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Citizen Education

This article explains what citizen education is, how it is taught, and why it is important. Citizen education includes information on government, your country's history, and a citizen's participation in a community.

There are many things and subjects taught in school: reading, writing, math, science, social studies, arts, physical education, and foreign language, to name some of the typical elementary and secondary classes. But there are other important things being taught in our country’s schools, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly. One of the most important of these is citizen education. This article offers an introduction to this area of learning.

What Is Citizen Education?

In order to function as adults in our society, most of us have to be able to work. Work usually demands that we have some general skills that all workers share, such as a certain level of language mastery and understanding of the world around us. And usually there are specialized skills for the particular job we do, which may be more or less extensive, depending on the particular employer and field of work we chose.

But we are not just workers and individuals. We are also citizens. And the role of citizen education is to prepare students to participate in our democracy actively and with understanding and commitment. Knowledgeable participation is essential for a democracy to be able to function.

The thoughtful votes cast by its citizens shape the government in a democracy; the taxes citizens pay support it; the armed forces made up of citizens protect it: so an educated citizenry is an important goal of education. People also engage in political action by writing editorials, contacting their elected representatives, joining political organizations, and joining in political discussions through canvassing neighborhoods, serving as election judges, and running for office themselves.

As citizens, we usually participate in three levels of government in the United States: our local town, village, or city government; our state government; and the Federal government in Washington, D.C. When children leave their homes as the primary place they spend their time, and meet in common with other children from the community and learn to share the classroom, school supplies, and teacher with each other, an important part of their training in citizenship begins.

The Content of Citizen Education

Different groups and researchers divide up the content of citizen education in different ways that highlight different facets. Facing History uses this schema:

  • The Individual and Society: This is an opportunity to explore how identity is forged in the case of each person and of a country.
  • We and They: This area turns to a consideration of unity and diversity and the elements that bring people together as well as factors like stereotyping and bias that keep them apart.
  • History: Turning to history helps to reveal insights into both the first two realms, as well as to the development of one’s own country and its particular strengths and weaknesses.
  • Judgment, Memory & Legacy: This section continues the work of the one preceding by drawing lessons from the events and choices of the past.
  • Choosing to Participate: Finally, the understandings gained are brought to bear on the choices of the moment and the history of now.

Hébert and Sears suggest a different approach in their “Four domains of citizenship.” They name the civil, political, socio-economic, and cultural/collective realms, the first three of which were espoused by T.H. Marshall after World War II.

They explain the civil domain as being the one in which citizens pursue common aims as a community, balancing individual rights with those of associations, and the nation as a whole. The political domain is the realm of political action, both voting and political discussion and action. In the socio-economic domain, work, safety, and survival come to the fore, as the economic needs of citizens and country are considered. And in the cultural realm, the considerations of cultural diversity and cultural heritage come to the fore.


Citizenship Foundation -

Facing History and Ourselves: Scope and Sequence -

Canadian Education Association: “Citizenship Education” by Yvonne Hébert and Alan Sears -