Citizenship Education: Current Perspectives from Teachers in Three States

By Feldmann, Doug | Educational Research Quarterly, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Citizenship Education: Current Perspectives from Teachers in Three States


Feldmann, Doug, Educational Research Quarterly


Introduction

In the minds of many educators, students, and concerned citizens, the nature and purpose of public education in the United States has undergone several prominent shifts in recent years. Given sufficient time and support, some of these events have extended themselves into becoming true reforms of the educational structure - for it is generally agreed that a theory must be embraced and utilized by a critical mass before it is label as a systemic reform (Berman, 2000). In addition, recognized reforms in education may assume a variety of styles, each of which leads to a similar result while following different paths and means (Ferrero, 2005). Typically, these reforms are not the product of a spontaneous act, but rather occur over a prolonged period of time and impact.

Yet it is possible, however, for systemic reform to indeed occur as the result of a single watershed act. The terrorist attacks of September 11,2001 and the implementation of legislation from the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) are two examples, while strikingly different, of epic events that have transformed multiple institutions in American society, including education, national security, political conversation, and civic participation. Theterroristattacks,whileimmediatelyalteringournation's future approach to security, also certainly impacted the curriculum of American public schools; for almost overnight, more attention was given in the curriculum to issues of international relations and homeland security among other related topics. In a like manner, NCLB also presented a sharp turn for many educators, as teachers were asked to embrace increased standardized testing, while state offices of education needed to develop new accountability measures for their schools. Historically, in the wate of such monumental occurrences as these, public schools in America have either attempted to be (or were forced to be) a primary societal change agent; consequently, public schools have often sought to (or were forced to) affix a new identity on themselves - or even a new role in society - in the aftermath of such events.

As a contemporary product of this process, civics education is suddenly finding itself at the forefront of discussion on educational reform. Heretofore considered as merely a peripheral strand of the social studies, civics - generally defined as the study of local, state, and federal government and the rights and responsibilities of the citizenry - had long been marginalized as a "sub-subject" of little importance, the content of which high school students were required to take for as little as nine weeks, if at all. But hi the wake of "9/11," discourse continues to rise among groups of educators about the need for an enhanced civics curriculum in the schools, and the potential implementation of such programs well before the student reaches the high school level. Curricula that provided for students the different facets of community, government, and other aspects of the public sector are currently being piloted at the early grades in a widespread manner (see Westheimer and Kahne, 2004). Whether or not this is an actual effect of the terrorist attacks is open to debate, but it can certainly be argued that the events of 9/11 served as a catalyst for curriculum change. Within the arena of standards-based education, NCLB has also positioned itself at the center of pedagogical discussions, serving as an "academic foundation for states to follow hi establishing their own criteria of effective schooling" (Sanders, 2004). Under NCLB, states have been given unprecedented flexibility to set curriculum standards - and state and local school districts have likewise experienced unprecedented scrutiny for accountability from the federal level. Thus, events such as these have, at the very least, stirred the pot of civic discussion, and have raised the issue of the importance of quality civics education in America's schools.

However, as has been found by American society (not only throughout the past five years, but over many decades), the idea of effective civics education - or even the existence of a decent citizen, for that matter - involves more than just knowing on Election Day where the local polling place is located. …

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