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Education, Citizenship and Social


Beyond personally responsible: A study of teacher conceptualizations of

citizenship education
Nancy Patterson, Frans Doppen and Thomas Misco
Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 2012 7: 191
DOI: 10.1177/1746197912440856
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ESJ7210.1177/1746197912440856Patterson et al.Education, Citizenship and Social Justice



Beyond personally responsible:

A study of teacher
conceptualizations of
citizenship education

Education, Citizenship and

Social Justice
7(2) 191206
The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1746197912440856

Nancy Patterson

Bowling Green State University, USA

Frans Doppen
Ohio University, USA

Thomas Misco
Miami University, USA

This mixed methods study explores secondary teacher conceptualizations of citizenship education in one
Midwestern state in the USA. First, the authors situate the study within the teacher belief and citizenship
education literature. They then analyze statewide survey responses and interview transcripts that describe
teacher beliefs and classroom goals and the degree to which teachers believe these goals are met. The authors
advance the typology of personally responsible, participatory and justice-oriented citizenship aims by thickly
describing the profiles of teachers within these paradigms. Finally, the authors address the implications of this
typology for problematizing citizenship education within preservice and in-service professional development.

beliefs, citizenship, secondary social studies education, social justice

The Civic Mission of Schools report (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and
Engagement [CIRCLE], 2003), written and endorsed by numerous US academics, teachers and
administrators, stresses the value of civic education for a healthy democracy and enlists teacher
Corresponding author:
Nancy Patterson, College of Education and Human Development, Bowling Green State University, 509 Education,
Bowling Green, OH, USA
Email: ncpatte@bgsu.edu

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

educators, teachers, parents and communities to join in achieving the goal of an active citizenry.
Approaching the goals defined by this mission has met with mixed success. One international
study of 14-year-old intended levels of civic participation showed US students ranking relatively
high comparatively (Torney-Purta et al., 2001), while CIRCLE (2003) reports that over the past
half-century, there has been a downward trend in student political participation and a reduction in
the number of civic education courses that students are offered.
In the USA, 40 states have civic education as an integral component of public school curricula
(CIRCLE, 2003). Schools are the primary vehicle for civic education, where the goal is to help
young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to
be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives (CIRCLE, 2003: 6). The National
Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) (2010: 3) advocates student development of civic competence by teaching them how to make informed and reasoned decision for the public good as citizens of a democratic society. Several studies show that social studies teachers themselves
concur with this stated purpose and the skill set it implies (Fontana, 1980; People for the American
Way, 1989). The People for the American Way report showed that 83 of the 400 teachers surveyed
agreed that citizenship is either the most important or one of the most important goals of the field
(People for the American Way, 1989). In the Midwestern state under study here, the civic mission
of schools is the foundation for the state social studies, where social studies is designed to prepare
students for their role as citizens and decision makers in a diverse, democratic society (Ohio
Department of Education [ODE], 2011: 24). As social studies teacher educators, we sought to better understand teachers conceptualizations of these purposes and the extent to which they are in
line with the ideological focus of the field. By conceptualization, we refer to their stated beliefs
about social studies purposes as well as the ways teachers report these beliefs as realized in classrooms. Our primary research questions were, What are teachers conceptualizations of citizenship
education, and how might one distinguish one conceptualization from another? The answers to
these questions have a tremendous impact on the sorts of citizenship learning experiences students
receive, the assumption being that these conceptualizations may pose barriers to effective social
studies teaching. The best intentions of states, parents, and curricula rest solely on the teacher and
his or her beliefs about how social studies material should be leveraged as well as which skills and
dispositions are privileged in the classroom.

Related Literature
The foundational position citizenship holds in the US social studies curriculum would suggest a
proliferation of studies on teacher beliefs about citizenship. In fact, there are few empirical studies
of this nature, with most of the attention to beliefs centering on defining the purpose of social studies generally. These studies exemplify the decades long struggle to define the field, whether through
a priori theorizing (Barr et al., 1977; Janzen, 1995) or studies of preservice teachers (Patterson,
2008). In one study that does directly examine social studies teachers beliefs about citizenship, the
authors argue, although a consensus exists on citizenship education as a goal of social studies
education, little empirical work has examined the nature of the citizenship education espoused by
its proponents (Anderson et al., 1997: 336). Since this time, not much has been added to this literature base. For this review, we have therefore turned to our colleagues in psychology for a general
discussion of the importance of exploring beliefs and their possible impacts on change, followed
by a review of the literature in social studies that relates to beliefs about social studies. We conclude by addressing the specific body of literature available on citizenship education purposes and
teacher conceptualizations of citizenship.

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Patterson et al.

