Citizenship and Multicultural Education

The dialogue bridges children's perspective with the perspective of their parents, whom we asked what they think about citizenship, what personal experience they have with it and what associations are triggered when they hear this term. Children involved in the dialogue then reacted to the homework done by their parents.

  • What is...?

Citizenship is a term with multiple meanings. It covers a network of relationships between the State and the citizen. As such, it reflects the relationship between an individual's autonomy and his/her adaptation to life within a society (Klaassen & Huwae, 2006). The debate about the concept of citizenship always focuses on two fundamental aspects included in the term. For Hyun (2006), it is the legal status of being a member of a particular State and the related rights and obligations. Secondly, citizenship is seen as a kind of identity related to willingness to act for the benefit of a particular community.

Multicultural/Global Citizenship are terms referring to the aspect of citizenship which represents the sense of being part of a whole. In recent years, and as a result of increasing globalization, education has been more and more focusing on the issue of an individual's firm anchoring in his/her cultural context while cultivating his/her sense of being a part of the whole region/country and the planet. To stimulate a person's sense of belonging at all the aforementioned levels has become an important pedagogical goal.

Dual Citizenship - some countries make it possible for an individual to have "dual citizenship", e.g., for children in mixed marriages or people living alternately and on a long-term basis in two states. However, a large number of countries do not offer this possibility, i.e. by acquiring the citizenship of one country, the citizen loses his/her citizenship of the other.

Civility - or civic decency (Kimlicka), is a term established in political-science and sociological literature to refer to a certain kind of helpful or friendly behaviour which cannot be guaranteed by the State, but which still significantly affects the network of relations between people.

  • Issue

What is the relationship between citizenship and multicultural education? Does it even make sense to search for a link between the two terms, and if so, what kind of link? What citizens should we educate? Naturally, these are the basic pedagogical issues that need to be dealt with. However, since the term "citizenship" can be interpreted in many ways, it is not always easy to find answers to these questions. When writing this article, we tried to summarize the core of the scientific debate on citizenship and multicultural citizenship and present it in form of several questions. Further, we used these questions to create brief questionnaires, which we distributed among the parents of "children from Czechkid" - ie., among specific persons, who were able to easily identify with the individual children and their parents thanks to their personal experience. The parents were asked the following questions:

How do you understand the term citizenship? What connotations do you associate with it?

When in your life was citizenship important to you?

Do you associate the concept of citizenship rather with the State or with a community of people?

How should a person behave to be a good citizen in your understanding of the word? Can you give some specific examples from your life?

What are the rights and obligations of you as a citizen? Which are important to you?

What areas/regions/states do you feel to belong to as a citizen and how does it affect your life?

What is your citizenship - are you trying to change something with regard to your citizenship status? If you do not already have Czech citizenship, will you try to acquire it? Why or why not?

Individual parents' responses correspond very closely to the debate on citizenship and its multicultural dimension, which we would like to summarize in the text which follows.

What is citizenship

For Hyun (2006), the term citizenship has two basic meanings. Both of them should be addressed in the context of multicultural education.

Citizenship as a legal status, whose function is to show a citizen's affiliation to a community of other citizens of a particular state. The status of a citizen establishes the fundamental rights and obligations that an individual has under the law of a particular country. Each country sets its own rules for when and under what conditions an individual can become a citizen of the country. In the Czech Republic, these issues are governed by the “Act on Acquisition and Loss of Citizenship of the Czech Republic, 40/1993 Coll.”. As for granting citizenship to foreigners living in the territory of the Czech Republic, foreigners are allowed to apply for Czech citizenship after five years of permanent residence provided that they meet some other criteria (language skills demonstrated in an interview, clean criminal record, etc.) and that they give up their original citizenship. It is, however, very important to keep in mind that an application for citizenship may be turned down even if such criteria are met, since citizenship cannot be claimed; the decision falls within the competence of the Ministry of Interior. The individual stages of this procedure can be found, for example, on the public administration website

Interestingly, a large part of the interviewed "parents of children from Czechkid" associates the term citizenship precisely with the legal concept, seeing citizenship as a status facilitating a number of practical issues such as access to social benefits, possibility to apply for mortgage, etc. On the other hand, citizenship widens the distance between them and their native country and relatives, complicating their visits due to visa requirements, etc., as seen for example in the responses of Olga's mother.

Citizenship as a person's identity and the related active participation in the community life is the second aspect of citizenship, which has been treated in pedagogical literature much more frequently. It may even seem that it is precisely this aspect of citizenship that is focused on within the context of multicultural education. In this article we are going to look at both its aspects, i.e. at identity and active participation.

In the past two decades, there have been some essential changes in seeing citizenship as a kind of identity. Within a person's identification are the matters of which communities the person identifies with, and what the role of the State is whose legal citizenship the person has,.

