Citizenship Education and Diversity

By Banks, James A. | Journal of Teacher Education, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Citizenship Education and Diversity


Banks, James A., Journal of Teacher Education


Because of the increasing racial, ethnic, cultural, and language diversity in the United States, effective teachers in the new century must help students become reflective citizens in pluralistic democratic nation-states. In this article, I argue that citizenship education needs to be reconceptualized because of the increased salience of diversity issues throughout the world. A new kind of citizenship education, called multicultural citizenship, will enable students to acquire a delicate balance of cultural, national, and global identifications and to understand the ways in which knowledge is constructed; to become knowledge producers; and to participate in civic action to create a more humane nation and world (J. A. Banks, 1997a). Teachers must develop reflective cultural, national, and global identifications themselves if they are to help students become thoughtful, caring, and reflective citizens in a multicultural world society.

This article consists of two major parts. In the first, I describe the theoretical and conceptual goals for citizenship education in a pluralistic democratic society. In the second, I describe how I implement these goals in one of my teacher education courses. The tone and style of the second part of the article are more personalized than those of the first part because I describe how the theory that I have developed is implemented in my own classroom.

Balancing Diversity and Unity

Most nation-states and societies throughout the world are characterized by cultural, ethnic, language, and religious diversity. One of the challenges to pluralistic democratic nation-states is to provide opportunities for cultural and ethnic groups to maintain components of their community cultures while at the same time constructing a nation-state in which diverse groups are structurally included and to which they feel allegiance. A delicate balance of unity and diversity should be an essential goal of democratic nation-states.

The challenge of balancing diversity and unity is intensifying as democratic nation-states such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom become more diversified and as racial and ethnic groups within these nations become involved in cultural and ethnic revitalization movements. The democratic ideologies institutionalized within the major democratic Western nations and the wide gap between these ideals and realities were major factors that resulted in the rise of ethnic revitalization movements in nation-states such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s.

These nations share a democratic ideal, a major tenet of which is that the state should protect human rights and promote equality and the structural inclusion of diverse groups into the fabric of society. These societies are also characterized by widespread inequality and by racial, ethnic, and class stratification. The discrepancy between democratic ideals and societal realities and the rising expectations of structurally excluded racial, ethnic, and social-class groups created protest and revival movements within the Western democratic nations.

THE NEED FOR A NEW CONCEPTION OF CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION

Because of growing ethnic, cultural, racial, 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. Citizens in the new century need the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to function in their ethnic and cultural communities and beyond their cultural borders and to participate in the construction of a national civic culture that is a moral and just community that embodies democratic ideals and values, such as those embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students also need to acquire the knowledge and skills needed 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. …

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