Literature Review: Introduction

As in a Dream

This post is part of a serialized collection of chapters composing my recently completed Master’s of Education degree at the University of Victoria. You can access the other chapters on this site here, and access a pdf of the completed paper on the University of Victoria library space here

In the preparation of this project, this review consults diverse sources of scholarship and literature ranging from contemporary educational philosophy and political science, to modern literature, philosophy, and the traditions of critical pedagogy and emergent epistemology. This inquiry considers educational databases, peer-reviewed journals and scholarly blogging, as well as presentations, collaborative learning and social networking to explore key themes and thinking about: citizenship, critical pedagogy, transformative learning, emergent epistemology, constructivism, connectivisim, the digital humanities, personal cyberinfrastructure, open education, networked learning, and the public sphere. Literature reviewed in these fields ranges in date depending on the topic, as digital, pedagogical, or sociological (i.e., pertaining to youth voting patterns) scholarship was limited to the last five, or occasionally 10 years, and literature focused on educational or broader philosophical traditions dates back much further (see: Kant, Foucault, Freire). Given particular prominence in the construction of the project’s underlying conceptual framework have been the ERIC and PsychInfo databases, journals concerned with contemporary citizenship, critical pedagogy, and digital culture; an ongoing engagement with public academics, scholars, and colleagues on social media has also greatly shaped the nature of this study.

To establish a conceptual framework, the literature reviewed here presents a view of curriculum reform in a moment of digital shock affecting all aspects of human society, not least education. This moment of digital shock, it is supposed, asks that educational reformers carefully consider the implicit messages that schooling (as well as the wider culture) communicates to young people about the nature of their own citizenship. In so doing, it is hoped that the educational opportunities created as a result allow for the rehearsal and experience of applying a critical lens to one’s culture, and creating unique individual and collective narratives which authentically represent the participants. It is hoped, as well, that students gain an awareness and ability to broaden the base of individuals holding positions of power and influence in the construction of a shared societal narrative. The literature reviewed highlights the prominence of challenging trends toward political apathy and economic oligarchy in North American society (with data suggesting a similar trend across western Europe), and proposes a reclamation of the public sphere that seeks to restore the democratic possibility of continuously reimagining collective identities out of emerging individual perspectives.

With this foundation, the conceptual framework is completed by aligning components of emergent epistemology, critical pedagogy, and transformative learning to present a conception of citizenship as shared fate, a notion which makes possible the critical renovation of democratic society to suit an evolving populace and citizenry. This view of citizenship is supported by the advent of digital communications technology, and the world wide public web, allowing the principles of such a citizenship to be applied to a global populace, inviting the potential for pluralism on an unprecedented scale.

As the advent of the 21st century presents educational stakeholders with rapidly evolving information, economic, and political realities, society encounters a state of “shock” wherein public policy discussions around how to respond to shifting contexts can become overwhelming, and lasting reforms may be implemented without a thorough consideration of their consequences. The directions that are taken during periods of such shocks, the project supposes, hinge upon the quality of the “ideas that are lying around,” and with this in mind works to present its notion of critical citizenship in the digital age such that it might be considered by those discussing 21st century curriculum. In this view, the notion of curriculum – as with citizenship itself – cannot be considered static but rather as a responsive construction of those who are engaged with it: teachers and students, as co-investigators and creators.

A particular challenge facing those who would seek to reform curriculum in the 21st century is facilitating – as part of the institutional design of modern schooling – the realization of truly constructivist practices in making meaning in the classroom setting. By attempting to prescribe the economic, cultural, or practical skills of value to society that policymakers deem ought be included in school curricula, institutions seeking to initiate the continuous pluralist recreation of society itself are posed with the difficulty of delineating between the meanings, dispositions, or cultural practices which are acceptable, and those which are not. As schools provide young people with foundational experiences in the relationship between citizens and the state, as well as between citizens themselves, it becomes important for educators seeking to promote diversity and inclusion to provide opportunities for young people to rehearse the expression of a collective voice that takes into account community narratives and perspectives. In considering the literature, the project explores the possibility that constructivism and an emergent view of knowledge can prepare young people to contribute to an inclusive society that promotes “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and assist[s] them in the elimination of any barrier to that participation” (Canadian Multiculturalism Act, c 24 (4th Supp), 1985).

The notion that multiculturalism poses a direct challenge to a static national identity contributes further to the complexity of the ‘shock’ experienced in developing standardized curriculum in the 21st century, as educators are perpetually compelled to provide an ongoing process of relation and feedback to individual students and unique classroom communities.

However, the project works within a conception of “citizenship as shared fate,” wherein individuals and groups engage in a “continuous process of designing, expressing and interpreting their membership in the nation” (Ben‐Porath, 2012, p. 382), and places central importance on the praxis of critical reflection and relation to one another; as well, the unit framework strives to realize a pedagogy wherein the competencies at the heart of this learning are experienced directly and articulated by students rather than by being formally taught through a curriculum designed in advance to serve this purpose. To best impart such a mode of citizenship to young people, schools and classrooms are compelled to transform the view of the curriculum from a tradition of standardization toward one in which it is discovered – and created – by unique communities of practice in real time.