Belief systems are a central component of learning, defined as internal schemas that provide the
framework within which we make decisions. They are distinguished from knowledge, such that
knowledge refers to factual propositions and understandings as compared to beliefs defined as
suppositions, commitments, and ideologies (Calderhead, 1996: 715). One is therefore free to
make a judgment about any given knowledge of a proposition. As a case in point, social studies
teachers and educators may have knowledge of the proposition that citizenship is the primary purpose of social studies, but they may not believe that it is a useful construct for their teaching. This
may be especially true if, based on past experiences, the teacher has little familiarity with the
proposition or lack of success implementing it. The strong subjective components of beliefs that
make them emotional and judgmental have led Nespor (1987) and others (Kagan, 1992; Pajares,
1992) to argue that beliefs are more influential than knowledge in determining how people make
decisions and therefore constitute stronger predictors of behavior.
A number of studies have identified beliefs as a possible barrier to standards-based instruction
within social studies, suggesting that teachers steadfastly maintain comfortable boundaries in
beliefs and practices that prohibit growth and responsiveness to new ideas. Onosko (1991) identified numerous barrier to higher order thinking in prospective social studies teachers, one being the
concept that the purpose of social studies is knowledge transmission. Goodman and Adler (1985)
found that pre-existing belief systems are one among many factors that may influence a preservice
teachers orientation to social studies teaching. Bennett and Spaulding (1992) identified and
addressed the intransigence of prospective social studies teacher beliefs, submitting that teachers
pre-existing perspectives filter out any ideas they cannot reconcile with pre-existing schema. They
concluded that change must be nurtured through negotiation and dialogue.
We can conclude from the previous review that there is some evidence that suggests it is important for us to mine our beliefs about social studies in order to realize the citizenship mission of the
social studies and progressive practices associated with that mission. We submit the same is true
for citizenship education purposes, that the boundaries teachers maintain can and should be challenged. As with typologies that define the purpose of social studies, there are numerous such a
priori frameworks that describe citizenship. Social studies textbooks heavily favor citizenship concepts of rights and freedoms over classical republicanism or communitarianism (Gonzales et al.,
2004), which speaks to the three main traditions, with communitarianism most closely aligning to
a sense of social justice.
The most appropriate typology for answering the questions posed in this study is that advanced
by Westheimer and Kahne (2004), who built upon definitions of citizenship education by describing the orientations of 10 educational programs aimed at promoting democracy. Westheimer and
Kahne (2004) built a continuum of three orientations that categorized these programs personally
responsible, participatory and justice-oriented. Even in the context of evaluating programs,
Westheimer and Kahne (2004) reference individual orientations, arguing that the orientation of any
program influences decisions individuals make as to what sort of citizens they will be; therefore,
these orientations have critical political implications for social studies education: The narrow and
often ideologically conservative conception of citizenship embedded in many current efforts of
teaching for democracy reflects not arbitrary choices but political choices with political consequences (Westheimer and Kahne, 2004: 1).
Although there are numerous studies about public school students perceptions of citizenship
(Martin and Chiodo, 2007; Torney-Purta, 2001/2002), there are few that explore these beliefs
among preservice and practicing teachers. In a study of elementary and secondary preservice
teachers perspectives on citizenship, Martin (2008) used Westheimer and Kahnes (2004) framework and found that preservice teacher conceptualizations of citizenship aligned most closely with

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

those of the personally responsible citizen. The most comprehensive study of practicing teacher
perspectives to date (Anderson et al., 1997) identified a majority liberal bias among these teachers
characterized by a commitment to cultural diversity and critical thinking.

The Study
Conceptualizations of citizenship are a primary component of teachers beliefs about the purpose
of social studies, and as the review of literature has shown, scant research explores this phenomenon in detail, particularly with practicing teachers; therefore, an in-depth exploration of practicing teachers conceptualizations of citizenship education is the focus of this study. We employed
mixed methods and focused on data collected from the Ohio Professors of Social Studies
Education study on the status of social studies. This prior study included a random survey sample
of the states population of 40,012 K- 12 social studies teachers, with a pilot study conducted in
2007 (Doppen et al., 2008), and a full-scale, randomized study with follow-up interviews in 2008
(Misco et al., 2011).

In view of exploring teachers conceptualizations of citizenship education, we put the Westheimer
and Kahne (2004) continuum to a new use the description of individual social studies teacher
orientations as opposed to civic education program orientations. The three orientations they
described were personally responsible, participatory and justice-oriented, which are defined as follows. The citizen in a personally responsible program acts responsibly in his/her community
(Westheimer and Kahne, 2004: 241) and focuses on values such as honesty, integrity and volunteerism. Such citizens, for example, work at the local food drive, donate blood and vote. The citizen in a participatory program builds upon the qualities of the personally responsible citizen by
actively participating in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and
national levels (Westheimer and Kahne, 2004: 241). Such citizens not only volunteer at the local
food drive they would organize one. They may vote but also run for office. The justice-oriented
citizen has all the characteristics of the other two but adds critical inquiry and problem solving
focused on responding to social problems (Westheimer and Kahne, 2004: 242). These citizens
might not only volunteer for and organize the food drive, but also question policies that create class
differences, in short poverty itself.
Westheimer and Kahne (2004) take issue with the focus among personally responsible citizens
on values and character by arguing that honesty and integrity are not inherently democratic, since
totalitarian leaders generally encourage such behaviors as well. We submit that participatory and
justice-oriented citizens are the kind of citizens described in both national and state standards who
provide the foundation for this study. It is upon this framework that we begin to address the research

