Educating Good Citizens: A Case Study of Citizenship Education in Four Multicultural High School Classrooms in Ontario

Title: Educating Good Citizens: A Case Study of Citizenship Education in Four Multicultural High School Classrooms in Ontario
Authors: Molina Girón, Luz Alison
Date: 2012
Abstract: Providing citizenship education that reflects Canada’s diverse cultural make-up and that promotes common civic virtues is a challenging task. This research examines how citizenship education is practiced in Ontario, and how teachers’ instruction responds to the diversity found in their classrooms and Canadian society. This qualitative, multiple case study took place in four multicultural Grade 10 Civics classes in Ottawa. The research methodology included non-participant observations of classroom instruction, interviews with each civics teacher and 30 students, and citizenship education-related document analysis. The theories of conceptions of good citizenship (Westheimer & Kahne, 2004) and approaches to multicultural content integration (Banks, 2003) are the primary analytical lenses. Data analysis followed two phases: within-case and cross-case analyses (Stakes, 2006). Despite shared provincial guidelines, very different types of citizenship instruction occur, shaped by teachers’ personal conceptions of good citizenship. While all teachers stressed the importance of civic knowledge acquisition and aimed to educate active citizens, some emphasized the education of personally-responsible citizens, while others adopted either a participatory or justice-oriented approach to citizenship education. These distinct orientations lead to different approaches to teaching about active citizenship, ranging from an emphasis on conventional citizenship behaviours, to altruistically motivated make-a-difference citizenship participation, to a more thoughtful, politically-oriented citizenship participation that aims to produce societal change. Teachers’ differing conceptions of good citizenship also affect how their instruction responds to cultural diversity. While some teachers tended to avoid discussing issues of cultural and other forms of difference, others made them integral to their instruction. As such, a predominately personally-responsible approach to instruction tends to be blind to cultural difference. The participatory conception of citizenship education pays some attention to cultural difference, but aims to help marginalized people rather than address historical or structural inequality. A justice-oriented approach, in contrast, is the only approach that recognizes the importance of addressing the conflicts and tensions that exist in multicultural societies as an integral aspect of educating for democratic citizenship. This study advances new knowledge of the practice of citizenship education and offers valuable insights to developing education policy and strategies that strengthen educating engaged citizens for pluralistic, democratic societies.
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