All Schools Teach Citizenship and Character
What Kind of Citizens Do We Need? by Joel Westheimer
Educational Leadership, November 1, 2017
Using his family’s history as a compelling opening, Joel Westheimer artfully shows why United States citizens care so much about what schools teach; namely, schools and curriculum act as a proxy for the society we hope to create. Westheimer describes how all schools teach citizenship and character education, even if not overtly, because all schools provide students with a daily view of power relationships and hierarchies, ways people are sorted and organized, the construction of rules and the consequences of violation, and the way adults interact and behave with each other. Although most citizens would agree that civics and character education are vital to the health of the country, what specifically does democracy demand our citizens be skilled at doing? Westheimer answers: they must be able to ask challenging questions and consider varied perspectives. He argues that schools can cultivate these skills by teaching students how to ask questions that challenge tradition and power; by exposing students to multiple perspectives of both historical and current events; and by using local context, including participation in community projects, to anchor instruction. This short article is an excellent reminder of why citizenship education always matters in a democracy and why its place is in our schools.