Data collection and analysis

Our data collection drew from select survey questions and a set of follow-up interviews. The survey provided data on the entire sample, and the interviews helped substantiate these findings. Both
the survey and the interview questions were collaboratively designed and based on previously
conducted state studies (Doppen et al., 2008; Misco et al., 2011; VanFossen, 2005). To understand
how teachers conceptualize citizenship in the social studies, we collected data from two survey

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Patterson et al.

questions and a set of open-ended interview questions. The first survey question asked teachers to
rank order this list of reasons for teaching social studies: to prepare good citizens; because it is
required by state standards; to teach student content knowledge; to teach students life skills; to
teach students appreciation and awareness of their community, nation and world; to prepare students for the next grade level; and to develop skills in language arts/reading. The second survey
question was open-ended and asked teachers to describe the qualities of a good citizen. During the
interview, we asked the participating teachers to expand upon their survey responses as well as
reflect on the degree to which and how they felt their goals were met in the classroom (see the
In the original study, we invited 1500 teachers to participate 500 elementary, 500 middle and
500 high school teachers. The study focused on only secondary middle and high school teachers for two reasons. First, the survey response rate for secondary teachers was significantly higher
than for the elementary teachers (22 versus 8 percent). Second, secondary teachers specialize in
social studies content to a greater degree than elementary teachers and generally have completed
more coursework in the social sciences. As such, they were the only teachers selected in the original study for follow-up interviews. We mailed a letter of invitation to teachers that included a URL
to the survey that the respondent could access through the Internet. We also sent a follow-up postcard reminder. To maximize the response rate of the respondents, we used a variety of techniques
known to increase response rates (Doppen et al., 2008).
We first analyzed all survey data quantitative as well as qualitative by aggregating it in an
spreadsheet along with randomly assigned teacher identification numbers and then tallied numerical data and rank-ordered it. We used a set of expanded definitions of the Citizenship Continuum
generated from analysis of the pilot data (Doppen et al., 2008) to code each narrative response to
the citizenship question. Finally, we individually coded all responses and then checked for interrater reliability while negotiating varying responses.
Although difficult to categorize, we decided the distinguishing element between personally
responsible and participatory citizens is ultimately the type of community involvement participants described. Thus we decided that participatory citizenship is characterized by service or
involvement beyond self and local community to others outside that sphere. Although personally responsible as well as participatory citizens are active, personally responsible citizens typically only act locally through volunteering and other forms of service not at the level of
running for office or serving communities well beyond their own. Although being informed,
aware and thinking critically can be present in all three types of citizens problem solving and
social action clearly distinguish participatory and justice-oriented citizens from the personally
responsible ones.
The survey data analysis made it apparent that we needed additional information to fortify and
focus the citizenship continuum categories as well as clarify teachers citizenship goals for the
classroom. Therefore we invited 12 secondary teachers to participate in an interview four from
each of the three categories. Nine of the invited teachers agreed to participate. This was a purposive, regionally representative sample wherein we sampled until we reached a point of saturation.
Of those who completed the interviews, two were originally categorized as personally responsible,
three as participatory and four as justice-oriented. In order to clarify and/or verify our original
categorizations, we asked each interviewee to identify the characteristics and give examples of a
good citizen (see the Appendix).
We interviewed each teacher either on the phone or in person. Two social studies education
faculty and a graduate assistant conducted the interviews. We assigned pseudonyms to all interviewees, transcribed each interview, and coded responses independently on the continuum. Three

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

Table 1. Citizenship orientation continuum


Key descriptors
of type of citizen

Key descriptors of
perceived value and
use of knowledge

Location of
citizenship education
in the curriculum

Personally responsible



Unique set of abstract

values, including moral,
honest, respectful, hardworking, self-sacrificial,
law-abiding, proud of ones
community and patriotic.
Type of citizen involvement
that is primarily based
in the local community,
including service focused
on volunteering and
charity. Values and uses
knowledge that emphasizes
learning from the past and
knowledge for the sake
of knowledge. Rare use
of non-government social
science content to teach
Obeys laws
Helps keep communities
Exists peaceably in society
Dedicated to community
Acts appropriately in a
variety of situations
Serves as a good example
Follows directions
Respects authority
Productive member of
Has a positive impact on
those around
Helps others
Has a volunteer spirit
Knows history
Knows how the
government works
Awareness of mistakes
made in the past
Awareness and
understanding of current
In government classes and
through current events

