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Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives

reviewed by Iftikhar Ahmad - 2004

coverTitle: Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives
Author(s): James A. Banks (Editor)
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787966517, Pages: 485, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

Describing the functions of a teacher, a twentieth century English philosopher, Bertrand Russell (1950), noted that a teacher should seek to produce in his pupils the kind of tolerance that springs from an endeavor to understand those who are culturally different (p. 121).  For Russell and other thoughtful humanists, the prerequisite for a democratic civic life is mutual understanding and tolerance among citizens.  Indeed, no democratic community can sustain itself unless its citizens are tolerant of each other. But tolerant citizens are not born—they are created.


More than ever in this age of global migration when democratic societies experience demographic transformations and people of different cultures and ethnicities are engaged in a variety of social, political, and economic relations with each other, the preparation of tolerant and knowledgeable citizens becomes a vital necessity. That is why the mission of citizenship education programs in multicultural democracies, which up till now stressed national unity, would surely be inadequate without including teaching and learning about diversity in curricula.


Similarly, multicultural education programs also now face a pertinent question about national unity: how to incorporate universal democratic ideals like civic equality and individual liberty into the existing perspectives on multicultural education.


In essence, then, one could argue that because democracies are in flux and the Westphalian nation-states, defined mainly by racial and ethnic homogeneity, are facing post-modern pluralist demands from within and without, it is imperative that educators rise to the occasion and fuse the curricular concepts of both citizenship education and multicultural education. This approach is timely and will help schools and classroom teachers transmit local and global civic knowledge, democratic civic values, a cosmopolitan attitude, and participation skills to students to prepare them to live in harmony with all citizens and function efficiently in multicultural democracies.


It is precisely the theme of preparing democratic citizens in multicultural nation-states that Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives has so comprehensively addressed. Perhaps this is the first research work of a global dimension ever put together on this important subject. This seems to be a pioneering work comparing the contemporary experiences of twelve nations; it also shows education researchers in other multicultural nation-states how to take inventory of their approaches to and practices in citizenship education and multicultural education.


Although each of the twelve nations researched for this volume has a different historical trajectory, manifesting in sui generis educational experiences, all face an important puzzle: how to achieve a constructive balance between unity and diversity in an age of globalization?


The volume comes out of a conference held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy in 2002. The conference participants shared their work on the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. James A. Banks, a world-renowned author and an ardent proponent of multicultural education, edited the volume in seven sections.


The first section sets the stage by introducing three theoretical frameworks on citizenship education and cultural diversity. Stephen Castle argues that the transnational migration of people creates new challenges for the nation-state. Citing the examples of Germany, France, and Australia, Castle explains how Western European nations formulate policies to address the knotty educational issues triggered by the influx of immigrants of diverse cultures. He concludes that multicultural education programs in pluralist democracies should resolve the tension between cultural diversity and social equality (p. 44).


In her essay, Aihwa Ong draws our attention to the role of higher education in relation to diversity in the global marketplace. Ong suggests that American higher education is assuming a transnational character by preparing a global community of experts who espouse neo-liberal values and challenge liberal democratic ideals in that they are essentially interested in individual success and entrepreneurship rather than becoming good citizens (p. 50).


Amy Gutmann’s insightful essay in this section introduces the concept of civic equality. In Gutmann’s view, civic equality should be the quintessential democratic value transcending all other values, including nationalism, culture, and religion (p. 74). She aptly makes the case that schools in democratic societies should teach civic equality. By stressing the primacy of the ideal of civic equality of all citizens, Gutmann does not minimize the value of multicultural education--she simply invites multiculturalists to consider an important proposition. Sometimes the cultural practices of groups may not correspond with the ideal of civic equality. In other words, all cultures are not equally venerable—the practices of some cultural groups may be undemocratic, oppressive, unjust and, therefore, unworthy of respect (p. 77). By drawing our attention to the potential dangers of unreflective group loyalty and by underscoring citizens’ moral allegiance to civic equality, social justice, and individual freedom, Gutmann seeks to strengthen the mission of multicultural education, not to quarrel with it.