Finally, the literature review considers contemporary research into digital pedagogy and open education, and finds evidence to support the notion that the public web and infrastructure of online spaces allow for the democratic and collectivist spirit of pluralism to be practiced in a global public sphere. Literacies of participation, information, and fluency with personal cyber infrastructure are presented as learning experiences in which the meanings created through relating to the curriculum are individually and collectively forged in emergent, real time. This method of meaning-making is not only congruent with democratic principles dating back to the Enlightenment period, it is suggested, but also true to the spirit of the World Wide Web since its inception.

References

Education for Citizenship as Shared Fate

Untitled

A theme in liberal democracy which presents a challenge for citizenship education is the tension created between recognizing difference and diversity in society alongside the development of a shared cultural foundation. This tension has been highlighted on numerous occasions on this blog in the citing of work by Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta, who note that “In contemporary multicultural societies, the difficulty with education as planned enculturation lies in the question of who decides what or whose culture should be promoted through education.”

They write:

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

To address this tension, Sigal Ben-Porath presents the notion of “Citizenship as Shared Fate,” which “seeks to weave the historical, political and social ties among members of the nation into a form of affiliation that would sustain their shared political project.”

This view of citizenship as shared fate seeks to overcome “the vision of the nation as a stable, bound and tangible group,” and recognizes citizenship in

“the visions, practices and processes that make up the civic body through engaging individuals and groups in the continuous process of designing, expressing and interpreting their membership in the nation.”

As individuals share a number of aspects of civic or political life – relation to institutions or organizations, laws, history, language and artistic expression, as well as understanding of the national ethos, symbols or myths – shared fate citizenship seeks to balance tensions between representing diverse values and cultures and developing a shared public sphere. This creates a natural need to cultivate the skills and aptitudes required to participate in it.

This sense of an educative culture echoes John Willinsky, who talks about how “the democratic culture of [our] country is dependent on the educational quality of our civic lives,” and connects back to the central problem of how best to arrange institutional schooling within such a multicultural liberal democracy. Ben-Porath presents shared fate citizenship as “a relational, process-oriented, dynamic affiliation that arises from the cognitive perceptions of members.”

Ben-Porath’s view of citizenship as shared fate is congruent with the democratic ideals for public schooling put forth by John Dewey, who may be seen to elucidate the tension in liberal democratic schooling by seeking institutions which:

  • Transmit the facts, dispositions and cultural heritage society considers to be of value; and
  • Raise a younger generation with the skills, persistence and ingenuity to transcend our historical moment.

The idea of a “relational, process-oriented” and “dynamic affiliation” connects similarly to the critical praxis outlined by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressedwhere he outlines the idea that:

It is as transforming and creative beings that humans, in their permanent relations with reality, produce not only material goods— tangible objects—but also social institutions, ideas, and concepts. Through their continuing praxis, men and women simultaneously create history and become historical-social beings.

For Ben-Porath, civic learning for citizenship as shared fate includes acquiring:

  • Knowledge of fellow citizens,
  • Skills to interact with them, and
  • Attitudes that can facilitate shared civic action.

The goal in this view is to create “schools that build a shared civic sphere as well as rights and well-being of individuals whose experience varies based on their membership in different groups.” However, she is careful to distinguish the more broadly conceived “education for citizenship,” or “citizenship education” from the more skills-oriented or curricular-based “civics education,” as shared fate relies on a more emergent view of citizenship that a particular set of knowledge or skills to be transmitted.

Following Rob Reich’s idea that “schools offer the ideal place to unite citizenry and generate a socially-constructed national model,” Ben-Porath acknowledges this as a challenge for multicultural societies in general and their schools in particular, realizing Osberg and Biesta’s question of whether such an emergent conception of meaning is even possible within an institution which must – on some level – generate ends prior to engaging in the means by which meaning is to be made.

Indeed, the generation of a conception of citizenship as an identity that overrides or seeks to nullify significant differences between minority and majority groups defies a liberal democratic commitment to pluralism.

As a means of confronting this contradiction, shared fate regards citizenship in three ways:

  • The ways in which citizens relate to one another,
  • the ways in which citizens relate to the nation state, and
  • connections citizens make to the national community, institutions and practices.

Thus citizenship education introduces “the evolving social and institutional contexts in which citizens live and develop an understanding of the culture, cognitive, and discursive dimensions of national membership.”

In brief, this could be stated as an ability to learn about learning, itself, or meta-cognition. But it is also an act of collective storytelling, and a process of recognizing our diversity and making sense of a shared history (and identity) together. Such a synthesis of a shared story has both responsive and aspirational qualities, and as such requires “future-oriented development of civic virtues,” as well as attention to “the lives experiences of children.”

Here we see again perhaps the pertinence of Freire, whose critical praxis seeks to acquaint learners with their culture’s generative themes. “To investigate the generative theme,” he writes, “is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis.”

He continues:

“For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

For Ben-Porath, citizenship education “seeks forms of attachments, belonging and commitment that would enable children to become positive members of diverse communities of fate.” In liberal democracies, citizens differ in countless ways – political ideology, religious practice, ethnicity, etc – but are bound in an overlapping experience of national laws, institutions, symbols and myths. However, individual views of these common experiences may differ based on unique combinations of contexts.

Here, shared fate:

“aims to recognize differences in values, outlooks, language and preferences while developing institutional and conceptual concepts – particularly civic and political ones – in which different communities can develop ties and shared practices.”

And in this view, education for the benefit of such citizenship serves as an “introduction of and induction into a shared political sphere,” where students develop competence and experience as interpreters and creators of meaning in the national community.