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Citizenship under construction : student ideologies and social studies education Overguard, Gregory Martin

Abstract

Social studies education has always had an emphasis on citizenship, a role that grows increasingly important as our society falls under the hegemonic control of neoliberal ideology. As elite interests become embedded and misrepresented in the collective consciousness as collective interests, it becomes imperative to explore the nature of ideological development. Accountability schemes that employ standards-based reforms and high-stakes testing further entrench hegemonic social control by narrowing the curriculum, discouraging critical thinking, and eroding teachers’ autonomy. These effects are of particular concern to social studies educators. This study employed purposive sampling to identify students who were opinionated and well-versed in political and social issues. Students were interviewed from two Alberta high schools to examine their personal ideologies, their construction of a sense of democratic citizenship, and the influences that contributed to these ideological beliefs. Special attention was paid to the role of social studies curriculum and pedagogy in fostering democratic ideals. The students identified parents and school, particularly social studies, as the greatest influences on their values and opinions. They showed collectivist tendencies and placed great value on equality, but they also showed evidence of having internalized the capitalist and individualistic rhetoric of neoliberalism. These students conceived of democracy in narrow terms and identified with passive modes of citizenship and political participation. These findings also point to the hegemonic effects of neoliberal ideology. However, the contradictions and timidity of many students’ opinions indicate that their ideologies remain very much under construction. We can begin the work of creating a more democratic and equitable society by teaching social studies in ways that foster the development of critically minded, active citizens who recognize the need for social transformation.

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