I attended a rural school that was part of the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division. When I was in grade eight, the division switched from giving out marks as a percentage to using an achievement scale that rated us from one to four and one that rated us on how frequently we displayed the characteristics of successful learners (i.e. confidence, citizenship, responsibility, and work habits). Focusing specifically on Citizenship, it outlined in the Characteristics of Successful Learners document (see above link), is when a student “respects others, rules & property; is caring & trustworthy; [and] conducts self with dignity.” The student is assessed on whether they display this trait consistently (C), usually (U), sometimes (S), and rarely (R) in each of their classes and then receives a letter grade on their report card. I remember having to complete a self-assessment at the end of the semester. If you are curious, here is a link to the self-assessment that focuses on the the citizenship category that was created by my high school English teacher. She explained that she finds having students self-assess their own behaviours is more effective that her having to judge their behaviours because they know how they tend to act and if they reflect on their behaviours they are more likely to change them.
Furthermore, there were multiple projects that my fellow peers and I had to complete that involved citizenship qualities. In Wellness 10, to pass the class we needed to complete ten hours of volunteer work (3 hours in school and seven hours outside of school). In my English B30 class, we completed a “Universal Issue” project. This was a heavy assignment, so it took my classmates and I the whole semester to finish it. This activity required us to pick a social justice issue, research it and the initiatives working towards fixing this problem, and present our findings. I have done many variations of this assignment, but instead of creating a presentation I have written editorials or letters to big companies or the government.
The types of citizenship that my school focused on were the participatory and the personally responsible citizen (however, there was more emphasis on the latter). The influence of these two types of citizenship helped encourage my peers and I to be active members of the community because without these projects I do not know if I would go out on my own and explore the community, or if I did, I do not think I would have gave up a lot of my time. Additionally, it helped us meet new people, establish bonds with them, and become part of a group. These newly formed relationships helped expose us to other people and other cultures that are different from our own allowing us to expand our world views. Being an active citizen also helped us to be able to recognise the issues that surrounded us and how we were able to use our autonomy towards fixing the issue.
But with a strong influence from the personally responsible citizen category, it shaped my classmates and I into “good” students or the “cookie cutter students.” If you recall from my previous blog post, I defined a “good” student who does not cause a lot of trouble in the classroom and does whatever they are told. What we learnt in school was how to fit into the mold of a community. Some of the qualities we were supposed to display were also pointed out by Joel Westheimer (2004): “visions of obedience and patriotism” (p. 5). I personally, was graded on whether or not I fit into this model. In the self-assessment, my classmates and I had to say whether or not we followed classroom expectations, controlled our own behaviour, and used appropriate language. If we did not fulfill these expectations, we would get a low grade and getting a low grade would imply that we would not make good citizens which goes against part of the purpose of schools: to create good citizens. Who is an who is not a good citizen can create a school-wide hierarchy. People who are at the top of the hierarchy may feel superior to those who are at the bottom and think that they have more potential. This did not happen in my school, but it is still a potential issue to be considered.
Ultimately, teaching citizenship in schools helps broaden a student’s understanding of different worldviews and provides them with opportunities to exercise their autonomy. However, not all students are going to display the citizenship qualities that their school wants them to (the personally responsible student). The letter grades that my peers and I received were not impactful on our education. First of all, the Characteristics of a Successful Learning were not directly related to the outcomes. Second, those who were striving, did not feel like they had anything more to work towards, but those who were struggling (which was very few of us) did. I feel that the grades given did not show a student’s potential, but instead it displayed a kind of progress report to show the school staff if they were effectively doing their job of creating good citizens.
Westheimer, J. & Kahne, J. (2004). What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.civicsurvey.org/sites/default/files/publications/what_kind_of_citizen.pdf