“Citizens are made not born”. This statement is the basis on which citizenship is defied because it takes into account that citizenship is more than just being born into a country, it encompasses the notion that citizenship can be changed, is active and can be taught. In order for a democratic society to function properly citizens must be actively involved in a multitude of areas. If citizens are not willing to convey their ideas socially, politically and economically then the government, whose founding principle, is rule by the people that is effectively governing blindly. The state depends on the actions of its citizens. An example of this is the state could not provide free healthcare if its citizens did not agree to taxation that enables Canada’s highly coveted healthcare system.
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I feel in a libertarian society, a citizen is best defined as an individual who is invested in society and contributes to its stability by performing their civic duties. In order for society to be made up of these invested citizens, the individuals of a nation-state need to be sculpted in accordance to the fundamental principles that would best serve society. These principles; open mindedness, critical thinking and political knowledge should be taught in schools to form the individual that can definitively be called a citizen.
I will examine each principle and why it is fundamental in creating the type of citizen as defined above. Within each fundamental principle I will present counterarguments opposing the teaching of set principle in schools as well as ways of implementing these principles in classrooms.
A society is built upon basic institutions. The accessibility of these institutions depends on the willingness and accommodation of others’ differences by the citizens of set society. In order for citizens to learn how to accommodate each other’s differences, education in schools is needed. One of the first fundamental things that individuals need to be taught is to enable the possession of an open mind and the value of it. The possession of an open mind is becoming more important in Canada’s libertarian society due to multiculturalism. Individuals need to be aware of the differences of opinions, religious views, morals and values that other individuals posses. The teaching of possessing an open mind will help individuals understand each other, and help instil the value of tolerance and ideally, the ultimate goal; acceptance.
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This goal of acceptance is achieved through obtaining personal autonomy. Personal autonomy is defined as “the skills and inclination to choose on the basis of critical thought about the right and the good.” By possessing personal autonomy, individuals are able to become aware of the diverse ways of life that the other individuals in their society possess.
The role of education in this is imperative. According to Callan, “civic education can no longer be understood as wedded to the ideal of the culturally homogenous nation-state.” On account of the fact that Canada is multicultural, its education of citizenship cannot just encompass homogenous values. This means that if Canadian citizenship is to be constructed in accordance to our multicultural society that the conceptions of citizenship and the educational training that supports it need to be revised.
Some may argue that the teaching of toleration and cultural diversity is another form of western ethnocentrism. However, what civic education on open-mindedness and new civic ideals would teach is not ethnocentrism but would help individuals be better equipped to deal with global diversity and help to battle hate and violence. This civil education of broader thinking could make sure that events like the Holocaust could not happen because of teaching intrinsic values of citizenship and with it the value of being anti-racist and anti-discriminatory.
Acting out the democratic duties of a citizen through an open mind or with personal autonomy would ensure that laws passed would aid the greater good, ensure equal rights and not infringe on minorities. This will enable the advancement of a multicultural society because according to Kymlicka , the “ health and stability of society depend on the attitudes of citizens.” It is only with attitudinal change that the government can enact laws, implement values and dictate the direction of society with the support and help of its citizens.
Once individuals have learnt in schools how to view others and differences with an open mind, or at best obtain personal autonomy, a second instrumental attribute is needed to be taught. This attribute is critical thinking and it enables individuals to examine political, moral, economical and overall societal issues while looking at both sides of an issue and weighing the solutions or opinions carefully and reasonably. The ability to think critically and effectively is needed in order for citizens to dutifully enact and obey Guttman’s and Thompson’s norm of reciprocity. The norm of reciprocity should be one of the sub-fundamental principles of good citizenship that must be taught to children in schools. The norm of reciprocity is a guideline for public debates and acting politically based on moral beliefs. In short, citizens in order to obey the norm must respect others and their beliefs and must not “impose a requirement on other citizens to adopt one’s sectarian way of life” in order to understand another’s moral views or claims.
The teaching of critical thinking and with it the norm of reciprocity helps to make sure that children will not be educated just to advance their own moral interests. This will create adult citizens that will be able to examine the norm and in turn be able to recognize the value of public debates as well as being able to scrutinize and deliberate on public views.
Furthermore, the ability to deliberate and scrutinize public opinions effectively ensures that laws will not be passed due to political leaders or groups lobbying out of their own personal moral convictions. Ways of implementing this in schools is through open public debates on controversial issues with no right or wrong answers as well as critically examining issues in society. This can be done through teaching how to analyze, interpret and present issues of societal concern in a classroom setting.
