Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Searching for Egalitarianism in Citizenship Education

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Searching for Egalitarianism in Citizenship Education

Article excerpt

American colleges and universities embrace citizenship education with the best of intentions. Most institutions incorporate cultural diversity in this undertaking in civics. But history reveals that citizenship education --teaching the form and function of government and the general public's privileges and responsibilities in society--reflects as many examples of denial and avoidance of diversity as internalization and promulgation.

Why? For one reason, the nation encouraged public education to create an informed and engaged citizenry but left the particulars to local and state control. Certain debates intensified divisions: over slavery, which exploited the legal maxim, partus sequitur ventrem (the offspring follows the condition of the mother), and over sexism, which relegated women generally, and married women particularly, to second-class status. Also, federalism, which apportions power and obligation between states and country, and political philosophies, which interpret mission and scope of polity differently, magnified discord. What's more, the first section of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, clarified the measure of citizenship and the task of government accordingly: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Yet, the noble intent did not curtail widespread exclusion of minorities. Instead, citizenship education perpetuated extant racism and sexism while underscoring patriotic lessons about capitalist democracy rather than stories of a nation's many peoples and their pasts.

Thus, citizenship education did not always translate into uniform lessons about civil rights, personal liberties, and cultural heterogeneity. This essay does not, however, assess civics. Instead, this article examines diversity as a component of citizenship education. Overall, the facets of citizenship education--individual, democratic, even global duty--may appear to share resolve. But adoption of diversity as an aim of citizenship education holds even more promise for scholastic reform and social good.


The U.S. government conveyed interest in an educated citizenry through the Land Ordinance of 1785. This law enabled the surveying and selling of federal expanses in U.S. territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. It also stipulated that one township in each section delineated by a new national survey would help underwrite the "maintenance of public schools." A more detailed proposal appeared in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which chartered a government for this territory, outlined the admittance of new states to the Union, and assured their equal standing. Article 3 began: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." This legislation did not guarantee a uniform public school system, but public funding increased access for those who could not pay for private instruction. Literacy rates exceeded those in many European countries as a result.

Advocacy for teacher training rose during the 1820s and 1830s. Private, often denominational colleges cultivated students for the ministry or other service, including teaching. Massachusetts became the first state to fund a public normal school (aka normal institute, teacher's college, or normal university) in 1839. This model spread quickly, and doctrine tied to educating citizens motivated lawmakers. For instance, Illinois established its first public university in 1857 to prepare future teachers "in all branches of study . …

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