The Three Citizens: A tale of Civic Engagement

Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne’s “Educating the ‘Good’ Citizen: Political Choices and Pedagogical Goals” examines a variety of beliefs and practices surrounding how to develop democratic citizenship in an educational setting. The authors note that while many educators agree that it is important to develop student’s abilities for and interest in acting as engaged in democratic citizens, opinions on what constitutes such engagement and what actions should be taken to achieve it vary greatly and occasionally conflict.

The Authors outline three overlapping but distinct types of citizens that educators might seek to foster:

1). The Personally Responsible Citizen

2). The Participatory Citizen

3). The Justice-Oriented Citizen

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I find that Westheimer and Kahne are successful in pointing out the diverse and often contradictory viewpoints that exist on the subject of civic engagement. However, I feel that their classification system of three seemingly distinct citizen types is limiting: many individuals may straddle multiple categories or even behave in ways that are not included in this model.

What’s more, I feel that the way in which people participate in democracy varies not only among individuals but also between issues. For example, someone might approach environmental issues like a “Personally Responsible Citizen” but tackle marriage equality as a “Justice-Oriented Citizen”. I personally feel that I could easily be categorized into any of the three categories depending on the issue in question. I feel that these categories might be rendered more applicable by re-categorizing them as approaches rather than character traits.

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