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"Advanced" Ideas about Democracy: Toward a Pluralist Conception of Citizen Education


by Walter C. Parker - 1996

Citizenship education is probably the most popular stated mission for public schooling in the United States, but it rests on a feeble conception of democratic citizenship that skirts social and cultural diversity. The effect, oddly enough, is a citizenship education that is unclear about its relationship with multicultural education, and sometimes positioned defensively toward it. Here I outline a conception of democratic citizenship that is appropriate to pluralist societies--a conception on which a renewed, deepened citizenship education might proceed.


Citizenship education is probably the most popular stated mission for public schooling in the United States, but it rests on a feeble conception of democratic citizenship that skirts social and cultural diversity. The effect, oddly enough, is a citizenship education that is unclear about its relationship with multicultural education, and sometimes positioned defensively toward it. Here I outline a conception of democratic citizenship that is appropriate to pluralist societies—a conception on which a renewed, deepened citizenship education might proceed.


Not being self-sufficient when they are isolated, all individuals are so many parts all equally depending on the whole which alone can bring self-sufficiency.


—Aristotle, Politics


There is a democratic education problem in the United States. The young are not learning properly to care for the body politic and the body politic is not adequately caring for the young. If parents, citizens, and educators (distinct roles played sometimes by the same person) are to grapple with this problem successfully, it will be necessary, among other things, to take a fresh look at an old idea in American education—democratic citizenship education. I want in this space to suggest a deepened and expanded meaning for this key idea. My concern is that much is excluded by the conventional conception, two things especially: first, pluralism, or the social and cultural dimensions of citizenship; second, the central tension of modern social life—the tension between unity and diversity. After these exclusions, we are left with a feeble conception, one that mirrors the long-standing confusion in the United States over the meaning of one of its chief mottoes, the one it has put on its coins: e pluribus unum.


Let me place my effort here against three recent events on the democratic landscape, for each is a poignant argument against democratic business-as-usual. The first, set in eastern Europe, portrays the submersion of democratic activist women in Poland following the collapse of the socialist dictatorship. Elzbieta Matynia (1994), now at the New School for Social Research in New York, returned to her native and “already virtually ‘post-Communist’ Poland” after an eight-year absence. What struck her was the


almost total absence of those capable women who had played such an active and essential role in the clandestine operations of the prodemocratic movements of the ’70s and ’80s. I knew many of them well and had been active along with them, but, like them, I had never defined the crucial problems in terms of gender. The primary objective of every social protest and movement then was to fight for the political rights of all members of society. All other issues seemed to be of secondary importance; it was felt that these problems could be dealt with after the final battle for democracy had been won. But now, watching the free-wheeling debates in the new Parliament and reading about those newly created democratic institutions, I found myself wondering where all the women were. (pp. 351–352)


The second scene, also set in eastern Europe, is the triumphant one atop the Berlin Wall when democratic activists, having toppled the East German regime, took sledgehammers to its singular symbol. Shortly thereafter, however, they watched in despair as their democratic revolution was ousted from the streets of Berlin only “to become enmeshed in the monopolistic party politics of the Federal Republic” (Green, 1993, p. 18). The upsurge of fresh, participatory democracy was over. Nominal, representative, interest-group demo-bureaucracy, or what Americans disdainfully call “Beltway Politics,” had set in.


The third scene, set on another continent, summarizes the first two. It is Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989. Among many unforgettable moments was one captured by Vincent Harding (1990).1 One young Chinese woman, shortly before government troops crushed the uprising, told a Western television reporter that what Chinese students and intellectuals wanted from the United States was its “advanced technology.” The reporter asked if the protesters were not interested also in any American ideas, such as democracy. Her response came quickly: “Yes, but only if they are advanced ideas about democracy” (p. 33).


Fused together, these three scenes from afar fashion a reflective mirror in which American educators can ponder the meaning of American citizenship in general and citizenship education curricula in particular. Common to these scenes is a problem that is relevant to existing and would-be democracies everywhere: the double failure of institutionalized democracy to address its own substantive shortcomings while at the same time believing itself to be fully developed, a sort of final solution to the puzzle of living together or what Francis Fukuyama called the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” (1992, p. xi). The Polish and Berlin scenes concentrate on two shortcomings in particular—the marginalization of cultural minorities and the stifling routines of big-party politics—while the Chinese scene expresses the possibility that something better can be devised, that “advanced” versions can be concocted. The question is thus raised: Should citizenship education in the United States continue to roll along as it has for a century, relying on rituals and slogans that belie the double failure here at home? Can citizenship education, both as a curricular program and as a school mission, continue to ignore yearnings for a kind of democratic citizenship that serious democrats could embrace?


At issue is a conception of citizenship that has been remarkably helpful in the struggle to secure individual rights and to limit government power. These are enormous achievements, as anyone with a modicum of historical literacy will understand. Still, the conception remains narrow, defensive, and exclusive. It could be called “modern.” Modern citizenship was constructed in a way that made the development of modern democracy possible, to be sure, but at the same time, paradoxically, an obstacle to its own possibilities—to what Chantal Mouffe (1992) calls a deepening and widening of the democratic revolution.