Type of citizen
involvement includes
attention to issues in
the local community and
beyond. Values and uses
knowledge not only to
communicate to students
what they know, but
also to help them gain a
broader understanding of
perspectives uncommon to
them. Knowledge is more
theoretical with a concern
for student awareness of
diversity and inequity in
the larger society. Some
use of non-government
social science content to
teach citizenship.
Actively involved in the
political process
Community participant
Understands surroundings
Willing to step up and
work for what he/she
believes in
Has a global perspective
Understands that he/she is
also a citizen of the world
Works for the common
Takes an active role in
doing what is right
Helps improve life on the
planet for everyone

Type of citizen
involvement includes a
distinct commitment to
calling students to action,
whether through letter
writing, petitioning or
protesting on matters of
the common good. Values
and uses knowledge
in service of problemsolving community and
global issues. Knowledge
of social studies content
used in service to
a strong citizenship
purpose. Frequent use of
non-government social
science content to teach
Understands rights and
knows how to go about
making change
Takes advantage of the
rights our country has
fought for
Safeguards so that the
government does not go
Willing to make a
Making the world more

Strong decision maker

Keeps up on current
events in community,
country and world
Educated problem solver
Stays informed

Questions authority
Realizes the USA is not a
perfect place
Understands we have
a chance to change the
status quo
Underlying the
curriculum as an
interdisciplinary topic

In all social studies courses

themes emerged from this analysis that helped us distill the citizenship orientations even further:
(1) level of citizen involvement; (2) perceived value and use of knowledge; and (3) location of citizenship education in the curriculum. Using these criteria, we revised the citizenship continuum
orientation definitions (see Table 1). We then re-read all interviews, negotiating a final designation
for the nine interviewees based on the revised survey coding and coding from the interviews (see

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Patterson et al.
Table 2. Interview participants by citizenship categorization

Initial coding



Personally responsible
Personally responsible

Personally responsible
Personally responsible
Personally responsible
Personally responsible

Table 2). Finally, we read through survey data summaries and interviews and coded for themes that
would help us create a profile for each type of citizen-teacher. Finally, we combined the survey
data summaries and statistical analyses with emergent themes from the interview transcript analysis developing profiles of the citizen-teacher.

Our findings are organized in two sections. The first section presents aggregate data from the overall survey while the second combines survey and interview data from the nine teachers in the
sample into composite profiles of citizenship orientations that expand Westheimer and Kahnes
(2004) definitions. The profiles include a synthesis of survey and interview data in each category
(four personally responsible, two participatory and three justice-oriented teachers). The interview
process clarified survey responses by giving us concrete examples of whether and how these teachers believed their citizenship purposes were served in the classroom.

Overall teacher conceptualizations of citizenship

The overall survey data suggested a discrepancy between what teachers believed to be the purposes
of social studies and their definitions of citizenship, which required clarification in the interviews.
In the survey, teachers were asked to indicate what they viewed as the purposes of social studies by
rank-ordering seven items. Even in the context of high-stakes testing and content knowledge
expertise, the citizenship purpose ranked highest among the provided options, followed by developing language arts skills and teaching content knowledge. Teaching social studies because it is
required and preparing students for the next grade level were ranked last. The companion question
of What are the qualities of a good citizen? yielded responses that were inconsistent with the high
rank teachers placed on the citizenship purpose of social studies.
Nearly two-thirds of secondary social studies teachers (102/155 or 65.8 percent) (see Table 3)
were categorized as personally responsible. The most common and clearest responses in this category focused on traditional values (honesty, respect, civic awareness and pride, awareness of laws
and rules in the community, patriotism, tolerance, responsibility), and traditional behaviors (voter
participation, community participation, volunteering, following laws).
About one-fourth of the teachers (39/155 or 25.2 percent) were categorized as participatory,
with such typical responses as: A love and pride for their country that encourages them to be participating citizens who share in the decision-making, operation, and well-being of the United

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

Table 3. Secondary teacher categorizations of a good citizen


Personally responsible



States, stays informed, contributes positively to community, votes, accepting of people, works to
make world a better place and understand their responsibilities as a citizen. Also to show the
importance of being an active participant in society.
Six teachers, less than one-twenty-fifth (6/155 or 3.9 percent), were categorized as justiceoriented, with responses that indicated a desire to change the status quo:
Someone who is aware of the interdependence of world cultures, the physical and human features of world
cultures, understands the importance of becoming involved at the local, regional, and global levels in
issues, and who is willing to be outraged at social injustice. Good citizens should be able to get information
about issues, read and understand the information, and then act on it by either voting, petitioning, or
creating opportunities to change.

While the rank-order findings suggest a high regard for the citizenship purpose of social studies
among the majority of the teachers who participated in the survey, their majority orientation toward
personally responsible citizenship is at odds with the intent of the state and national standards.
Although these teachers indicate the value the citizenship purpose, how do they actually define
citizenship? The interviews we conducted and profiles we developed helped us explore and clarify
teachers varying conceptualizations and definitions of citizenship.

