Because of growing ethnic, cultural, racial, language and religious diversity throughout the world, citizenship education needs to be changed in substantial ways to prepare students to function effectively in the 21st century.
1. The increase of diversity
Citizens in this century need the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to function in their cultural communities and beyond their cultural borders. They should also be able and willing to participate in the construction of a national civic culture that is a moral and just community. The national community should embody democratic ideals and values, such as those articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Students also need to acquire the knowledge and skills required to become effective citizens in the global community.
Citizenship education in the past, in the United States as well as in many other nations, embraced an assimilationist ideology. In the United States, its aim was to educate students so they would fit into a mythical Anglo-Saxon Protestant conception of the „good citizen”. Anglo conformity was the goal of citizenship education. One of its aims was to eradicate the community cultures and languages of students from diverse groups. One consequence of this assimilationist conception of citizenship education was that many students lost their first cultures, languages, and ethnic identities. Some students also became alienated from family and community. Another consequence was that many students became socially and politically alienated within the national civic culture.
Members of identifiable racial groups often became marginalized in both their community cultures and in the national civic culture because they could function effectively in neither. When they acquired the language and culture of the Anglo mainstream, they were often denied structural inclusion and full participation into the civic culture because of their racial characteristics.
Citizenship education must be transformed in the 21st century. Several worldwide developments make a new conception of citizenship education an imperative. They include the deepening ethnic texture of nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan. The large influx of immigrants who are now settling in nations throughout the world, the continuing existence of institutional racism and discrimination in various nations, and the widening gap between rich and poor nations also make the reform of citizenship education an imperative.
2. Unity and Diversity – a balanced system
Citizens in a diverse democratic society should be able to maintain attachments to their cultural communities as well as participate effectively in the shared national culture. Unity without diversity results in cultural repression and hegemony. Diversity without unity leads to Balkanization and the fracturing of the nation-state. Diversity and unity should coexist in a delicate balance in a democratic multicultural nation-state. The attainment of the balance that is needed between diversity and unity is an ongoing process and ideal that is never fully attained. It is essential that both mainstream groups and groups on the margins of society participate in the formulation of societal goals related to diversity and unity.
Both groups should also participate in action to attain these goals. Deliberation and the sharing of power by mainstream and marginalized groups are essential for the construction and perpetuation of a just, moral, and participatory democratic nation-state in a culturally diverse society.
Students should develop a delicate balance of cultural, national, and global identifications. A nation-state that alienates and does not structurally include all cultural groups into the national culture runs the risk of creating alienation and causing groups to focus on specific concerns and issues rather than on the overarching goals and policies of the nation-state. To develop reflective cultural, national and global identifications, students must acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to function within and across diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, language and religious groups.
Literacy as defined and codified in the high-stakes tests that are being implemented in most states in the U.S. is often interpreted as basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Although it is essential that all students acquire basic skills in literacy, basic skills are necessary but not sufficient in our diverse and troubled world. Literate citizens in a diverse democratic society should be reflective, moral, and active citizens. They should have the knowledge, skills, and commitment needed to act to change the world to make it more just and democratic.
The world’s greatest problems do not result from people being unable to read and write. They result from people in the world – from different cultures, races, religious and nations – being unable to get along and to work together to solve the world’s intractable problems such as:
- global warming,
- the HIV/AIDS epidemic,
- racism, sexism, war.
Examples are the conflicts between the United States and Iraq, North Korea and its neighbors, and the Israelis and Palestinians.
Multicultural Literacy is knowledge of cultures and languages, as well as the ways in which multi – sensory data (text, sound, and graphics) may introduce slant, perspective, and bias into language, subject matter, and visual content. We live in multiculural societies, teach in multicultural settings, and our students often interact with those who come from a different place in terms of gender, rural or urban environments, nationalistically, linguistically, racially, and religiously. Awareness of and sensitivity to culturally determined norms promote understanding. In fact, when students embrace the principle that difference does not equal defficiency, they gain an appreciation for the wealth of diversity that surrounds all of us.
In addition to mastering basic reading and writing skills, literate citizens in a democratic multicultural society such as the United States should also develop multicultural literacy (Banks, 2003). Multicultural literacy consists of the skills and ability to identify the creators of knowledge and their interests (Banks, 1996), to uncover the assumptions of knowledge, to view knowledge from diverse ethnic and cultural perspectives, and to use knowledge to guide action that will create a humane and just world. Paulo Freire (1970), in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, states that we must teach students to read the word and the world. Reading the word requires basic knowledge and skills.
However, reading the world requires students to question the assumptions of institutionalized knowledge and to use knowledge to take action that will make the world a just place in which to live and work. Freire also states that we must teach students to combine critique with hope. When we teach students how to critique the injustice in the world we should help them to formulate possibilities for action to change the world to make it more democratic and just. Critique without hope may leave students disillusioned and without agency.
Education for literacy should include a focus on democratic citizenship and social justice because highly literate individuals, groups, and nations have committed some of the most unconscionable acts in human history. Germany was one of the most literate nations in the world when its leaders presided over the killing of 12 million innocent people. Victims of the Nazis included six million Jews as well as people with disabilities and people who were gay.
In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: „Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
There are two very different kinds of Citizenship education. The first is education intended to prepare noncitizens to become legally and socially accepted as citizens. Secondly, there is Citizenship Education that is taught in schools, as an academic subject similar to politics or sociology.
A new kind of citizenship is needed for the 21st century, which Will Kymlicka (1995) calls multicultural citizenship. It recognizes and legitimizes the right and need of citizens to maintain commitments both to their cultural communities and to the national civic culture. Only when the national civic culture is transformed in ways that reflect and give voice to the diverse ethnic, racial, language, and religious communities that constitute it will it be viewed as legitimate by all of its citizens. Only then can they develop clarified commitments to the nation – state and its ideals.
Citizenship education should help students develop thoughtful and clarified identifications with their cultural communities and their nation-states. It should also help them to develop clarified global identifications and deep understandings of their roles in the world community. Students need to understand how life in their cultural communities and nations influences other nations and the cogent influence that international events have on their daily lives. Global education should have as major goals helping students to develop understandings of the interdependence among nations in the world today, clarified attitudes toward other nations, and reflective identifications with the world community.
1. Banks, J. A., Diversity and citizenship education: Global perspectives, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
2. Banks, J. A., Multicultural education, transformative knowledge and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives., New York: Teachers College Press, 1996.
3. Castles, Stephen & Davidson, Alastair, Citizenship and Migration: Globalization and the Politics of Belonging, New York: The Guilford Press, 2000.