I will begin with three preliminaries: stating an assumption, clarifying the need for new thinking on this old topic, and characterizing the kind of conceptual work I am undertaking. Following this, I portray the dominant conception of democratic citizenship education—both its traditional and progressive wings. Finally, I delineate three “advanced” ideas, borrowing on the young woman’s usage in Tiananmen Square. These three ideas, I argue, should be helpful to curriculum theorists and planners who are seeking a more satisfying conception of democratic citizenship and, in turn, democratic citizenship education.

PRELIMINARIES


I am assuming that democratic citizenship education is one of the central aims of public schools generally and the social studies curriculum in particular. This is not a wild assumption. One has a hard time finding a state or school district curriculum document that does not trumpet “the preparation of students for informed citizenship in our democratic society,” or something to this effect (Goodlad, 1979; Parker, 1991). The new sets of curriculum standards for Social Studies, Civics and Government, and History—all published in 1994—do this as well, and we know that educators speak often to the importance of this aim (e.g., Butts, 1980; Cremin, 1989; Pratte, 1988; Soder, 1996).


This assumption is not without problems, of course. Chief among them is the well-known gap between school aims and practices: between mission statements and daily life in schools. In some ways, democratic citizenship education is a program waiting to happen. A diverse student body has been gathered in the common school, has been in fact waiting there for some time now, but the potential afforded by this gathering for serious democratic education has not been approached on a wide scale. Also, the assumption is not without competition. The vision of schools as preparation sites for the labor force is a resilient one, too. The school’s allocating role—assuring that most students are educated for check-out lines and voting booths while only a few are educated for board rooms and legislatures—is by all counts flourishing. The school’s civic mission is alive, but it is not alone.


Second, the attempt to specify the meaning of democracy for curriculum purposes is not new. Dewey (1916), Rugg (1939), Hanna (1936), Griffin (1942/1992), Hunt and Metcalf (1968), Engle (1960), Oliver and Shaver (1966/1974), Newmann (1975), Butts (1980), the authors of Civitas (Center for Civic Education, 1991), and, most recently, Ralph Nader (Isaac, 1992) all have done it, sometimes quite well.2 New thinking is needed, however, for two reasons. One has to do with new insights, the other with old blind spots.


As for insights, there has been a surge of new theorizing on citizenship in recent decades, all the more since the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The literatures on which citizenship educators might draw—most importantly political science, history, sociology, philosophy, and literary criticism—have been destabilized, their centers of gravity shifting and searching. Nationalism, liberalism, manifest destiny, imperialism, and antitotalitarianism took up a good portion of this literature base in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Following suit, citizenship educators developed often contradictory curricula on propaganda resistance, “Americanization,” critical thinking, and the mechanics of republicanism. The best of this work was based on the foundational values of “individual freedom and human dignity” (Oliver & Shaver, 1966/1974, p. 9). These Enlightenment values clearly are essential and must be retained as bearing walls in whatever conception educators might now try to build. They no longer are of sufficient power, however, to compose the whole structure. They can no longer take up all of what Jane Roland Martin calls the “curriculum space” (1994), for they are too easily appropriated by the individualistic obsession with rights, self-interest, and property.


A second reason for engaging in new thinking on democracy for curriculum purposes is the emergence of lucid challenges to blind spots in mainstream theorizing on citizenship and citizenship education. The newer fields of women’s studies and critical race studies are disclosing the extraordinary depth and breadth of the assimilationist ideology that undergirds public education still today. Education policymakers laboring in the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries were mostly native-born, white, middle and upper-middle class, and male. Generally, they took their own vantage point for granted, assuming it to be neutral and universal. They did not “think of themselves simply as one group among many—nonbrown, nonfemale, nonimmigrant, nonpoor—but instead regarded their own values and interests as the standard” (Tyack, 1993, p. 11). I must presume I would have done no better. Privileged groups usually believe they are “the inclusive kind of human . . . the norm and the ideal” (Greene, 1993, p. 215). As David Wellman (1977) writes,


Given the racial and class organization of American society, there is only so much people can “see.” The positions they occupy in these structures limit the range of their thinking. The situation places barriers on their imaginations and restricts the possibilities of their vision. (p. 235)


Estimable work on democratic citizenship education has been done, to be sure, and some extraordinary school programs have been developed. This work did not always reflect on its own subject position, however. Typically it did not articulate difference or recognize “the specificity and multiplicity of democratic demands” (Mouffe, 1989, p. 7). Now that new literatures are blossoming, however, and older ones are being challenged by new perspectives, citizenship educators are in a position to reconsider what they mean when they say “democracy,” “citizenship,” and “multicultural education.”

ESSENTIALLY CONTESTED CONCEPTS


Meanings are anything but inert. They double as aims, platforms, and projects. Even when terms such as “democracy,” “citizenship,” and “multicultural education” have been clarified somewhat in a particular speech community, and its members share with one another some common sense of what it is they are talking about, still meanings proliferate and battle with one another. When diverse speech communities interact, the contestation only increases. Debate, coercion, silencing, insisting, negotiating, and the like—with these we enter the region of conceptual work composed of what W. B. Gallie (1955–1956) called essentially contested concepts (ECCs).