Profiles of citizenship orientations

Based on their survey responses, two of the nine teachers who completed the interviews were originally coded as personally responsible, three as participatory and four as justice-oriented. We used
the interview data to help verify and clarify the original coding and found that it was inconsistent
in three of the nine interviews; one teacher originally coded as personally responsible was recoded
as participatory, and two teachers coded originally coded participatory were recoded as personally
responsible. Of the four teachers originally coded as justice-oriented, one was recoded as participatory (see Table 3). The fact that two of the three codes for participatory were incorrect highlights
the difficulty we had in distinguishing between the personally responsible and participatory categories in the original coding. The responses by the justice-oriented teachers tended to be longer and
contain examples and thus were easier to code more accurately. The interview and survey data are
embedded and organized within each profile by the three emergent themes level of citizen
involvement, perceived value and use of knowledge and location of citizenship education in the
curriculum followed by concrete examples.
Personally responsible.Four of the teachers in the interview sample were coded as personally
responsible. Defining elements of the personally responsible citizen are service through voting,

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Patterson et al.

respect for and service to the local community, knowledge of the past for the sake of knowledge
with an emphasis on learning from it, and transmitting information to students. Two of the four in
this category stated that citizenship is the reason we teach social studies, defined as being a wellinformed voter and learning from the mistakes of the past. Barry teaches his students that they must
not forget that they have to participate in the democratic process, that is, vote: I tell my world
history students when were studying Napoleon, You may not remember anything about his Russian campaign or anything like that, but hopefully youll not vote for one someday because of
having learned about it. Marcus mentioned the importance of voting three times over the course
of the interview, at one point stating, I think we need to start at that early age talking about voting,
getting rid of propaganda in what we read and watch, and making informed decisions about who
we vote on for government.
The two personally responsible teachers who were originally coded as participatory Elsie and
Marcus included key words in their survey definitions of citizenship that signaled the participatory category, that is, service to community beyond the local. Elsie wrote about involvement for
the benefit of society while Marcus stated that it is important for citizens to be involved with
changing the future by our behavior today. Upon further examination of the interview data, they
became more aligned with a personally responsible orientation as a result of their focus on the
importance of content knowledge and involvement defined by voting and service to the local community. Barry gave a classic example of a personally responsible orientation, arguing that it is
essential to be:
involved in your community, maybe not necessarily politically, but at least in something where you get out
of the house. Church is a good example something where you are giving to society and sharing and of
course receiving information and input and the participation of others.

All four survey responses contained a focus on the primacy of declarative knowledge, including
governmental processes and ways to participate. As such, Melissa defined a good citizen as lawabiding and knowledgeable about our government, other governments, functions of our government, history behind our government ... Twice she emphasized following the laws, whereas
Barry described a good citizen as informed and active and understanding of the basic purposes and
processes of government and [having] knowledge of how to actively participate.
When asked how well their citizenship goals were met in the classroom, all four participants
discussed the importance of making connections with the present, defining citizenship education
as somewhat outside the history curriculum. Melissa often taught current events, one example
being the use of a candidate calculator she found on the Internet to view debatable issues. She
indirectly referred to her objectives for this lesson, stating, I taught them things they didnt know
about that they should know about. Elsies evidence of meeting her citizenship goals also included
current events she frequently worked with her middle-school students on making connections by
studying current events. She valued making them slightly uncomfortable by making them consider multiple perspectives.
Marcus also placed an emphasis on current events. With his focus on voting, he was anxious to
teach about the upcoming elections but seemed to struggle with ways to connect studying history
with citizenship. He commented:
In teaching the [American] Revolution and teaching the ideas of John Locke and Rousseau, it helps build
on their understanding of where our democracy comes from and that theyre part of that. I just dont know
how much they equate that to real-life situations that they have today. So its much easier to teach the
realness of this stuff than it is to teach how the old stuff has affected us today.

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

He and Barry shared the conviction that the primary place for citizenship education was the US
government class, and that citizenship in the classroom was about making connections to the present. When asked whether he thought his citizenship goals were being met in the classroom, Marcus
equivocated, stating that he was focused more toward history and less toward citizenship in the
eighth grade, that maybe there would more teachable moments for citizenship education during
coming election year.
Barrys responses mirrored those of Marcus as he struggled to identify and provide examples of
how citizenship goals were realized in his classroom:
Im constantly trying to bring things into the present. You know, the only thing I can think of off my head,
appeasing Hitler. We were talking about appeasement how Chamberlain was into appeasement, and
Churchill wasnt then I bring up Bush, and how some countries think we appease Iraq with Kuwait [sic];
so I just try to make more connections like that. Personally, I feel like 60 to 70% [of citizenship goals met].
Hopefully, they get the rest in Government.

