Publication Date: May 1, 2015
How can schools teach the skills required for a strong democracy to flourish? What Kind of Citizen? asks readers to imagine the kind of society they would like to live in—and then shows the ways in which schools can be used to make that vision a reality. Westheimer draws on groundbreaking research on school programs and policies to sharply critique the current direction of school reform. He points to the many varied and powerful ways to teach children and young adults to engage critically, to think about social issues, and to participate in authentic debate that acknowledges that intelligent adults can have different opinions. But today’s teachers are being forced to abandon these practices in favor of test-preparation in only a very narrow set of academic subjects. How did this happen? What can we do to set schools back on the right track? How can we realign school goals with what research shows parents, children, and teachers actually care about? How can we save our schools from today’s myopic interpretation of what constitutes an education? Westheimer answers these questions and makes a powerful call for schools to become more engaging, more democratic, and more educative.
Joel Westheimer is professor and university research chair in sociology of education at the University of Ottawa and education columnist for CBC Radio. He is the editor of Pledging Allegiance: The Politics of Patriotism in America's Schools.
"A compelling read, this book will have anyone with a vested interest in the future citizens of our world pausing to question the education system as we know it and forming their own opinions on what matters most for these children. A good read for teachers in need of some inspiration or for anyone looking for more insight into education in America."
—Green Teacher Magazine
"Joel Westheimer’s compelling book What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good is a play in two acts with several scenes in each act...The play begins in tragedy but ends in comedy – that is, comedy in the Shakespearean sense of focusing on a happy outcome for the characters. Like Shakespeare, Westheimer has written a play for the masses: well written, fast paced and full of easy to follow anecdotes and examples drawn from his long experience as an educator and researcher."
—Citizenship, Teaching & Learning
"The message of this short and accessible book is that it is vital for schools to resist the pressures of standardization and offer educational spaces where young people can learn about what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society. "
—Philosophical Inquiry in Education
"Among the many casualties of a preoccupation with rigor and accountability is the prospect of education for meaningful democratic citizenship. In this refreshingly accessible book, Westheimer not only makes that point but explains the importance of helping students to think critically and question tradition. He issues a welcome invitation to connect our conception of the ideal school to its impact on our broader society."
—Alfie Kohn, author of Feel-Bad Education and The Myth of the Spoiled Child
"What does it mean to be a democratic citizen? And what kind of education produces one? For the past 2 decades, Joel Westheimer has been one of North America's most knowledgeable and able guides to these critical issues. Along the way, he has forced us to reconsider the larger goals and purposes of our public schools. His book will provide an invaluable roadmap for anyone who asks the big questions, no matter what they think of his answers."
—Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of Education and History, New York University
"In this highly readable, persuasive book, Joel Westheimer reminds us that, in our zeal for higher test scores, we seem to have forgotten the highest aim of education—to produce better people, more thoughtful citizens."
—Nel Noddings, Lee Jacks Professor of Education Emerita, Stanford University
"Joel Westheimer has for many years challenged teachers, students, and community members with a profound series of questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? What kind of society should we create? Who do we want to become? Here he synthesizes his ideas about participatory democracy, moral commitment, education, and justice; deepens his astonishing contribution; and extends his reach in a style that’s dazzling and clear, entirely accessible, and grounded in real experiences. With What Kind of Citizen?, Westheimer distinguishes himself as a leading thinker and activist in the radical tradition of W.E.B. DuBois, John Dewey, bell hooks, and Fanny Coppin."
—William Ayers, school reform activist and bestselling author
"Education is about more than test scores and measured achievement. Joel Westheimer, who has spent years studying and investigating civic engagement of students, has written this brilliant book to make the case for civic and critical engagement of our students, rather than a standardized curriculum. The book is compelling, very accessible, full of inspiring examples, and sometimes even funny. It's a book that every teacher should have and that would make any mother proud."
—Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education, Boston College
"Joel Westheimer argues persuasively that the current emphasis on standardization in the schools not only diminishes teacher professionalism, but conflicts with citizenship education. Students these days learn to answer questions, but citizens learn to ask them. The methods now imposed by federal and state mandates might apply with equal force in authoritarian societies. They are wrong for a democratic society."
—Diane Ravitch, professor of education at New York University, historian of education, author of Reign of Error
"In this practical, personal, and hopeful work, Joel Westheimer asks us to imagine the kind of people we want to be—and how schools can help us become those people. What Kind of Citizen? cracks open the pleasing but often myopic lingo of citizenship education. Readers are left with an alternative vision of schooling that speaks directly to today's social and environmental crises—and to young people's hunger for a meaningful life."
—Bill Bigelow, Curriculum Editor, Rethinking Schools
"If you are tired of reading books about education reforms that promise quick fixes and improved efficiency in education, this book by Joel Westheimer is for you. It points out what is missing in many of our schools today and then offers a way forward by insisting that we must educate active thinking citizens."
—Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in FInland?
"Joel Westheimer has written a necessary and brilliant book. Not only does he dismantle the pedagogy of testing, instrumental rationality, and repression at work in the public schools, he reclaims and extends the important goal of defining schools as democratic public spheres, students as engaged citizens, and social responsibility as central to the project of education."
—Henry Giroux, Global Television Network Chair in Communication Studies, McMaster Univeristy
"This astute, incisive, and informative book makes it explicit with rich theoretical ideas and empirical data that schools—whether consciously or not—teach citizenship knowledge, skills, and values. Westheimer argues compellingly that educators should make the pivotal decision about what kind of citizens they aim to develop. His rigorous conceptual analyses and powerful examples of citizenship education courses, programs, and experiences provide practicing educators with a goldmine of information and examples that can help them to construct experiences that will prepare thoughtful, active, and engaged citizens. This book indicates, once again, that Westheimer is one of the most prolific, original, and visionary scholars doing citizenship education work and research."
—James A. Banks, Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies and Director, Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington
"Challenging the myths promoted by the apostles of standardized tests and narrowed curricula, Dr. Westheimer, in this timely and important book, refocuses the attention of policymakers on providing students with learning experiences that equip them for engaged citizenship and ensuring that teachers have the professional autonomy and trust to do that work."
—Dianne Woloschuk, President, Canadian Teachers’ Federation