Any reasonably well clarified concept is, of course, open to argument, even “chair” or “pencil.” Ideas are made, not found, and their making is entangled in social hierarchies. ECCs are unique among the universe of concepts not because they are constructed but because the problem of their proper usage is marked by continual debate. This is a slippery distinction, but helpful. Ideas such as “social studies” and “morality” and “art” probably for the whole length of their usage have been ECCs, at least among some users. “Race,” on the other hand, and “sexual orientation” only have more recently become ECCs. We thought we knew what they meant; now “we” are not sure. Such concepts are dynamic hybrids, McCarthy and Crichlow (1993) observe, “the product of encounters between and among differently located human groups . . . the product of human interests, needs, desires, strategies, capacities, forms of organization, and forms of mobilization” (p. xv).


The social construction of meaning in any moment and place occurs more openly and vigorously on some subjects and topics than on others. Where it is more so, we have ECCs. Where it is less so, we have stabilized meanings, perhaps even essentialized meanings that seem to be natural, like water, not made, like a castle. It follows that politics pervades debates on ECCs. Some mix of negotiation and coercion is involved. Through negotiation among more-or-less equal players a particular meaning takes shape and wins agreement. Majority and minority opinions emerge. With power, however, persons and groups can impose meanings without debate or negotiation. This is not uncommon.3 For example, those who define the ECC “multicultural education” as tribalism or try to persuade their audiences that multicultural education is equivalent to Afrocentrism (e.g., Schlesinger, 1991) have had more power, money, and influence than moderate, mainstream multicultural scholars who define it much differently but lack the means to launch their definitions into parlance. The former have been able, therefore, to take the offensive and set the agenda for the debate.

THE DOMINANT CONCEPTION OF CITIZENSHI P EDUCATION: DIFFERENCE AS DISSOLUTION


In The Federalist No. 2, John Jay wrote that Americans were one ethnic group—”descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.” They were, he said, a “band of brethren.” The brethren faced a common danger, he wrote, which was their dissolution into “a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.” Jay wrote these words on behalf of winning approval for a document that was aimed, as the Call for the Federal Constitutional Convention in February of 1787 put it, at overcoming “defects in the present Confederation [and] establishing in these states a firm national government.”


Jay’s assertion reveals something important: The United States’ longstanding difficulty negotiating the tension between unity and diversity was present at the creation. The conflict between the one and the many goes all the way back. More central to my purpose than showing this tension to be an old one, however, is showing that its meaning is oblique. The tension between unity and difference or “oneness” and “manyness” (Walzer, 1992a) is not a straightforward one between a desire for enough community to satisfy common needs (e.g., safety, heat and lights, water purification, trade, defense, waste disposal) while otherwise leaving people free to flourish in their differences. Rather, it is skewed off to one side, the unity side, by a garrison mentality that fends off the other side, pluralism, fearing the fragile unity’s collapse and straining to narrow the range of allowable difference. On this conception of unity/difference, diversity of the political kind is sanctioned to a greater extent than diversity of the social and cultural kind. For example, differences of opinion on matters of common concern (i.e., public policy questions) receive some attention while differences of religion, language, race, ethnicity, and gender are moved off to the sidelines in the name of an official policy of “color blindness” and neutrality.


I will elaborate the neutrality premise later, but let me first pursue a bit further the narrow conception of unity/difference. Recall that European- American men without property along with all women were disenfranchised at the creation of the United States, and that African-American men and women generally were regarded as chattel. Native peoples were simply a scourge to be contained or, perhaps, assimilated and, in these ways, eliminated or killed off outright. The “brethren’s” response to these Others makes it clear that the working conception of difference at the creation attended more or less exclusively to just one kind of difference: difference of opinion among insiders on matters of mutual concern (e.g., taxation, representation, property law). A more inclusive conception of difference, one that might include gender or even race, was not necessary at the top of the status hierarchy, in the realm of governance, for these differences were not to be found there.


The narrow conception is revealed as well in James Madison’s argument in The Federalist No. 10. The chief advantage of a “well-constructed Union,” Madison wrote, was its ability to “break and control” factions. By faction he meant “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” This was man-to-man talk, insider to insider.


The narrow conception holds today. It pervades citizenship education and explains at least some of the failure of both citizenship education and multicultural education to be taken seriously in many school settings (Sleeter, 1992). It is a conception that seeks to control the expression of political diversity, holding it at bay, while ignoring or opposing the vigorous expression of social and cultural diversity. If the conception had a motto, it might read: Contain political diversity; constrain social and cultural diversity.


Ironically, this is the meaning of the actual motto, e pluribus unum. This phrase is interpreted generally to mean “from manyness, oneness.” Not alongside manyness, but from manyness. This means transcending difference, conquering and overcoming it. Perhaps difference should be tolerated, yes, and tolerance might be valued as a civic virtue. But there is a withholding, reluctant quality to tolerance. The reluctance can be seen not only in Jay’s “brethren” discourse but, to some degree, in the recent communitarian calls for homogeneous, organic community (e.g., Bellah et al., 1985; Etzioni, 1993).4 Both the Federalist and communitarian views shy away from social heterogeneity, regarding it a danger. Both avoid to some degree a conception of the relationship of unity to difference that would allow political oneness to exist with (alongside) social and cultural diversity. On this broader conception, diversity does not need to be conquered or colonized, nor even transcended. It can be fostered.

CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION


But it is the narrower conception that undergirds the citizenship education literature in the United States. This is true on both its traditional and progressive wings. I turn to these now.


On the traditional wing is the familiar values-knowledge-skills theme advanced by R. Freeman Butts (1980) and others. Citizenship education, he wrote, “embraces the fundamental values of the political community, a realistic and scholarly knowledge of the working of political institutions and processes, and the skills of political behavior required for effective participation in a democracy” (p. 122). Emphasized mainly is teaching the young to hold the “office of citizen,” meaning one who votes, develops opinions on matters of public concern, holds dear commitments to liberty and justice, and has a deep understanding of the mechanics of democratic government, from its three branches to its protection of individual rights. Harry Boyte (1994) calls this “mainstream civics,” and criticizes the recent Civitas curriculum framework (1991) for not reaching beyond it. That 600- page text expresses the traditional wing’s bias that politics is what politicians and government officials do while citizens mainly vote for them and then watch what they do.


Scholars on the progressive wing, at least those who are careful, do not denigrate this knowledge base in particular nor wish generally to do away with knowledge bases. They do not regard disciplinary knowledge as a problem or an outmoded tool. They are not generally fixated on “processes” and “skills” and integrated education, as their traditionalist detractors like to claim. Scholars on this wing spend a good deal of time specifying the knowledge base, but they work also on developing the “intellectual framework [that] will be used to guide the teacher and, in turn, the student in handling these materials” (Oliver & Shaver, 1966/1974; see also Oliver, 1957, and Stanley & Nelson, 1994). Perhaps the fact that any serious attention at all is paid to an “intellectual framework” for interpreting and using data distinguishes this wing. A more sharply distinguishing characteristic, however, is that progressives want a more participatory, direct form of citizenship. Direct democracy emphasizes the many ways people can behave in the citizen role other than by voting, campaigning for a representative, or running for elected office. Emphasized is the development of “public agency—people’s capacities to act with effect and with public spirit” (Boyte, 1994, p. 417)—along with rehabilitating citizens’ capacity for phronesis or practical reasoning. Here is Fred Newmann’s citizen action curriculum (1975), Shirley Engle’s decision-making model (1960), Paul Hanna’s Youth Serves the Community (1936), the 1916 Commission’s “Problems of Democracy” course, Oliver and Shaver’s jurisprudential framework (1966/1974), Kohlberg’s “just community” discussions (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989), Pratte’s community service (1988), Howard and Kenny’s schoolwide governance programs (1992), Stanley and Whitson’s practical competence curriculum (1992), and Vivian Paley’s remarkable model for moral discourse in kindergarten classrooms (1992).


At the heart of the progressive critique of traditional citizenship education is disappointment with orthodox liberalism. Liberal democracy celebrates the civil and political rights of individuals and representative/republican government. Meanwhile, the political economy of liberal democracy renders participatory citizenship superfluous and creates what Anne Phillips calls “liberal democratic minimalism” (1993). Made into spectators rather than citizens, adults are left to preoccupy themselves with their rights. Consequently, civic discourse degenerates to “rights talk” (Glendon, 1991) and phronesis (practical competence) is replaced by dependency on experts, representatives, and victimology.


Traditionalists want more study, progressives want more practice. Traditionalists concentrate on knowledge of the republican system, progressives on this plus deliberation on public issues, problem-solving/community action that brings together people of various identities, and other forms of direct and deliberate participation in state matters as well as in the middle sector or “civil society” (Walzer 1992b), that is, the public space between government and private interests. Progressives, then, are more exacting in their interpretation of popular sovereignty. Democracy, for them, is “the form of politics that brings people together as citizens” (Dietz, 1992, p. 75). Progressives oppose limiting citizenship activity to voting for representatives who, in turn, are the only people who think and behave like citizens. “People who simply drop scraps of paper in a box or pull a lever,” writes community organizer Karl Hess (1979), “are not acting like citizens; they are acting like consumers, picking between prepackaged political items” (p. 10). Traditionalists, on the other hand, are content with this scheme for it is integral to the faction-controlling, dissolution-fearing, republican vision articulated by Jay.


Despite the progressive wing’s expectation that citizens act like citizens, still this wing minimizes social and cultural heterogeneity. Both wings believe that what matters most are the civil and political relations among the brethren—those citizens who are secured within the unum and whose differences, therefore, are disagreements on matters of common concern. By distancing matters of race, gender, and ethnicity from the central concerns of governmental and direct democracy, the progressives, like the traditionalists, are limited in their ability to advance contemporary thinking about the unity/difference tension or what is arguably the central citizenship question of our time: How can we live together justly, in ways that are mutually satisfying, and that leave our differences, both individual and group, intact and our multiple identities recognized?