To these personally responsible teachers, good citizens are knowledgeable, informed voters who
attend to current events. The level of citizen involvement for which they advocate is local, with an
emphasis on voting. They perceive the value knowledge for knowledges sake and locate citizenship
education primarily in US government classes, where current events are the order of the day.
Participatory. The participatory teachers exhibited a different focus on the type of participation, use
of knowledge and location of citizenship in the curriculum. Involvement was characterized by
attention to issues in the local community and beyond. Their concern was not communicating what
they knew to students, but rather helping them gain a broader understanding of perspectives
uncommon to them. The knowledge they focused on was more theoretical, with a theme of concern
about awareness of diversity and inequity in the larger culture. Both teachers in this category
Cindy and Robin repeatedly emphasized the importance of global perspectives and global actors.
In contrast to the personally responsible teachers, they did not limit the learning of citizenship aims
to political science, rather integrated it into the history curriculum.
While both emphasized the importance of involvement beyond the local community, neither
referred to a deeper call to action, as is characteristic of the Justice-oriented citizen. Originally
coded as Justice-oriented, Robin was recoded based on her lack of any reference in her interview
to the type of change she suggested in her survey. She originally stated that:
Good citizens participate in maintaining this country and the dreams and sweat of previous generations.
They have a basic understanding of our history and major documents and understand that democracy
needs to be constantly worked at. They understand that they need to pay attention to their government to
make sure it is doing its job properly. They need to understand that they are not just a citizen of the United
States but are also a citizen of the world and are responsible for making the world a better place for all.

In her interviews, she reiterated that a key purpose of social studies is understand how one can
change the world for the better, yet she said stopped short of action in her examples, describing
little beyond critical thinking to define this notion. Her citizenship goals were realized in the
classroom through a lot of thinking, a lot of map work ... We use the Internet a lot; we use news
magazines, papers, and a lot of discussion. I try to lead them; I want to hear from them and I try
to get them to explore what the world is saying what is out there. Her classroom was studentcentered and exploratory, with a focus on application of knowledge and development of

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Patterson et al.

Cindy took a similar approach to the use of knowledge for the purpose of citizenship education
to provide an active, student-centered classroom. While her reasons for teaching social studies, so
we have better voters; so we have people who are engaged, at first appear to align with the personally responsible citizen, the type of use she emphasizes for knowledge knowledge to help foster
connections to the outside world defines her as participatory:
I think we teach social studies in high school and seventh grade so that students understand, really, you
should be teaching everything with the main idea of encouraging students to be curious about the world ...
which helps them determine what their specialization in life should be how they can be self-actualized.
It also helps make them be a better participant, a more effective participant in our world.

Although neither directly argued the importance of voting or other forms of participation, both
described their commitment to exploring ideas that can motivate students to action. Both also mentioned their approach to election topics, involving students in understanding issues and writing to
or calling congressional offices for information and clarification. Cindy described her own activist
framework that motivated her to work with students on the notion of privilege through the study of
economics beyond the textbook. She also approached the study of public policy by examining how
the government affects sex education. To her, the critical use of knowledge was a step in the direction of active citizenship:
I think students should be excited about the content that is used to help them think about government ...
When I teach, it is so they are understanding the actual world so they can participate. First I have to
convince the kids that they need to know and want to know. Want needs to come first. They need to want
to know about economics and government.

Robin also pointed out her political orientation towards content, stating she taught in a very conservative area different from where she grew up. Similar to Cindy, she valued mining the impact of
ideas that shape actions, and as in the following example, outlining her commitment to help students face their prejudices through global awareness:
Because we are so interdependent, we cant just sit on our laurels and you cant say we are the greatest or
whatever . . . .I want them to view the world as not a hostile place, but people, just like them ... Many of
our students are very narrow-minded and that has gotten us into trouble. I cant say that I can reduce
prejudice, but I want to at least open students eyes to what they are doing and why they are saying or
thinking things.

She was committed to asking students to argue cogently and develop and defend their ideas.
Both Robin and Cindy felt they reached their citizenship goals to some degree, and echoed each
others baseline practice of problem solving and argumentation. Robin described her ongoing role
as devils advocate: My whole thing in teaching is I may not agree with you, but you wont know
... I can play any side of the game, but you have to give me reasons.
To these two teachers, ideas are the seed of action. In Cindys classroom, there was a parallel
focus on the provocative impact of a good question that can lead to action. Regarding the citizenship mission being met in her classroom, she said, It needs to be about engaging students first, it
has to be current, it should be backwards, it should start with now, we engage them in whats happening now, and then they pursue it ....
For the two participatory teachers in our study, citizen involvement and knowledge were linked,
as citizenship meant using knowledge to motivate students to action. They sought to motivate their

