of citizenship qualities described by some authors, such as Walter Parker or Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne, has significant implications for educational curricula and programs.xc These qualities can assist policy-makers in identifying the aims and outcomes of different kinds of school guidelines and activities.
As we noted earlier, for example, it seems that all provinces consider citizenship as grounded in the individual child’s understandings and knowledge, and rarely in collective efforts to examine the root causes of social or political problems. One exception is the document by the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET) entitled Foundation for the Atlantic Canada Social Studies Curriculum, which argues that “the empowered Canadian citizen understands personal rights and responsibilities and the interplay among authority systems, citizens and public policy,” in order to examine “how power is gained, used, and justified.”xci This document’s recommendations, however, are not compulsory, and mandated curriculum guidelines rarely mention the importance of discussing issues of power to foster civic literacy.
Similarly, the behavioural codes of conduct tend to envision ideal civic behaviour as being compliant and obedient. The critical-thinking skills enumerated in all of the curriculum guidelines do not appear to apply to the regulations governing students’ behaviour in schools. The behavioural guidelines, then, tend to be consistent with the vision of personally responsible citizenship described earlier, while civic education guidelines tend, occasionally, toward more participatory visions of citizenship. With a few significant exceptions, formal school programs shy away from efforts to promote social justice and reform.
The Ottawa-based participants in our study confirmed the type of citizenship that is mandated for schools. Civic literacy, when presented as purely procedural and technical, rather than focused on issues, failed to sustain the interests or the rigorous analysis of students and teachers alike. While most agreed on a necessity for general and campaign-specific knowledge, they sought information that was connected to their lives and opened up space for application within their communities. The process of government for many students needs to address not only the number of seats in the House of Commons, but also the decision-making of parliamentarians regarding such issues as immigration, post-secondary education, the environment and health care.
To sustain the connections among information, interest and participation, students need to know their role in the decision-making behind Canada’s policies. Educators sought strategies to encourage students to practise critical-thinking skills and democratic communication. Students in our study wanted to “walk the walk” of political action, outside the bounds of the narrowly defined good citizen in the codes of conduct. Interviewees expressed the need for resources and time to experience politics, rather than to read about it or imagine hypothetical activities. They valued those instances when civic life and schools seemed inextricably linked. Those were the moments when collective, meaningful social analysis and political change were possible. Such moments are often lost, according to a teacher from Fellowship HS. Larry stated that schools are “so expectation-minded that you lose the teaching opportunities,” and went on to ask, “How we can make the connection between them as participating student [and] as a citizen?”
General findings from the research literature, government curricula and policies, and civic literacy programs show that schools typically avoid political controversy despite considerable evidence that teaching political conflict increases engagement. The kind of value-neutrality obsessively nurtured by institutions (especially schools, but also many youth organizations, clubs, etc.) may have wrought damage to the institutional capacity to influence youth in meaningful ways. In much of common