“Being a good American: Citizenship education at a U.S. High School.”
William S. New
Citizenship education in the United State has historically taken many forms. Since Horace Mann laid the foundations for the common school in the mid-19th century, many have claimed that producing citizens is the prime function of public education, and a necessity for the maintenance of a healthy democracy. Others have taken a more functional view on the role of schools in educating citizens, focusing their attention on the acquisition of foundational skills like literacy and numeracy, and some knowledge of government. Citizenship education “for” democracy has always been confounded by the stark inequalities, and lack of democratic processes, that characterize most American schools. This ethnographic essay explores these topics through an investigation of citizenship education in one “diverse” American high school, where competing agendas and principles are readily visible in curricula and school management. The essay concludes by asking not just how citizenship education is delivered, but what kinds of citizens are envisioned, and what kinds are produced.