A breakthrough in the debate on citizenship was made by the publication of the famous text “Citizens of the World” by Martha Nussbaum (1997). Nussbaum makes an allusion to Diogenes' reply when asked where he came from: "I am a citizen of the world." Nussbaum develops her argument both from a philosophical standpoint and from the point of view of its current application in education. She tells a story about Anna, who moved to China to work as a manager. She asks what knowledge Anna should acquire at school to be able to do well at her new post. How can school prepare her for moving to a completely different cultural environment and for being able to work there, and being a superior to employees who will be different in many ways? Yet, Nussbaum goes even further. She tells a story of a successful manager, who was not only capable of performing well at her new post due to her sensitivity, but, after living in the new environment for several years, she also gave birth to a child there. She hired a Chinese nanny to help her with the child's education, but at that point she reached the limits of the cultural sensitivity she had leaned upon until that moment. How would she deal with the fact that the nurse considered her a bad mother since she let the baby lie freely, kept giving it new and new stimuli, offering it toys all the time... On the other hand, Anna saw the nurse as an insensitive lady, who wrapped the baby tightly in swathe and put it in an environment which, from her point of view, lacked stimuli. How can school prepare Anna to manage such situations? The readers are naturally curious to know what happened to Anna and her child. Nussbaum therefore concludes that the family negotiated with the nanny until they jointly found a model suitable for all. However, the question of how contemporary schools should prepare students for life in a globalised world has remained unanswered.

The issue of identity is dealt with by J. Banks (2004), who provides one possible answer. He firmly believes that today's pupils and students should be encouraged to identify themselves on several levels - local, national and global. They should feel as citizens of their city and country as well as of the whole world. The levels of identification would naturally vary in degree but at the same time, they would be interrelated. The ability to identify oneself could be stimulated by education in various subjects - from civic education to geography. The objective of such education is very well reflected in the text of Ho (2009), who sums up the Singapore experience with the introduction of so-called global multicultural citizenship in two basic concepts, which are as follows: "Being rooted and living globally". In his article, Ho shows the way these trends have been incorporated into the Singapore educational reform and brings some specific social science themes, which the reform has divided into the following six areas:

  • Singapore as one of the countries of the world
  • Understanding management/governance
  • Conflict and harmony in a multi-ethnic society
  • International relations management
  • Sustainable economic development
  • Addressing challenges and changes

Back in the context of the Czech Republic, the difference between understanding citizenship from the legal point of view and perceiving it as a matter of identity and participation in the society can be seen, for example, in Ali's mother's response. First she adheres to the legal interpretation of citizenship but then she sighs and starts explaining how difficult it is for her and her children to have Czech citizenship and still be labelled as foreigners due to their dark skin colour, which is what her children often complain about. At this point, the sense of being excluded from the community to which they feel they belong is stronger than their Czech citizenship. From the perspective of multicultural citizenship, it is precisely these situations which should be avoided - the public space should be equally friendly to all who are part of it, regardless of their skin colour, sexual orientation or social status.

It is the sense of belonging to a group of people which should lead to active participation in the life of the community, and as such it should materialise in the form of certain types of behaviour.

Minimalist and maximalist citizenship

Naturally, the debate on citizenship as a legal status and identity that we have outlined above reflects itself in the life of each individual, where both these aspects meet and it's rather an issue of the extent to which an individual participates in the society as a whole. McLoughin (1992) suggests that there also exists a minimalist approach to citizenship characterized by a kind of basic passive compliance with the rules of a particular community, or the State. The maximalist approach would then imply active, broad participation.

Clearly, individuals differ in what approach they find important – some people focus their lives on their family or a particular job, others actively participate in the life of the society, even with regard to politics. Membership in associations, participation in social activities or interest groups, volunteering: all these are activities which help people learn how to actively participate in the life of the society, and to take responsibility for some of its areas.

In this context, two aspects should be mentioned. If a community of people who live side by side in the territory of one country is to live happily and have a sense of unity, more subtle skills need to be developed in order to create a friendly atmosphere and make children feel that their country is a friendly place to live. Both minimalist and maximalist approach to citizenship should improve a person's ability to coexist with people outside the closest family and friends – i.e. educate them how to behave to other people in a shop, in public transport, at the doctor... to put it simply, in an anonymous public space (Kymlicka, 2001). For these purposes, Kimplicka uses the term “civility”, or civil decency. It 's civility that is associated with what is commonly known as “equal opportunity”, “discrimination”, etc. The point is that all citizens in the public space should be treated equally – that is to say, not only in situations which are somehow connected with activities of the State, but in their daily contact with other people (Kymlicka, 2001). A dark-skinned person in a shop must have a feeling that s/he is as welcome as if s/he were white. A Roma in a restaurant should be as welcome as a non-Roma; a woman with a baby on a bus should be treated equally to a man returning from work, etc. However, this delicate network of relations cannot be dictated by the law; it needs to be practised and taught to children. It's a question of respect and dignity, which have an even deeper and more subtle form in the life of an individual, often demonstrating themselves only by means of polite behaviour, intonation or smile.

