Social Sciences Education

Civics: Citizenship

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The concept of Citizenship is tied to nations. Nationalism is a term referring to a doctrine that holds that a nation, usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture, has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny. Nations have national symbols, a national culture, a national music and national literature; national folklore, a national mythology and - in some cases - a national religion. Individuals share national values and a national identity, admire the national hero, eat the national dish and play the national sport. Nationalism has the strong territorial component. For each nation, there is a territory which is uniquely associated with it, the national homeland. Nationalism may manifest itself as part of official state ideology or as a popular movement and may be expressed along civic, ethnic, cultural, religious or ideological lines. Civic nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, from the degree to which it represents the "will of the people."

Different countries prize different values in its citizens. Two people in a democratic society can hold contrary opinions and positions on their government’s policy, but both can be supporting their nation.

Patriotism is love of and devotion to one’s country. It is essential to the functioning of nations. Students should be given the opportunity to express their patriotism through reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing patriotic songs, dramatizing events like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and learning about and celebrating national holidays. Regrettably, people are sometimes accused of being unpatriotic if they hold unpopular views. In less democratic societies, patriotism and civil dissent are seen as contradictory and “blind” patriotism is promoted as a higher goal than deliberate, thoughtful decision making. Children’s inclination to converting ideas into black-and-white choices makes it difficult for them to appreciate that patriotism and social criticism are complementary. Focusing on helping children gather facts and allowing them to discuss issues is one of the best ways to appreciate the balance between social criticism and patriotism.  

Social criticism is intimately tied to free speech, a right many Americans take for granted. Teachers should encourage social criticism but demand and ensure that students base that criticism on facts and logical argument and create a civility in the classroom that communicates to students the importance of listening as well as talking. Combined with passions, these strongly held beliefs lead to social activism.

Social activism is also essential to a democratic state, and students should be given opportunities to act on their beliefs and values in constructive ways. Service learning is one vehicle and includes such things as a cleanup day at the school, in a park, or on a playground and collections for needy families, that the class could take on. However, it only becomes a social studies lesson (as opposed to a feel-good activity), if students receive a thorough grounding in an issue or public policy.

Civil disobedience requires not only knowing the right thing to do and doing it, but also being willing to suffer the consequences of your beliefs. Mohammed Ali was prohibited from boxing for three years because he refused induction into the army during the Vietnam War; as a consequence, he lost millions of dollars and ran the double risks of never being allowed to box again and going to jail. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were, on the whole, members of the upper class, and their decision to rebel against their country was considered treason in Britain. Not only could they have lost their earthly possessions; they also could have lost their lives. Martin Luther King, Jr., did more than change the landscape for civil rights and lose his life for the cause; he brought the practice of peaceful civil disobedience to the Americas. Such examples of courage from history prepare students for their citizenship duties. American Heritage This website has multiple high-quality lesson plans.

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