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Negotiating the Global and National: Immigrant and Dominant-Culture Adolescents’ Vocabularies of Citizenship in a Transnational World


by John P. Myers & Husam A. Zaman — 2009

Background/Context: The current national debate over the purposes of civic education is largely tied to outdated notions of citizenship that overlook its changing nature under globalization. Civic education is based on a legalistic understanding of citizenship that emphasizes patriotism and the structures and functions of government. This study examined adolescents’ civic beliefs and affiliations, drawing on theories of transnational and global citizenship.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose was to examine diverse adolescents’ vocabularies of citizenship, a concept that captures the tensions in their civic beliefs and affiliations. Their vocabularies were explored in terms of two topics at the intersection of national and global affiliations: universal human rights and global citizenship. The central question asked was: How do adolescents from immigrant backgrounds understand the tensions between national and global civic affiliations, and do they differ from dominant-culture adolescents’ understandings?

Setting: The research setting was the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for International Studies, a 5-week summer program for high school students that emphasizes current scholarship and skills in international affairs, cultural studies, and foreign language.

Research Design: A mixed-method case study design was employed to collect detailed and rich data on the students’ beliefs about citizenship.

Findings/Results: The findings showed that the students from immigrant backgrounds favored universal positions and were the only students to call attention to national economic inequalities. In contrast, a majority of the dominant-culture students gave a more central role to national affiliations. However, over half of the students switched between universal and nationally oriented positions for the issues of global citizenship and human rights. It is argued that these switches represent a strong indication of the tensions in civic affiliations in light of globalization.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings presented here suggest that the question of either national- or global-oriented civic education makes little sense. This research suggests that differentiated forms of civic education are needed if all youth will have access to full citizenship and the range of civic affiliations needed in the world. Two approaches for reconceptualizing civic education are proposed: Civic education curricula should focus on the intersection of national with global issues and affiliations, and civic education should address, in addition to civic attitudes, skills, and knowledge, a conscious effort to help adolescents build flexible and multiple civic identities.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 11, 2009, p. 2589-2625
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15445, Date Accessed: 12/16/2017 3:49:52 PM

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About the Author
  • John Myers
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    JOHN P. MYERS is an assistant professor of social studies education in the Department of Instruction and Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in 2005 from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto in curriculum, teaching and learning, with a specialization in comparative and international education. Currently, he is director of the University of Pittsburgh site of the UNESCO Transatlantic Slave Trade Project. His research interests focus on education for global citizenship, globalization and education, cross-cultural approaches to citizenship education, human rights education, and political discourse in the classroom. Recent publications include "Citizenship Education Practices of Teachers Active in Social Movement and Formal Politics in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Toronto, Canada,” Comparative Education Review (2007), and “Making Sense of a Globalizing World: Adolescents’ Explanatory Frameworks for Poverty,” Theory and Research in Social Education (2008).
  • Husam Zaman
    Taibah University
    E-mail Author
    HUSAM A. ZAMAN is an assistant professor of comparative education at Taibah University. He received his PhD in 2006 from the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Administration and Policy Studies. Currently, he is Chair of Foundations of the Education Department and founding director of the Quality and Accreditation Center at Taibah University. His research interests include citizenship education, socialization agents in higher education, higher education policy, and quality in higher education. He is the author of “Escaping From the Classroom: Teachers’ Attrition in Saudi Arabia” and “Vouchers in Higher Education: A Proposal for Expanding Higher Education Enrollment in Saudi Arabia,” both by the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia (2007).
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