The next five sections include essays on citizenship education in twelve nations. Walter C. Parker’s concluding chapter proposes ideas for citizenship education curriculum in the changing global context.


The second section examines citizenship education in the United States and Canada. Gloria Ladson-Billings’ critical analysis of the U.S. model of citizenship education discusses the contradictions between the democratic ideals of the republic and the history of racial discrimination and social and economic inequality. She argues that historically Whiteness has been the criterion for American citizenship (p. 109). Citing her prior research, she notes that African-American adolescents hardly identify with America. Indeed, as other research confirms, a deplorable disconnect exists between adolescents from the socially and economically marginalized communities and governmental institutions. What is to be done to prepare children of all races and diverse communities as civic equals? For Ladson-Billings, the answer lies in bridging the gap between the ideals of the founding documents and the realities (p. 122).


Reva Joshee’s chapter describes the evolution of Canadian approaches to citizenship education and multicultural education. Joshee suggests that because Canada was an industrial economy, initially, the purpose of its citizenship education was the creation of productive citizens.  But over time it went through several phases: from emphasizing character development to service to community to social cohesion (p. 151).


Joshee claims that Canadian educators introduced multicultural education soon after the Second World War, which means that they were far-sighted in recognizing the significance of teaching in social context. Indeed, what has been unique about the Canadian experience in citizenship education is its persistent effort in teaching about human rights and social justice. It is also heartening that Canadian educators are currently moving forward by integrating peace education and global education with citizenship education, an idea that can benefit educators everywhere. 


Section three includes two chapters on the multicultural democracies of South Africa and Brazil. Although the two nations are located on different continents, both have experienced extreme racism and oppression.  The post-apartheid South Africa is a transitional and racially divided society facing enormous challenges, especially in citizenship education. Similarly, in Brazil the descendants of the Europeans who make up the privileged class continue their hold on power. In both nations the indigenous populations and their cultures are marginalized and, therefore, citizenship education faces formidable barriers. Because the power relationship between the cultural groups is asymmetrical, it requires the state to play the role of a neutral agent in preserving the cultural identities of its people and facilitating more active participation of the marginalized groups.


The section on Europe focuses on England, Germany, and Russia. One would expect England, a mature democracy, to have introduced citizenship education programs in its schools quite a long time ago. Paradoxically, this is not the case. Peter Figueroa notes that citizenship is not a “widely understood idea” in Britain and that “people do not have a clear idea of what it means to be a citizen” (p. 220). In fact, citizenship education was officially introduced in the British schools as recently as the year 2000. Nonetheless, contemporary British researchers are showing enthusiasm about citizenship education and are busy generating a fresh discourse. One excellent idea that Figueroa proposes and which merits attention from educators everywhere, is that citizenship education should have its own identity, structure, staffing, and timetable (p. 238). 


Unlike Britain, Germany has a long tradition in citizenship education that goes back to the nineteenth century. But as Sigrid Luchtenberg notes, Germany seems less eager about granting its immigrants equal citizenship rights and integrating them into the German civic life (p. 256).  For example, the children of foreign guest workers, mainly from Turkey, who were born and raised in Germany, feel alienated from the political system. It is appalling to learn that hardly any effective citizenship education program exists in the country that adequately recognizes cultural diversity or prepares new citizens for participation in the civic life of Germany (p. 259). One would hope education policy makers in Germany would formulate policies that are more inclusive and beneficial to all children.


A third model of citizenship education in Europe is one that is in the process of emerging in the post-communist nation-states. Russia exemplifies this model. Being a transitional and multicultural democracy, Russia is discarding its former collectivist approach to citizenship education. However, the road is bumpy because the concepts of liberal democracy--individual freedom, the rule of law, and civic equality--are alien to the education community in Russia (p. 284). Nevertheless, Isak D. Froumin’s discussion on the transformation of citizenship education in Russia provides a sanguine portrayal suggesting that despite the residual Marxist attitudes, educators and policy makers are actively seeking guidance from international organizations and designing new citizenship education curricula that reflect liberal democratic ideals.     