Thus, the two wings share the narrow conception of unity and difference. This conception has only one viable approach to the unity/difference tension, only one tool at its disposal, and that is assimilation. Assimilation is thus built into the common sense of citizenship education as one of its bearing walls. Whether one elaborates the construct in progressive or traditional ways, still a “band of brethren” vision dominates the citizenship construction site. Social and cultural diversity, having been driven away from this site, had to find attention in what, remarkably, became an altogether different literature: multicultural education.

“ADVANCED” IDEAS ABOUT DEMOCRACY


A more fully articulated conception of citizenship education would have to incorporate the ideals of public agency, citizen action, and practical politics—that is, direct democracy, which the progressive wing has done quite well. But this alone would not widen the conception sufficiently to include social and cultural difference or what has been called “the new cultural politics of difference” (West, 1993) and the “politics of recognition” (Taylor, 1994). This is precisely what an “advanced” (borrowing the Tiananmen Square usage) concept of citizenship education must incorporate. To accomplish this, it should be helpful now to bring two additional ideas forward. Both are tensions, really, one concerning the ends of democratic participation, the other the contest between pluralism and assimilation.

PATH/ACCOMPLISHMENT


Tied to the participatory idea is a view of democracy as a path or journey.5 Dewey (1916, 1927) called this creative democracy, by which he meant that democracy is a way of individual living with others, a way of being. It has no end other than the path itself. Ends arise on the path, “right within the process of problem solving, not prior to it” (Lee, 1965, p. 129; emphasis in original). It follows on this view that there is “no period, either in the past or the present, that serves as a model for democracy” (Phillips, 1993, p. 2). Viewed as a creative, constructive process, democracy is not already accomplished, in which case citizens today need only to celebrate and protect it, but a trek that citizens in a pluralist society make together. It is a political path, a tradition of sorts, that unites them, not a culture, language, or religion. The ratification of the Constitution and the several democratic struggles that followed (ending slavery, extending the franchise to women, and tackling Jim Crow, for example) hardly closed the book on democracy in the United States; they hardly dispensed with its possibilities. The work called democracy is not now finished. The need for this work arises anew, within itself, continually.


To be able to think about the democratic path as a tradition, we must reject, as did Hans-Georg Gadamer (1984), the false opposition between tradition and reason. This opposition denies the role of reason in the cultivation and affirmation of traditions just as it ignores the traditions within which people do their reasoning. “Politics,” writes Michael Oakeshott (1967), “springs neither from instant desires, nor from general principles, but from the existing traditions of behavior themselves” (p. 123). “The form it [politics] takes,” he continues, “because it can take no other, is the amendment of existing arrangements by exploring and pursuing what is intimated in them.” Thus can Richard Rorty (1989) express his wish that children be taught to consider themselves heirs to a dynamic “tradition” that sponsors a continual deepening of democracy and a continual rethinking of its tenets. He calls this a tradition “of increasing liberty and rising hope.” Children should think of themselves


as proud and loyal citizens of a country that, slowly and painfully, threw off a foreign yoke, freed its slaves, enfranchised its women, restrained its robber barons and licensed its trade unions, liberalized its religious practices and broadened its religious and moral tolerance, and built colleges in which 50 percent of its population could enroll—a country that numbered Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eugene V. Debs, Susan B. Anthony, and James Baldwin among its citizens. (p. 22)


This does not mean that democratic citizens do not pursue specific social and economic ends. Of course they do, for this is what politics is. The path is not without clamor and rancor. Self-governance is disagreeable, and the democratic path is no way out of that. Rather,


it is best to say that this is a vision fixed not on an end but rather inspired by a principle—freedom—and by a political activity—positive liberty. That activity is a demanding process that never ends, for it means engaging in public debate and sharing responsibility for self-government. (Dietz, 1992, p. 77)


The principle and activity about which Dietz writes together cut the path, defining it in a most rudimentary way. Individual freedoms (rights; “negative liberties” or freedoms from) are guaranteed, citizens are held to written law, they agree to regard one another as essentially equal and in possession of the full measure of human dignity, and they require of each other a measure of prudent restraint so that change can be accomplished without leaving the path altogether. The path requires, as Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), that citizens not ignore what one another are doing—that they poke their noses where they do belong. This is, perhaps, the most difficult path requirement for the many contemporary democratic citizens who wish mainly to be left alone, to be unencumbered by neighbors or priests or, God forbid, “the Government.” Still, recalling Aristotle’s Politics (quoted at the beginning of this article), Jacobs lets no polis-dweller wriggle free from the shared path, which she invokes as the city sidewalk:


In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn—if they learn it at all—the first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson nobody learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties of kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility take a modicum of public responsibility for you. (p. 82; emphasis in original)


Beyond these attributes, the path relies on qualities of the sort Plato’s (1961) Protagoras asked about: “Are there not some qualities of which all the citizens must be partakers if there is to be a city at all?” I take these to be practical judgment, a shared fund of civic knowledge, and deliberation skills and dispositions. These civic competencies evidently are not naturally occurring in humans (they theoretically may be, of course, but the historical record surely indicates otherwise), and while they can be nurtured in families they cannot be fully developed in them. They must be “created,” Dewey (1916) argued, and this can be done “only by education” (p. 93). Here is the mandate for civic education in schools, on city sidewalks, and in other public spaces where children from diverse families find themselves on common ground.

