Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 9: Citizens of Today and Tomorrow: An Exploration of Preservice Social Studies Teachers' Knowledge and Their Professors' Experiences with Citizenship

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 9: Citizens of Today and Tomorrow: An Exploration of Preservice Social Studies Teachers' Knowledge and Their Professors' Experiences with Citizenship

Article excerpt

According to the Civic Mission of Schools Report, competent and responsible citizens are informed and thoughtful. They participate in their communities, act politically, and have moral and civic virtues (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement [CIRCLE], 2003, p. 10). Schools may be the only institutions with the mandate and capacity to reach virtually every young person in the country and help students become virtuous citizens (p. 12).

Research reveals, however, that teachers are often ill-prepared to effectively deliver citizenship education. Two studies in the 1980s found that preservice elementary teachers were unprepared to explain to children how the American government works (Gilmore, McKinney, Larkins, Ford, & McKinney, 1988; Larkins, 1984). In a more recent study involving an elementary education methods course, which focused on the intersection between patriotism and citizenship, Nash (2005) found that participating teachers faced factual as well as conceptual challenges. Such challenges included the inability to consider perspectives beyond a two-sided polemic mode (Bohan & Davis, 1998) and equating patriotism with feelings of love, respect, and loyalty--all of which are demonstrated by saluting the American flag. The teachers had a limited understanding of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism. In addition, they failed to suggest that questioning governmental policies or actions could ever be considered as an act of good citizenship.

Whether our nation's teachers have gained sufficient preparation and education to teach civics, however, has been relatively unexplored. The primary purpose of this study was to analyze preservice teachers' citizenship knowledge through their performance on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Naturalization Test. More importantly, participants reviewed the test items, suggested revisions, and offered insights into their beliefs about citizenship. An additional purpose of this analysis was to explore four of the researchers' own understandings of citizenship based on their professional experiences as social studies educators and their personal experiences as foreign-born residents or as the parent of a foreign-born American. Finally, the researchers explored the relevance and meaning of citizenship for the twenty-first century as the world becomes more globally interconnected (Bohan, 2001).

CIVIC EDUCATION AND CITIZENSHIP

Living in a "marketized civil society" (Torres, 1998), teachers should be competent civic educators. Teachers and students need to be knowledgeable and aware that they have political as well as economic choices to make. The IEA Civic Education Study, a comprehensive study of civic knowledge, attitudes, and experiences of 14-year-olds, found that U.S. students scored significantly above the international mean (Hahn, 2001). Twenty-eight countries participated in this large-scale study (Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald, & Shultz, 2001). The researchers found that American students scored significantly above the international mean on civic knowledge and also scored above average on measures of civic engagement. More recently, however, the Civic and Political Health of the Nation report found that civic engagement of young people is low, they have lost confidence in the government, and their political knowledge is generally poor (Lopez, Levine, Both, Kirby, & Marcelo, 2006). Many factors contribute to this level of disengagement, such as teachers' fear of criticism when discussing controversial issues, the movement for high-stakes testing, and the impact of budget cutbacks on civic education (CIRCLE, 2003, p. 15; Miller, 2007). Whether or not American students gain appropriate levels of civic knowledge is clearly subject to debate. At the same time, the notion of citizenship itself must be examined beyond the simplistic notion of a group of people enjoying limited rights within the context of a given country (Torres, 1998). …

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