The ability to teach critical thinking and the norm of reciprocity may seem to some problematic. Some argue that finding unbiased teachers that will have the ability to teach children how to reason about emotional and controversial issues will be extremely tough.Another argument against the teaching of critical analysis and thought is that some parents may think that their child is being indoctrinated or that prejudices could be taught. Moreover, some parents may feel that it is unfit for their children to critically examine issues that may go against their personal religious beliefs. The argument that civic education could be biased can apply to any institution or person that occupies an authoritative position in society. The fact is that institutions like the family can teach children values that go against or come into conflict with libertarian principles and values of society. I feel that even though teaching citizenship may not be possible without bias, creating more enlightened, critical thinking individuals while giving them the ability to interpret for themselves will create a more well-rounded citizen, without having coerced them into believing anything.
In the last Canadian election the percentage of citizens that enacted their duty to vote was the lowest ever recorded. This apathetic mindset in Canadian citizens reflects political ignorance as well as ignorance on the duties of citizens. The classroom is where this political ignorance needs to end. The attitudes, morals and values of society have drastically changed, yet the education on citizenship and politics has remained stagnant. I believe that in order for citizens to become more knowledgeable in the political spectrum, they must first be taught the basic democratic duties that come with being a citizen.
Curriculum should be created that specifically discusses and outlines the duties and rights of a citizen. The duties that should be taught are but not limited to, the duty to vote, the duty to maintain a just society and tolerate others. Specific duties, such as voting, have been neglected on account that many citizens are unaware that voting is a duty, not just a right of a citizen. Furthermore, it is imperative that individuals, specifically those aged 14-17 receive knowledge about political issues in society in order for them to make informed decisions when they are the age of majority. This will help make sure that these informed citizens will continually exercise their civil, political and social duties that define a citizen.
If individuals are taught that voting is a duty then they are more likely to make sure that they maintain a basic knowledge of politics in order to vote and be active in the political arena. Being active in the political arena also draws on the two other fundamental principles discussed above. If citizens use an open mind, think critically and are knowledgeable about issues, specifically political issues, then these enlightened individuals are more likely to be involved politically and act on the common good. They are also more likely to form educated opinions that have factual basis rather than just moral beliefs.
Another argument against this is that in order for a state to be justified legitimate consent must be earned and that education on citizenship, specifically civic duties, is gaining consent in an illegitimate way. Although, if through education you give individuals the tools to think critically then by teaching them about the duties of citizenship, they will be critically examining them and may choose to consent or not, which would be legitimate.
Another possibility is that only those that accept the fundamental principles and will keep up with their duties of citizen should be granted the status of a citizen. Maybe to some, being a citizen is too much work and people may not want to have to exercise their duties and would rather be ignorant and apathetic. Perhaps through education of the duties of a citizen, ability to think critically and with an open mind individuals before they enter the age of majority, should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to become a citizen. Possibly only those that are able to attain these fundamental attributes promise to enact their duties and want to, should be granted the duty to vote. This would ensure that those that are defined as a citizen, are indeed a contributing member of society dedicated to ensuring that they fulfill their duties, think critically and act for the common good. This would also solve the problem of educating individuals in order to coerce them into accepting the state because in order to become a citizen it would require explicit consent.
Regardless, education on the duties of citizen ship will help create political awareness and with the teaching of the other two fundamental principles described above, collectively citizens may want to create laws distributive justice and property rights that benefit the collective good and whole and not necessarily strictly benefit themselves. This would also cause them to critically look at the systems we have in place in society and either collectively come together and ask for a reform, or stand behind the policies already enacted.
In order to keep up with societal values the concept of what a citizen is needs to be redefined. This definition may depend on the society an individual inhabits, but the idea that citizenship needs to be taught in school should not be up for debate. Many societies have realized this and have altered their definitions of citizens and created a curriculum to complement it. An example of this is in France where children are expected to know how political institutions work, understand fundamental rules of political and societal conduct and be capable of effective communication in a formal debate among other things. This ensures that the youth of the nation will be knowledgeable about their civic roles in society.
As the world becomes smaller with globalization and technology it is crucial that citizenship encompass more than just living in a sovereign state. The citizens within a sovereign state must not only be aware of the values and norms of that society but they must be open and tolerant of new cultures. Perhaps in the near future, citizenship to nation-states will be obsolete and citizenship and its definition will pertain to a global context where personal autonomy, critical thinking and political knowledge are a must in order to be a functioning member of the globe.
Brighouse, Harry., and ed. McKinnon, Catriona. “Citizenship”: Issues in Political Theory, New
York: Oxford University Press, 2008
Callan, Eamonn., “Citizenship and Education” Annual Review of Political Science 7 (2004) : 71-
Kymlicka, Will., Contemporary Political Philosophy; An introduction, 2nd Ed. Oxford
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