History of Citizenship & Citizenship Education

History of Citizenship

Citizenship and citizenship education can be understood in multiple and diverse ways in academic literature and culture (for example, Kahne & Middaugh, 2010; Levine, 2007; Levine & Higins-D’Alessandro, 2010; Lin, 2013; Parker, 2014; Sherrod, Torney-Purta & Flanagan, 2010; Westheimer and Kahne, 2004).   

Citizenship is interweaved with the concepts of identity, belonging, governance and security and can been conceptualized into two types.  In the first, belonging is understood to be tied to one’s family or clan, and thus “citizenship” entails knowing who is one’s clan, what one’s duties and rights are, and protecting this group from perceived threats, as well as developing governance structures for resolving issues that might arise.  People are understood to be connected together through shared traditions that might include language, culture, or place.  This form of citizenship has been called ethnic citizenship (Kohn 2005). 

The second type is civic citizenship.  This type is linked to the emergence of nation states in Europe and changes fostered by the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment (Kohn 2005).  Civic citizenship belonging is conceptualized as being a member of a nation state, which entails rights and responsibilities within and to the state, and is framed within a government system at and of the nation, whose role is that of governing in the interests of its members (citizens) by addressing issues and ensuring citizens’ safety and wellbeing. This view of citizenship is linked to historical events and changing ideas in Europe.  In England, for example, the concept of civic citizenship developed along with industrialization, nationalism and imperialism (Bury 1960, Colley 1992). 

With the development of nation-states, leaders developed ways of educating the public at a national level.  That is, governments developed education on, about and for the development of national civic values. In the nineteenth century, as nation-states evolved, Prussia became one of the first nation-states to develop schools as a means of building nationalism (Cordasco 1976, Boyd and King 1975).  Prussian schools—free public schools—aimed to nurture a sense of allegiance to and the dispositions needed to maintain (and further develop) the modern nation-state.  Moral education was tied to cultivating a duty to the state through means such as literature, stories and symbols (Newman 1997). 

Citizenship Education

Public schools were free as they were paid for by taxes. These schools were established across nation-states and controlled by governments through funding, state-developed policies and curricula, state-approved teachers (that is, those certified by the state), and standardized tests and inspection (Broom 2016c, Doheny 1991). 

Two broad national Citizenship Education programmes which have emerged in schools are traditional Citizenship Education programmes, and more transformative Citizenship Education programmes.

Traditional Citizenship Education programmes focus on teaching normative concepts and activities associated with national political life, such as learning about the structures and functions of government departments and the law, and about the actions that citizens should engage in such as following the political news and voting (Bliss 2002, Granatstein 1998, Sears and Hughes 1996, Sherrod, Torney-Purta and Flanagan 2010, Westheimer and Kahne 2004).  That is, good citizens are versed in governmental procedures, take part through informed voting and other civic actions as best as they are able—and are supporters of the current state. 

Transformative Citizenship Education, which is more often theorized in academia, is associated with changing the ways in which individuals think about and participate in their societies, often with a focus on social justice (Freire 2000, Giroux 2011, Sears and Hughes 1996, Westheimer and Kahne 2004).   


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