PLURALISM/ASSIMILATION


I have sketched two advanced ideas so far. The first, participatory citizenship, tries to take popular sovereignty seriously. It emphasizes forms of public agency beyond voting and requires, in turn, a kind of democratic education that would form, or at least inform, such activity. The second concentrates on democracy as an ongoing way of shared living rather than an achievement that needs only protection and celebration. On this view, it is the path itself—the tradition of “increasing liberty and rising hope”—that needs protection and deserves celebration. The third idea, to which I now turn, concentrates on the critical juncture of democracy and diversity.


My colleague James A. Banks (1996), the eminent African-American scholar of multicultural education and social studies education, often tells the story of his own schooling in Arkansas during the forties and fifties in a society marked by racial segregation that was supported by law, custom, and police power.


We learned about liberty and justice in school, and said—repeating the Pledge of Allegiance in our segregated school each morning—that our nation had “liberty and justice for all. . . .” My African American teachers and my parents, who were practicing democrats within a racially segregated society, taught me that I was somebody, that I must believe in myself, and that if I worked hard, kept the faith, and kept my eyes on the prize I could become anything I wanted to be. . . . The faith that my parents and teachers had in democratic ideals and in the possibilities of a democratic society—and the ideals of freedom that were promoted by the Civil Rights movement as I was coming of age—were decisive factors that enabled me to live in an apartheid society and yet believe in the possibilities of a democracy. (p. xii)


This stark juxtaposition of apartheid and democratic ideals, of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while standing in a racially segregated school, underscores why the first two ideas—participation and path—are insufficient. They leave key questions unanswered. Who is and who is not participating, and on whose terms? And, how wide is the path?


Contemporary democratic theorizing is rejecting the long-standing assumption that traditional democratic institutions have solved the “problem of diversity.” Drawing on postmodern literatures, it is sponsoring a more serious treatment of diversity than was allowed under the toleration model. The newer work, if one can speak generally of it, acknowledges willingly, rather than reluctantly, the brute fact of pluralism. It seeks release from the brethren’s assimilationist habit and, more generally, the modern (and, at root, theistic) attempt to melt away differences, contradictions, and conflict. The newer work is relevant to rethinking citizenship and citizenship education because it articulates conceptions of difference and commonality that are not grounded in the fear of dissolution. I am referring especially to recent analyses of race relations and racial formation (Anzaldua [1987], Code [1991], Hooks [1989], Margalit & Halbertal [1994], Omi & Winant [1986], Said [1978], and West [1993]) and feminist critiques of the patriarchy that has suffused liberalism and Marxism alike (Collins [1990], Dietz [1992], Fraser [1993], and Fraser & Nicholson [1988]). This line of work is not brand new, of course. T. H. Marshall’s great work on citizenship in 1964, Class, Citizenship, and Social Development, argued that “citizenship has itself become, in certain respects, the architect of social inequality” (p. 70).


Here, then, is the third idea. Liberal democracy’s basic tenets of human dignity, individual liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty need to be preserved but extended and deepened within a new sense of citizenship that is not subtly or overtly hostile to diversity. This is a citizenship that embraces individual differences, multiple group identities, and a unifying political community all at once. The task ahead is to recognize individual and group difference and to unite them horizontally in democratic moral discourse. This discourse is more than “rights talk”—insistence on “my” or “our” rights. Rights talk is included, for rights are a defining attribute of the democratic path; but the needed discourse includes as well sentences geared to the common life that secures the uncommon life, “the whole which alone can bring self-sufficiency,” as Aristotle (1962) wrote. This is a discourse of authenticity, responsibility, negotiation, and obligation. Here is Dewey’s (1927) vision of a “larger public” that embraces the “little publics.” The larger public is not a broad-based cultural comradeship, let us be clear. In modern, culturally diverse societies, this is both unrealistic and undesirable. When pursued by dominant groups, the wish for cultural homogeneity becomes assimilationist or, pulling all stops, a repressive, totalitarian campaign. “The problem that lies at the heart of totalizing theories,” writes Ruthann Kurth-Schai (1992), “is the attempt to address difference by subsuming it within a greater whole . . . [and] the acceptance of diversity as a state to be transcended” (p. 155). Stalin’s and Mao’s purges, the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge and Bosnian atrocities, all are monstrous examples of attempts to “transcend” diversity. Patrick Buchanan’s nativistrant (“We want our culture back!”) in the United States is mild by comparison, perhaps, but on the same trajectory.