The section on Asia examines the condition of citizenship education in Japan, India, and China. Because in social, political, and economic respects the three nation-states stand apart, their approaches to citizenship education also diverge.  Whereas Japan and China have been culturally homogeneous nations, India has always been a vast multicultural nation. Further, China is a large communist state where a collectivist ideology reigns supreme. But India and Japan are constitutional democracies with vibrant free enterprise systems.


Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu notes that Japan’s nationalist ideology glorifies homogeneity and tacitly fosters intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination against minorities (p. 329). The chapter on Japan provides a comprehensive narrative about the stresses globalization exerts on the Japanese nation-state and explains how those stresses have impinged upon citizenship education practices in schools.  T. K. Oommen’s rigorous theoretical explanation of the contradictions in citizenship education in India is insightful. In his discussion on China, Wan Minggang indicates that the concept of citizenship education is alien to the communist China and that Marxism is the basis of socialization in schools (p.361).  In sum, comparing the three nation-states in terms of their educational accomplishments in cultural pluralism and democratic civic values, there is no doubt that despite its perennial religious and ethnic conflicts and a ghastly caste system, during the past fifty years, India has certainly made much better progress than both Japan and China.


Section six includes examination of citizenship education in two nations in the Middle East--Israel and Palestine. Moshe Tatar’s critical portrayal of the inherent inconsistency in the Israeli model of citizenship education is poignant. Tatar reminds us that in rhetoric, Israel claims to be a liberal democracy. But in practice, its Zionist ideology promotes the racial dominance of one group.  Moreover, Tartar suggests that although Israel has an active citizenship education program, in reality, its core objectives are the assimilation of immigrant Jews and the marginalization of its non-Jewish population (p. 339).  Hence, the Israeli model of education for democratic citizenship guided by Zionist ideology is oxymoronic. In fact, the plight of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories is a living testimony to the Zionist model of citizenship education.


Fouad Moughrabi’s chapter validates Tatar’s account by describing citizenship education in Palestine under Israeli occupation. Although Palestine is not yet recognized as a free nation-state, it has two of the three essential ingredients: a nation and territory--the missing ingredient is sovereignty.  Nonetheless, for several decades, in the absence of a recognized nation-state and adequate resources, schools in the Palestinian refugee camps have implemented competing models of citizenship education. Some of those models have emphasized Palestinian identity, and others have underscored liberal democratic values.


In the concluding chapter Walter C. Parker sums up the debate by suggesting that national and sub-national citizenship education programs no longer meet the needs of diverse populations and, therefore, curriculum decision makers need to expand the “scale and vision” of their programs beyond their borders. Parker proposes a transnationally deliberated curriculum that is created through democratic deliberation among educators around the world. The proposed curriculum would integrate the goals and purposes of both citizenship education and multicultural education programs.


Bertrand Russell would have appreciated the mission of Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives because, essentially, this book is about people. It addresses the concern Russell had about the significance of teaching tolerance in schools. It is a commendable work in that its contributors profoundly enhance our understanding of the broad spectrum of practices in citizenship education in a variety of social, political, and cultural contexts. It illustrates brilliantly how powerful global and domestic non-state actors and institutions impinge upon the education policies of sovereign nation-states. As a consequence of the transnational and internal migration of people, both affluent and developing nation-states are experiencing unprecedented stresses on their raison d’etre. The assumptions of traditional approaches to citizenship education reflecting mostly the worldview of the powerful groups are becoming increasingly untenable. In other words, the hegemony of nationalism in the citizenship education curricula seems to be facing a new challenge from multicultural education and thereby losing its erstwhile luster. We are making progress.  As Parker so aptly raises the question of the global diffusion of corporate capitalism, I suggest that a transnationally deliberated curriculum on citizenship education and multicultural education will not be far behind.     




Russell, B. (1950). The functions of a teacher. Unpopular essays. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 112-123.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 8, 2004, p. 1570-1575
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11276, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 8:17:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Iftikhar Ahmad
    Long Island University
    E-mail Author
    IFTIKHAR AHMAD, a professor of education at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, is the author of Citizenship Education: Political Scientists' Struggle for the Social Studies Curriculum (American Book Publishing).
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