are essential for any citizenry. And democracy requires citizens who know how government works and have both the ability and commitment to locate and analyze information.”lxii In this sense, students need knowledge of Canadian politics but also need the skills to access the information they need beyond the contents of the textbook.
The goal is to move away from what our student participant Christine characterized as “answers that are drilled into us.” She specifically referred to Civics as democratic “propaganda … to instill national pride.” Christine wanted to know how Canada’s democracy works and what democracy means in relation to other forms of governance around the world. During our class observations, it was obvious that teachers strove to educate their students on how to seek answers to inquiries. They used online scavenger hunts regarding government processes, gave presentation assignments on policies from Aboriginal affairs to terrorism, and read the Charter of Rights and Freedom in an effort to design an in-school charter. Other activities toward that goal might include information gathering by conducting polls, interviewing officials and analyzing proposed legislation. Despite the use of some of these activities, most students believed that, to effect change, they would need to find someone “smarter” or “with more power” to speak for them. For many students, this figure was their teacher, but the teachers expressed the desire to empower their students. Four of the six teachers repeated “confidence-building” as one of their primary objectives in educating their students.
For people who consider participation in the electoral process sufficient for civic engagement, few skills need to be inculcated in Canadian youth. However, a survey conducted by Kubow revealed that policy-makers and students alike considered the following attributes and skills necessary for strong citizenship: “the ability to understand, accept, and tolerate cultural differences; the ability to work with others in a cooperative way and to take responsibility for one’s roles and duties within society; a willingness to change one’s lifestyle and consumption habits to protect the environment; a willingness to resolve conflict in a non-violent manner; the ability to be sensitive towards and to defend human rights; and the capacity to think in a critical and systemic way.”lxiii
The completed questionnaires from our study reveal widespread acceptance that “good” citizenship requires such attributes. Respect for other citizens and the country were listed on over two-thirds of the questionnaires. Participants took the greatest pride in sharing the ways their school supported what they deemed to be Canadian values, namely, multiculturalism, peacekeeping and freedom of speech. Students at Ottawa Alternative HS were particularly vocal about the positive environment of their school because it embraced diversity of cultures and opinions. Jamie gave but one example when he recalled a class in which Iraqi and Iranian students debated the United Nations’ dealing with Saddam Hussein and “never getting angry.” For most students, sharing opinions and listening to others were important personal and relational skills. They did not see, however, how these seemingly individualized attributes could translate into systemic analysis and action.
Gabrielle aptly stated that “you could make a difference, but one person, I don’t think could do it by themselves.” Unlike Gabrielle, Leyla considered herself to be extremely politically active. When discussing racism, however, she argued, “There’s nothing you can do about it … just you.” To be able to pursue change in matters of social justice, it is clear that civic engagement demands not only leadership attributes but also skills in the collective process. To encourage students to practise democracy, such skills may include the ability to run a meeting effectively and fairly, conflict management, critical reflection, decision-making and civil protest.lxiv Lee-Ann said that she experienced occasional group work and debates, but that “a lot of our work is individual in Civics.” Teachers agreed, arguing that, due to long lists of content and assessment needs from the curriculum, they usually gave individual exercises, such as essays and tests. Beyond school-wide donation