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

students for high levels of future participation rather than actively engage them in the here and
now. They modeled civic skills through classroom dialogue and student-directed research and
located citizenship education across the entire social studies curriculum.
Justice-oriented. Three teachers two middle and one high school referenced numerous elements
of the previous profiles, but added a distinct commitment to calling students to action, whether it
be through letter-writing, petitioning, or protesting on matters of the common good. Problemsolving and student-directed activities were the central fulcrum upon which they leveraged social
studies knowledge of content. It was very clear that citizenship goals were woven and seamlessly
integrated in their history curriculum.
In their survey responses, Karen, Brandon and Dora described the importance of putting declarative knowledge to reasoned use, which they reiterated in their interviews. Karen emphasized that
students should be able to reason through arguments, identify bias in various media, and examine
multiple perspectives. Brandon argued good citizens should be able to get information about
issues, read and understand the information, and then act by either voting, petitioning, or creating
opportunities to change.
The final phrase of Brandons quote is the signature of the Justice-oriented teacher, who calls
his or her students to action. Dora also argued for informed and active participation in the democratic process by advocating for communities, states, country and the world. Karen stated that a
good citizen is a socially conscious, which she qualified, however, with a continuous focus on
tempering ones decisions with evidence and reason. In response to her primarily Jewish students shocked reaction to learning that some scholars deny or minimize the Holocaust, she
asked them:
Where do you learn information from? Who [sic] do you get information from? If youre 14, how are you
going to know that this article you read is better than another article that you read? So, social studies is
about evaluating assumptions in society and making sense of them for ourselves.

For Karen, a good citizen is not:

someone who like blindly questions and rebels against everything. I think good citizens are people who are
informed and who can question and challenge things with facts and logic back them up, and I would like
my students to be informed citizens in that way.

She described several ways to be a good citizen, including being law-abiding, hard-working, and
tax-paying. For example, You can be both a productive member of society who adds something,
you know, by volunteering or just cleaning your lawn so that your neighbors can appreciate you,
you know, having a job so that you contribute to the tax base. You can be productive in that way
and still protest good citizens do so with an understanding that they fit into a larger picture, and
that they try to work within that.
For these teachers, social studies is interdisciplinary and thus serves the purpose of citizenship.
Karen worked hard to explain this philosophy, painting broad strokes to emphasize the scope of the
field. Brandon ascribed to a similar philosophy by introducing citizenship education through a lesson in his ancient world history class:
Weve looked at how different governments have changed and things that weve taken out to create our
government, possibly at each point stressing how important it is for kids to be involved, and how we see how
history has denied that [involvement]. But here you have this opportunity, so citizenship is a key part of it.

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Patterson et al.

During the previous year, he chose the theme of diffusion to link the lessons of the past to the present. He asked questions like, What are the things people are borrowing and trading among themselves today? Are we isolated? Do we not get things from other people and give things to other
people? Doing so he gave his students a framework for examining what is going now in comparison to in the past.
These justice-oriented teachers classrooms were active and meaningful in the way that participatory teachers classrooms were, offering students the opportunity to practice giving and responding to reasoned arguments. Brandon had a Barbarians Live Talk Show, the objective of which was
to work on the ability to gather information and be able to persuade. They worked to make their
history lessons come to life by expanding their students view of the world. Brandon was concerned that the life and language of poverty in his district trapped his students. Suggesting that
these students and their families dont see the political process as a means of solving problems,
he argued that his students bring it here and comment how the police just sit over at McDonalds
and eat donuts. So we try to overcome that here.
In these justice-oriented classrooms, teachers advocated for citizenship action beyond the classroom. For example, Dora and Brandon described letter-writing campaigns in which their students
wrote on an issue of concern to members of Congress or a newspaper editor. Karen hopes to instill
in her students a willingness to run for public office some day and encountered some such success
in her role as student council advisor. Surprised to witness their enthusiasm, she stated, This year
we had 21 freshmen running for five representative spots. I mean, they wanted to unseat the incumbents, and they wanted to have this voice and to have direction within their school. After studying
the Civil Rights movement, she had a student petition to have his seat moved. Following a unit on
strikes and collective bargaining, two of her students tried to organize a walkout in their math class
and strike because of a computer program they were being required to use. She reflected that, they
missed the whole part of actually getting people behind them before they went on strike, so just two
of them walked out, but it was like, wow, okay, were partially applying this this is good.
Justice-oriented teachers view knowledge as a critical component in preparing their students for
informed participation by challenging the status quo and problem solving. Not only do they prepare students by teaching them skills to problem solve, they provide them with avenues become
citizens who directly address social injustice. They focus on the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum, such that citizenship education is the foundation that unites all subject areas.