Now, where and how should civility be taught? Kymlicka (2001) suggests that it is civil society itself that may be the ideal place to practice these skills. On the other hand, even in a civil society there are currents and groups which are far from teaching a tolerant and sensitive approach to fellow citizens. What is there to be done? This is where education comes into play.

Citizenship, civility and education

Will Kymlicka (2001) and other authors point to the fundamental relationship between the education system and citizenship. "There are many areas in which public policy depends on individuals' personal life decisions. The State will not be able to provide adequate medical care to citizens unless they behave responsibly with regard to their health, focus on healthy eating, take exercise, and reduce consumption of tobacco and alcohol. The State will not be able to take care of children, the elderly or the handicapped unless individuals are able to care of their relatives.” (Galston, 1991: 220)

It is the educational system which should bring up and educate citizens of a particular State and give them a sense of responsibility and willingness to participate in the life of the whole society. Schools should provide a space where students learn and experience civility.

But how to put this into practice? This question has no definite answer; instead, an entire army of academic workers and educators are trying to find at least partially satisfactory solutions. Kymlicka (2001: 296) suggests that there are four important aspects of developing citizenship through school education. They are as follows:

  • Interest in public issues, involvement in public life (public spiritedness) in the sense of an individual's ability to evaluate the governance and his/her willingness to participate in public discussion.
  • Legal perspective and ability to discern and respect the rights of others and moderate one's claims accordingly.
  • Civility and tolerance
  • Shared sense of solidarity and loyalty

These general principles can naturally form part of the curricula of various subjects; nevertheless, it is important to note that these skills cannot be taught only by adopting a positivist approach and giving information. The approach focusing on the development of citizenship needs to be integrated in the entire school environment. For example, the Dutch Board of Education stated that civil principles can be applied at:

  • Micro-level - the main focus here is on the quality of relationships among pupils and between pupils and teachers and other staff. The point is that this level should be seen as one of the educational objectives. It's a kind of "school citizenship", which should be systematically developed.
  • Meso-level - focusing mainly on an individual's participation at a local level. Pupils learn to participate in the life of a local community outside school. They are seen as future citizens and they are taught to acquire good manners towards their fellow citizens in the particular place.
  • Macro-level - the main focus here is on promoting willingness to participate in the State's political structures and to develop respect for the rule of law.

If multicultural or global level was to be included in this list, the focus would be on teaching students to participate in activities that, on a local level, represent and support global, universal responsibility to people outside the particular country. Multicultural education thus focuses on practising intercultural sensitivity (Hammer, Bennett & Wiseman, 2003). It is based on the assumption that sensitivity to cultural differences will not develop only out of being in contact with people who are different; such contact needs to be reflected upon, too. Intercultural sensitivity is the ability to perceive the world around us not only through the prism of our own beliefs as to how other people should behave (e.g. in some cultures it is not common to suck out phlegm from the nose of a child and in others it is common to use a pump; people should see both ways of coping with rhinitis in children as equal and avoid passing judgements about using or not using a suction pump as the only good strategy to fight rhinitis).

  • Stories and examples

Stories about legal status - for example, the stories of Jami's or Joza's fathers (in form of a dialogue).

Stories of identity – for example, Ali's mother's story (a dialogue).

  • Sources

Abowitz, K. & Harnish, J. (2006). Contemporary Discourses of Citizenship. Review of Educational Research, 76, 653 – 690.

Galston, W. (1991). Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Dutiesin the Liberal State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hammer, M., R., & Bennett, M., J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring Intercultural Sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27, 421 – 443.

Ho, Li-Ching (2009). Global Multicultural Citizenship Education: A Singapore Experience. The Social Studies, 285 – 293.

Hyun, C. (2007). South Corean Society and Multicultural Citizenship. Korea Journal, winter, 124 – 146.

Klaassen, C. & Huwae, S. (2006). Scholen die werken aan burgerschap. Die Pedagogische Dimensie, 43.

Kymlicka W. (2001). Politics in Vernacular; Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship. Oxford University Press.

McLoughin, t., H. (1992). Citizenship, Diversity and Education. Journal od Moral Education, 21, , 235 – 250.

Nussbaum, M. (1997). Cultivating Humanity. Cambridge,Massachusetts: Littlefield Publishers.

Onderwijsraad (2003). Onderwijs en Burgeschap. Den Haag: Uitgave van Onderwijsraad.

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