From guest blogger Femi Skanes
“Workers without question is a subset of a citizen, and if we aim for citizenship, we will get the workforce that we need, but only aiming for creating workers won’t get our society the citizens that it needs.” (Lehman & Chase, 2015).
Focusing on citizenship as an integral component of instruction teaches students that their voices matter in every situation. Most educators will agree that teaching students to have voice is an important skill because it encourages higher level critical thinking. After we pay lip service to this thought, we must search our hearts to determine if we really believe that. Teaching students to activate and utilize voice will also lend permission for them to question adults, including their teachers. Are we prepared for them to truly engage in critical discourse when it may challenge our beliefs and content delivery? Traditionally, this has been viewed as a sign of disrespect in education. I would argue that before we can truly engage in the work of creating citizens, we must create a citizenship pedagogy framework. This approach will allow us to define what citizenship pedagogy looks like in lesson delivery, student voice, and active engagement. How must we shift our thinking to embrace students as active citizens? How will our pedagogy need to adjust to create a safe space for citizenship.
Lehman and Chase do not encourage citizenship as an “add on” to instruction. Rather they express the idea that teaching students to be citizens is the foundation of preparing students for life in school and beyond school. Leading students to believe that education will prepare them to be financially secure adults is an erroneous instructional approach. Teaching students to be critical thinkers who are ready to solve real world problems is how we should be preparing our students for life. This approach does not ask us to do away with our content. In fact, this approach asks students to think deeply about that content and to use that knowledge to impact the world. And maybe, just maybe, students will achieve the goal of being financially stable as a result of being a productive citizen.
Chapter 3 entitled “Citizenship is More Important Than the Workforce” has propelled me to think deeply about how I will ensure that my students are truly citizens. As a school leader of a school who has a mission and vision that focuses on social justice and environmental activism, I feel a sense of urgency around this effort. I have many wonderings. What planning needs to happen to embrace this shift? What teacher leaders need to be part of the conversation? How will we prepare teachers to embrace the change? How will we support students in this process. We have already started our journey towards citizenship development with our annual Al Raby Day of Service. All of our students spend the day at various elementary schools working with you children as classroom helpers, mentors, and tutors. This collective day of service provides opportunities for thoughtful civic engagement and deep reflection. There is no question about the fact that promoting citizenship creates better thinkers, leaders, and a better world.
Is your school producing workers or citizens?
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Dr. Femi Skanes is a proud member of the Discovery Education Community and the principal of Al Raby High School in Chicago, Illinois. Learn more about Femi by following her on Twitter or her school on Twitter and Instagram.