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Creating Socially Responsible Citizens: Cases from the Asia-Pacific Region

reviewed by Ralf Maslowski - May 17, 2013

coverTitle: Creating Socially Responsible Citizens: Cases from the Asia-Pacific Region
Author(s): John J. Cogan & David L. Grossman (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 161735953X, Pages: 182, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

This book originates from a collaborative research initiative to examine how various societies in the Asia-Pacific Region construct moral and civic education, and to what extent education systems in the region achieve the democratic objective of creating socially responsible citizens. The term ‘socially responsible citizen’ is deliberately chosen as it reflects key features of citizenship education in the region, which is “characterized more by conceptions of moral virtues and personal values than by civic and public values” (p. 5). The book explores this topic through six case studies describing civic and moral education in Hong Kong, Macau, Hawai’i, Japan, South Korea, and Mexico. Preceding the case studies is a general chapter by King, which outlines six precepts of social justice, and how these are to be addressed in teaching. Based on these contributions, the editors of the book conclude with some overall insights regarding civic and moral education in the Asia-Pacific Region.

The book offers some interesting cases on civic and moral education. Hong Kong and Macau, for example, both concern relatively small geographical areas that faced a dramatic change in sovereignty during the late 1990s. These changes, however, did not affect civic and moral education as much as one would expect. Leung and Yuen note that political education in Hong Kong has been an emotionally charged subject – both in colonial times under British Rule and nowadays being a Special Administrative Region of China. The authors observe that education policy in Hong Kong has tried to depoliticize civic education by emphasizing moral and interpersonal aspects for many years – and it still does. Vong reports similar observations for Macau, where citizenship education is directed towards the development of a cultural identity and national consciousness rather than political literacy. Although both Leung and Yuen, and Vong discuss the demarcation between the colonial and Chinese sovereignty to some degree, it remains elusive from their accounts of moral and civic education what its actual impact was on the behavior of teachers, school rules and student policies, and student behavior. For a more informed sense on how educational systems try to develop students into socially responsible citizens, and how this works out, this is an inevitable link.  

Another interesting case in the book is Hawai’i. Given its geographic location, the cultural context of its area, and its diverse ethnic population, Hawai’i is an interesting blend of Anglo-American and Asian-Pacific influences that have formed Hawaiian moral and civic education. Although this blend contains elements that revert to native Hawaiian values, moral education in Hawai’i is nevertheless clearly shaped by US conceptions of character education. Reed’s account of character education in Hawai’i suggests that this bond to the US is guided by structural characteristics of the US education system and US education policy. Civic education hardly gains attention, for example, as it is not formally tested due to the strong focus on basic competencies under the No Child Left Behind policy. Moreover, textbooks are manufactured by just a few publishers based on requirements of some major US states, requiring smaller states to adopt these as well. Moreover, Reed argues that ‘Positive Action’ is adopted by several Hawaiian schools as it is classified as an ‘evidence-based’ program, and therefore funded by the government. Through these kind of indirect influences, Reed argues, moral and civic education in Hawai’i follows US forms to a large extent.

Case studies from Japan and South Korea reveal that citizenship education in these countries does not feature a long tradition. As national policies in Japan regarding citizenship education suffered, according to Higashi, from a too theoretical, distant approach, over the past years local governments have taken the lead in developing programs for citizenship education, with Shinagawa City as the main forerunner. Although the accounts of Shinagawa’s program are certainly promising, the objectives and topics addressed as well as the approach chosen do not differ from programs in the United States or many European countries. Moreover, scholars from these countries might be even be disappointed when looking at these Japanese ‘best practices’ for getting ideas on socially responsible citizenship, as Higashi suggests that a rather narrow, economic and adaption-oriented view is adopted in Shinagawa, where “a socially responsible citizen can be defined as a person who prepares him- or herself to become a productive citizen, who actively engages in economic activities, and who respects the social norm” (p. 117). South Korea, as Moon argues, has been subject to radical changes over the past few decades. As a result, Korean people are in need of civic competences that better suit the requirement of their current and future society – hence placing an immense duty on its educators. Although Moon positively addresses these duties as challenges that provide great opportunities for improving citizenship education, South Korea in fact appears to face serious problems in this area for which no apparent solutions seem to be at hand. Rather than having a clear conception of what socially responsible citizenship means, and how this is to be achieved – from which other countries could benefit – Moon paints a picture of South Korea in need of outside help to deal with the problems they are facing.

Luna-Elizarraras indicates that citizenship education in Mexico boasts a long history. Recently, the previous formal and abstract form was changed towards an approach that is more strongly based on students’ experiences. However, despite these changes citizenship education in practice still largely thrives on knowledge to be transmitted, based on nationally approved textbooks, and tested through regular assessments. Although Luna-Elizarraras’ account of Mexican citizenship education is probably one of the most informative chapters in the book, due to the different geographical location, and the rather different approach of citizenship education adopted in Mexico, the case is nevertheless an outsider for which it remains unclear for what reasons (other than pragmatic ones) it is included in the book. This is also one of the main criticisms on the publication. Although many case studies are valuable in itself, the basis for a discussion on citizenship education in the Asia-Pacific Region with four (or five at best) ‘entities’ is rather narrow, and seriously limits the significance of the endeavor undertaken.

Moreover, the book holds the promise that in the Asia-Pacific Region a ‘different kind’ of citizenship education is developed, harmoniously combining moral and civic elements. As policy-makers in many countries in the Western world deal with tensions between moral and civic education in developing ‘socially responsible citizens,’ they may hope to find useful suggestions in the book that help them shape citizenship education in their country. With these expectations in mind, however, the book is not able to redeem the promise. In Hong Kong and Macau citizenship education does not explicitly address civic competences of students and is more directed towards the transmission of traditional values than towards a critical democratic perspective. In Japan and South Korea, local and national governments are still largely exploring how to implement citizenship education in school.

Furthermore, the book fails to sufficiently address the similarities and differences between the various countries and areas. Although the editors report some major observations in their concluding chapter, they do not elaborate on these issues nor do they attempt to explain for what reason similarities or differences between countries and areas exist. Especially with regard to the relationship between moral and civic education, and the way it is dealt with in the Asia-Pacific Region, the editors hardly discuss these issues based on the case studies in the book. To conclude, although the topic of the book is most interesting and many of the case studies are valuable, the book nevertheless has missed an opportunity for it falls short in discussing and explaining similarities and differences in adopting moral and civic education in the Region.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 17, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17125, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 10:59:53 PM

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About the Author
  • Ralf Maslowski
    University of Groningen
    E-mail Author
    RALF MASLOWSKI is assistant professor at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. His studies focus on school organisation and the effects of educational policies, with a strong interest on the impact of civic and citizenship education on student competencies. He published several reports and articles in scientific journals on citizenship education, and is co-editor of a recent book on European citizenship in schools, entitled Internationalisation in Secondary Education in Europe. With Greetje van der Werf he has been NRC for the ICCS 2009 study in the Netherlands, and is currently member of the Dutch national Alliance on citizenship education.
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