concepts is the idea that if you are less fortunate and unable to help the poor than you are not a “good” citizen which marginalizes oppressed groups of the population. Students were also awarded for their personal responsible actions which may have been the reason for their behaviours rather than investing their time simply because they believed it was the right thing to do. Through student-led programs such as SLC (Student Leadership Council), Peacekeepers, and safety patrollers, my schools illustrated the importance of being a participatory citizen. They exemplified how not only is it important for citizens to do their individual part but that “good” citizens also contribute to planning and organizing events or activities that impact their communities as a whole. The concept of the justice-oriented citizen was probably the least promoted but can still be seen when reflecting on aspects of the hidden curriculum. Many essay topics or questions on exams and assignments permitted me to critically think about the topics under study and share my personal opinions which provided me with a voice and did not encourage compliance. Teaching students to critically think helps inspire them to ask difficult questions and challenge the norms which are qualities of justice-oriented citizens.

Embedded in the curriculum are lessons about being a citizen. It is important to remember that despite all three kinds of citizens described by Joel Westheimer being “good”, they must all be emphasized appropriately.  Schools tend to overemphasize the need for students to be personally responsible by celebrating individual behaviours and encouraging students to feel good about their personal contributions. To truly be “good” citizens, I believe students must learn to challenge social normatives in hopes of improving societal norms for all citizens and to act selflessly without the desire for acknowledgment. As an educator, I am accountable for teaching my students about citizenship and thus it will be my duty to set a positive example of what being a “good” citizen looks like.

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