“What Kind of Citizen?” – A Look at Schooling and Citizenship

The article “What Kind of Citizen?” by Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer looks at “what good citizenship is and what good citizens do” in terms of supporting a democratic education system (1). It details three conceptions of citizenship, including personally responsible, participatory, and justice oriented citizenship and their implications on curriculum. In my own k-12 schooling experience I can remember many examples of participating in good citizenship practices, with the exception of justice oriented citizenship, and their implications on my peers.

Personally responsible citizenship was the focus of my schooling experience. For this model “citizen[s] act responsibly in his/her community” (Kahne & Westheimer 3). To promote this, my elementary school had us pick up garbage, taught us to be kind to others, and contribute to charity organizations. Every year we would participate in Operation Christmas, an organization that sends shoe boxes of gifts to children that wouldn’t otherwise receive anything for Christmas. We also brought non-perishable goods and donations in for food drives and participated and raised money for events like Jump Rope for Heart and the Terry Fox Run. As me and my classmates advanced to older grades we still participated in many of the same events, but we also learned about how to be law abiding citizens through programs like Dare and Drivers Ed and learned about paying taxes and contributing to society through classes like Accounting and Life Transitions. 

As I got older I became more involved with different modes of participatory citizenship. Participatory citizenship is that in which “citizens. . . actively participate in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and national levels” (Kahne & Westheimer 4). In doing this me and my classmates began to learn more about how the country we live in operates and how we as citizens contribute to that. In social class we learned about the different levels of government and their responsibilities. We learned about voting and the platforms of popular political parties. I also started to help organize fundraisers, which included a community wide bottle drive for my volleyball team every year and being on the head committee of our graduating class’s fundraiser. For our graduating class’s fundraiser picked a cause that we felt our class connected to and came up with ways to fundraise. We held several events to fundraise including bake sales, community barbecues, and a dance. We ended up raising a substantial amount of money for a great local cause and learned valuable lessons about citizenship in the process. 

My school had very few examples of justice oriented citizenship. Justice oriented citizenship is” analyz[ing] and understand[ing] the interplay of social, economic, and political forces” (Kahne & Westheimer 4). Although I can’t think of any personal examples of this there are a few ways I can ensure incorporating it into my own future classroom. I think Treaty Ed would be a great place to start. To incorporate this I would teach and help support students understanding of the history of the systematic oppression of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people of Canada, and the trickle- down effect it’s had into the present, as to not reproduce similar patterns of oppression in the future.

The focus schools impose on personally responsible citizenship is of course important in producing good citizens that abide by laws and help others, but it has its limitations. As Westheimer and Kahne point out in their article, participatory citizenship “may actually hinder rather than make possible democratic participation and change” (6). This comes from a focus of teaching individual acts of kindness rather than collective social issues. Students simply aren’t seeing the benefits and interconnections of citizenship within a democratic society. I know many of my own friends did not vote in the previous election. They made the excuse “what difference does it make?” As a future teacher I would like to expose this misconception by incorporating more participatory and justice oriented citizenship practices into my future classroom to help students realize that their actions and vote make a difference. 



  • Kahne, J., Westheimer, J. “What Kind of Citizen?” American Educational Research Journal,  41.2 ( 2004): 1-30. Web. 2 March 2020. 


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