What is Citizenship Education? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:04 What Is Citizenship Education?
  • 1:02 Types of Citizenship Education
  • 1:38 Single-Issue Politics
  • 3:21 Democracy and Student Rights
  • 4:40 Active Learning
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we discuss citizenship education, what it means, what it's for, and different types of citizenship education that can be combined to provide a comprehensive program for teaching students to engage in a civilized society.

What is Citizenship Education?

In order to secure the future of a society, citizens must train younger generations in civic engagement and participation. Citizenship education is education that provides the background knowledge necessary to create an ongoing stream of new citizens participating and engaging with the creation of a civilized society. For some students entering into a different society, citizenship education is much more rigorous than the education provided to native residents.

For example, immigrants who hope to become legal citizens must learn a lot about the policies, history, and governmental structure of the country they hope to live in. Students who are already citizens often know very little about their own country compared to those who hope to move there.

With that being said, this lesson will emphasize the kind of citizenship education typically provided to native residents in school systems, and refer those seeking training required for changing one's citizenship to official governmental sources of information.

Types of Citizenship Education

There are several types of citizenship education available in the public school systems intended to provide a basic foundation of civic knowledge representing the minimum one may need to know to participate in society. As students progress through school, the complexity of civic education and the level of practical experience can increase proportionally. Citizenship education should begin at a very young age and continue into adulthood as a process of lifelong learning.

Let's take a look at the primary types of citizenship education commonly provided to school students.

Single-Issue Politics

Single-issue politics is a popular way to introduce civic education to students. In teaching single-issue politics, teachers find a cause that students relate to and provide opportunities for structured programs or projects to engage students in that cause. Examples of single issue politics as an instructional strategy for citizenship education might include some of the following activities:

  • Canned food drive
  • Shoes, clothing, or coat drive
  • Save the whales/bees/national forest, etc.
  • Roadside litter cleanup
  • Pet shelter supply drive
  • Voting campaigns
  • Park or playground improvement efforts

There are criticisms of emphasizing single-issue politics as the sole means of providing citizenship education. Single-issue politics tend to emphasize personal responsibility and individual empowerment, often at the expense of providing a deeper understanding of structural issues contributing to poverty, environmental decay, bigotry, and other issues that would create the need to intervene on a single issue. Teachers can overcome this flaw by providing a comprehensive treatment of some of the larger social forces at play behind these single issues with students old enough to understand the concepts.

In educating students on single-issue politics through activities like fundraisers, it's also important that students be able to follow the money and identify any potential for inefficiency. For example, it's possible that donations to some charities are more likely to fund the salaries of administrators than to directly support those in need or to fund research. Children should be taught to look critically at the causes they support and the motives and actions of agencies claiming to represent the interests of those affected.

Democracy and Student Rights

Education on democracy and student rights is a critical component of a comprehensive citizenship education program. Students should be exposed to examples of and information about a diverse array of governmental types, including democracies as well as undemocratic or authoritarian government structures.

Democracy education should include contemporary and historical examples of democracy in action, such as the civil rights, women's rights, free speech, and anti-war movements, among others. Schools are responsible for informing their students of their constitutional rights to free speech and redress of grievances so they're able to fully participate within a democracy.

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