Dewey (1927) understood that the larger public is, in effect, a normative grid that binds citizens together in a broad political (again, not cultural) comradeship. The larger public not only tolerates the little publics but actively fosters them as a democratic necessity. Little publics are the voluntary associations based on religion, ethnicity, language, race, hobbies, labor—interests of all sorts, some of which are incompatible from one group to another. The state is the larger public, and it is formally distinct from the little publics. “For support and comfort and a sense of belonging, men and women look to their groups” (Walzer, 1992a, p. 67). This is as it should be. But for their rights, mobilities, and freedom to change their associations, they look to the state. This, too, is as it should be. The democratic journey in a pluralist society, then, requires of citizens the disposition to create “a unity of individuals alongside the diversity of groups” (Walzer, 1992a, p. 68).


In order to attain some measure of success, this project must include a critique of those forms of liberalism that make genuine pluralism impossible. It must also examine those forms of pluralism that make political community impossible. This will not be easy work. It may prove too difficult.6 As for the former, forms of liberalism that unnecessarily impede pluralism, two require immediate attention. First, there is liberalism’s old garrison mentality when faced with diversity and, second, its neutrality premise. Liberal democracy holds pluribus as a central tenet while at the same time denying, punishing, or, at best, tolerating diversity. According to the principles of liberal democracy, unity arises from diversity. Yet, in “actually existing democracies” (Fraser, 1993), numerous groups live on the outskirts of the political community and are not by any stretch of the imagination included in the unum. Liberal democracy celebrates pluralism as a present, ongoing, and necessary feature of a democratic state while persistently “shortchanging” (American Association of University Women, 1992) women, people of color, the poor, gays, and lesbians. Unity is celebrated at the same time that, as Banks’s (1996) Pledge of Allegiance narrative clearly shows, inclusion is denied or frustrated. By any measure, this is a stunning contradiction. Yet, it is the logical conclusion of the forces discussed earlier: fear of dissolution combined with an accomplishment view of democracy. E pluribus unum, recall, is held to be an accomplishment; any serious attention to diversity today, therefore, is unnecessary and will result, on this view, in what Arthur Schlesinger (1991) called “the disuniting of America.”


Second, there is liberal democracy’s neutrality premise. Accordingly, in one’s role as citizen, one is an abstraction—an it; a cipher (Gray, 1992)—of indifferent sex, race, social class, religion, national origin, and, in some polities, sexual orientation; the state, meanwhile, is color-blind, gender-blind, and so on. This official blindness is an enormously good invention, to be sure, and perhaps the finest of the Enlightenment. The countless numbers of people over the millennia who have perished in state-sponsored religious warfare, the women who have been burned at the stake, the heathens who have been converted at gun point, all the subjects who have been tortured at the king’s and the pope’s pleasure, all these bear silent witness to the wisdom of state neutrality. Neutrality is the state’s way of embracing—being bigger than and outside of, though caring for—all the little publics, rather than being nothing more than one of them that has gained power over the others and now insists on assimilation to its ways.


Yet it is well known that while the neutrality premise helps protect individual liberty from state and majority tyranny, it impedes the full flowering of pluralism. In societies where group identities are politicized and matter greatly in the conduct of public affairs, which is the case everywhere, state indifference serves especially the interests of whichever groups presently enjoy positions of power—typically the majority culture. Official state neutrality disguises actually existing power imbalances and often shifts attention to the supposed deficits of the excluded groups. In this way, political formulations that pretend neutrality tend to reproduce the status quo.


As for the converse—forms of pluralism that impede political community—two are paramount. First is the refusal to walk the path with other groups, conjoining in order to create a democratic political framework; second is the reification of group identity. As for the first, the identity politics that inevitably comes with pluralism sometimes replaces liberalism’s excessive self-interest with a new politics of excessive group-interest. This is no gain. Witness the gridlock of interest-group politics in the U.S. Congress or the history-distorting theories on the Afrocentrist and nativist fringes. This is nothing more than rights talk taken from one ballpark (individuals) to another (groups). The result is the same: self-aggrandizement with its suicidal inattention to the commonwealth. As for the second, pluralism must always beware of the essentializing tendency in both progressive and traditional theorizing that would make group identity into something natural, etched in primordial stone. Not only are ethnic identities not inborn, they are circumstantial and even voluntary to some extent. This point has always been rather easily grasped where social-class identity is concerned, as Anne Phillips (1993) notes, for modern people don’t generally believe that one’s class is fixed or eternal. This is why people can at least imagine class mobility. Ethnicity, race, and gender, however, are not so flexibly defined, and the tendency has been to reify them. To do so solidifies these cultural identities, which may threaten the very political community that is charged with protecting diversity. The more naturalized the group identity, the more likely are its members (especially if the group is in a position of dominance) to mistake their particularity for a universal norm, and the less apt they may be to negotiate or modify some of their customs for the sake of the larger public. Is this—ethnocentrism—not the historical average? If pluralism is a democratic necessity (it is), still it is not the whole of life. In democracies, people must also be citizens—stewards of the body politic. Otherwise, there can be no pluralism per se, no liberty, only isolation, separatism, and enmity.

