UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Unwrapping citizenship : getting inside the nature of citizenship education Burton, Shannon Lee


Citizenship education has been and continues to be espoused as a primary purpose of schooling. Citizenship education has been challenged by not only shifting notions of what is means to be a citizen, but also by the contested nature of citizenship and democracy. Neoliberal impacts have changed citizenship from a political and social to an economic concept. Citizenship has been professed as a universal concept providing all people in our democracy equal rights and protection. This, however, fails to promote understanding of the realities of inequality that permeate society. Hegemonic structures continue to separate the privileged and the not so privileged. Problems of citzenship inherently mean problems of citizenship education. This purpose of this study was to explore the reality of citizenship education. The research questions were: • What are the opportunities present (in the curriculum) for students to develop citizenship at the elementary school, and what is the nature of the student experiences and interactions with those opportunities? • How do school experiences promote development of citizenship attributes of personal responsibility, participation, and social justice? Data was collected through environmental observation and a series of semi-structured individual and group interviews with grade seven students at Westview Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia. The data revealed an emphasis on developing personally responsible citizenship, while participatory citizenship education remained set aside for the students in leadership group, and opportunities for developing authentic social justice citizenship education were minimal. In the interviews, students communicated the impact of agency and increased awareness. There was a void with regards to critical opportunities to question systems and explore reasons for injustice. Student experiences with citizenship education did not tackle concepts of democracy, universalism of citizenship, nor explore effects of privilege. This lack of critical pedagogy and questioning of current structures disables the capacity of citizenship education to transform society. Tensions presented themselves in the struggle for educators to step out of the neutral zone, unpack limitations, and have time to alter the current curriculum path. Amidst the tensions and the challenges of citizenship education at Westview, however, there are many possibilities and promises for transforming the citizenship rhetoric into a reality.

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