This study highlights both the need to understand teachers conceptualizations of citizenship and
the deep complexity inherent in these conceptualizations. The overall survey data answered the
first research question: What are teachers conceptualizations of citizenship education? It
describes the majority of social studies teachers in this state as personally responsible in their orientation, with very few teachers embracing a Justice orientation. This finding mirrors Martins
(2008) study, which found that preservice teacher conceptualizations of citizenship aligned most
closely with elements of the personally responsible citizen. Although social studies teachers in this
study ranked preparing good citizens as the most important reason for teaching social studies, the
way in which they made meaning of the high-inference construct of citizenship constitutes a slippery path. In short, prima facie responses can often be misleading as beliefs and actions are not
always congruent.
Through recursive evaluation of survey and interview data, we were able to answer the second
research question: How might one distinguish one conceptualization from another? The emergent

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Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 7(2)

profiles describe in greater detail a continuum of conceptualizations of citizenship and demonstrate

how teachers conceptualizations of citizenship in social studies differ in significant and distinct
ways from one profile to the next. We developed a framework (see Table 1) from the analysis that
helped us describe the complexity of teacher conceptualizations, including three elements of teachers beliefs about citizenship: perceived levels of citizen involvement; value and usage of knowledge; and, location of citizenship education in the curriculum.
The personally responsible teachers in this study situated citizen action in voting rights and
local community service. They gave little attention to critical inquiry; rather they focused on participating responsibly within the system. They valued knowledge for knowledges sake by focusing on rules and laws, and ceding much of this work to the government classes. Disregarding
citizenship education, they predominantly framed teaching history in terms of mastering content
required for the high school graduation test rather than preparing active and informed citizens.
The participatory teachers deviated from this position primarily by leveraging historical content
for citizenship aims. They interwove knowledge and citizenship as a critical vehicle for precipitating future action. Theirs was a focus on the value and use of knowledge beyond local issues, primarily by including global perspectives, a healthy application of critical thinking, self-actualization
and, ultimately, social action. They considered the social studies classroom an incubator for active
The justice-oriented teachers were similar to the participatory teachers in marshaling lessons
across all disciplines to prepare critical citizens. Beyond offering classroom and community-based
practice in citizenship skills, however, they advocated letter-writing, petitioning and running for
office. In their classrooms, action was more directed toward changing structures of inequality than
responding to the needs within existing structures.

This study shows that teachers conceptualizations of citizenship education can have a tremendous
impact on the sorts of citizenship learning experiences students receive, and that these conceptualizations may pose barriers to effective social studies teaching. If effective social studies teaching
includes infusing citizenship education across the social studies curriculum, then schools and colleges of education need to attend to the three elements of teachers beliefs about citizenship that
emerged from this study that can in fact pose tangible boundary maintenance issues for teachers.
The most salient example from this study is confirmation of Onoskos (1991) finding that beliefs
about social studies as knowledge transmission can pose a barrier to higher order thinking. In a
similar fashion, this study shows that beliefs about the limited use of history content knowledge for
citizenship aims can reduce opportunities for student civic education. Teachers perceived levels of
citizen involvement, the value and usage of social studies content knowledge, and the location of
citizenship education in the curriculum can limit them to a personally responsible stance.
Westheimer and Kahnes (2004) call for attention to what type of citizen we engender is relevant.
Often it appears that teachers are able to articulate university-speak citizenship aims, but too
often the nuance of their responses suggests a different kind of citizenship than we advocate.
Professionals in the field of social studies education, therefore, should create purposeful, targeted, experiences for preservice and in-service teachers that problematize what the concept of citizenship, taking to heart Bennett and Spauldings (1992) conclusion that change must be nurtured
through negotiation and dialogue. Activities could include think pieces that ask students to justify
their location along the citizenship continuum, and modeled lessons that connect the critical questions of history to citizen agency in the present. As articulated in the literature review, fostering

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Patterson et al.

change not only takes time but also careful identification and consideration of belief systems, as it
is through these schema that new information is filtered before being assimilated (Bennett and
Spaulding, 1992; Goodman and Adler, 1985; Richardson, 1996). Questioning these beliefs systems
in ourselves and our students has the promise of impacting practice, in that, once attention has been
paid to mining belief schema, the likelihood that teachers will connect content studies to action is
greater. It has been argued that, the effect of formal instruction appears to be greater when teachers
make explicit connections between academic material and concrete actions (CIRCLE, 2003: 25).
This descriptive study offers a foundation for future research into the impact teacher conceptualizations of civic education have on formal instruction. Such studies may well help us look beyond
the notion of personally responsible citizenship by providing a heuristic device for current and
future teachers as they grapple with the generational question of how we should prepare informed,
active and justice-oriented citizens.

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Interview questions
What are your reasons for teaching social studies?
In the survey you were asked to rank order content areas in terms of importance. Where did you
rank it and why did you rank it this way?
From your perspective, what is the purpose of social studies education? How important is it to
To what extent do you feel these aims, goals, and objectives are realized in your classroom?
What factors help and/or prevent you from accomplishing these aims and goals?
You had said that characteristics of a good citizen are __________. Can you elaborate?
To what extent do you believe you are preparing students to be citizens? (Depending on answer,
move on to the following)
Tell me more about your vision of citizenship education. OR, please elaborate on your response.

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