CONCLUSION


E pluribus unum—alongside the many, the one—is a wonderful and continually timely idea. It could serve well as the centerpiece of a reconceptualized citizenship education curriculum. In the foregoing, I have focused on this idea centrally and on several others on which this main idea depends—namely, participation, path, and diversity. I have not tried exactly to pin down definitions, for these are essentially contested ideas and, anyway, I want to contribute to discussions, not dictionaries. The discussions I have in mind involve teachers, principals, curriculum coordinators, and parents who are wondering whether it would be worthwhile, and what it might mean, to educate students for democratic citizenship. The little publics take care of the education of their own members to the norms and values of their groups; the larger public—where citizenship occurs—must do likewise.


If I have succeeded in sketching the contours of a deepened and expanded conception of democratic citizenship, then the following summary should make sense. The citizenship education literature rests on a conventional conception of democratic citizenship and of the unity/difference (oneness/manyness) tension in particular. That conception is limited in two ways. First, there is its liberal-Federalist emphasis on containing political difference in such a way that the political world of the brethren—those already inside the unum—is sheltered and stable; second, there is its tendency to minimize social and cultural diversity, as though these were different matters entirely. This is a nominal and exclusive notion of democracy, one driven by fear of difference and dissolution. It has adverse consequences, and it is these consequences, exemplified in the three opening scenes of this article, that call out for something better or, using the term of the young Tiananmen Square protester, for something “advanced.”


Among these adverse consequences are three that should be of keen interest to educators: first, a tenacious bias for assimilation, which is a bias against pluribus, against identity formation outside the brethren’s ken; second, an impoverished notion of citizenship that involves little more than civic voyeurism—watching other people (elected representatives) act like citizens;7 and third, the evaporation simultaneously of strong cultural pluralism and the sort of vigorous political framework necessary to secure it.


It is possible to rework this conception using three ideas in particular. They are building blocks for a more wholesome conception that takes both difference and democracy into a single frame as parallel phenomena (Figure 1). One of these building blocks concerns the kind of participation for which citizens need to be educated. Here is the tension between direct involvement in public life and spectatorship. Contested is the meaning of popular sovereignty. The advanced idea retains representatives but asks citizens to do more than merely elect them and then, as de Toqueville (1969) observed, lapse into dependency for another four years. It opens up a new civic space for direct and cooperative involvement in public life—for participatory democracy. A closely related building block concerns the citizen’s outlook on (or stance toward) democracy. Here is the tension between viewing democracy as an attainment needing only protection and a way of life that a people try to undertake together. Contested here is the meaning of public life and the selves that compose it. The advanced idea is that citizens regard themselves as having a public life in which they are challenged to manifest as democrats. This requires them to reflect on public life and to form it anew, again and again, in community service, social action, and deliberation. Here lies the possibility of a popular sovereignty in which “average citizens” participate on goingly. The third building block is the tension between pluralism and assimilation. Contested here is whether the “little publics” are a threat or an aid to the “big public” and, hence, the desirability of fostering them rather than only, at best, tolerating them. Contested, in brief, is the meaning of e pluribus unum. The advanced idea is that this motto means something other than shying away from difference in the name of a defensive unity. It means the political one alongside the cultural many. With this meaning, difference ceases to be a threat to community.


The implications of a deepened and expanded conception of democratic citizenship for citizenship educators can only be imagined, for that is its own democratic path. The program suggested here has a straightforward theme: It would educate children for political oneness and cultural diversity, with the understanding that these exist parallel to, and in dynamic tension with, one another. Attempts to transcend this tension would be dropped, for reasons that by now should be clear.


The citizenship curriculum in the schools, to the little extent one has been deliberated, developed, or implemented, typically covers the documents and procedures of republican government. Assimilation, accomplishment, and spectatorship generally undergird the treatment. Avoided are sustained curriculum and instruction on the central ideas and history of democracy, the problems to which it was put forward as a solution, the conditions that support and undermine this path, the deliberative arts of hammering out law and public policy together, the cultural diversity within societies, and the consequent tensions between oneness and manyness. In a reconceptualized democratic citizenship education curriculum, this largely avoided realm would be explored alongside the documents and procedures of republican government. Fortunately, educators need not start from scratch, as helpful curriculum work of various stripes—all of it necessary, none of it sufficient—has been done (e.g., Banks, 1993; Bridges, 1979; Center for Civic Education, 1994; Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, 1916; Gagnon, 1987; Hanna, 1936; Harding, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Mosher, Kenny, & Garrod, 1994; Newmann, 1975; Oliver & Shaver, 1966/1974; Paley, 1992; Parker, 1996a & 1996b; Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989; Rugg, 1939). But much more work is needed. It is the conceptual discussion that is needed most critically, I believe—the rationale building and clarification of meanings that are at the heart of curriculum deliberation.


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I am grateful to James A. Banks, Cherry A. McGee Banks, Stephen Kerr, Earl Butterfield, Sheila Valencia, and anonymous reviewers at the Teachers College Record for thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 98 Number 1, 1996, p. 104-125
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9597, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 7:42:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Walter Parker
    University of Washington, Seattle
    E-mail Author
    Walter C. Parker is professor of education, University of Washington. He is editor of Educating the Democratic Mind (State University of New York Press, 1996) and the author of "Curriculum for Democracy" in Democracy, Education, and Schooling, edited by Roger Soder (Jossey-Bass, 1996).
 
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