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You are here: Home > Online Articles > What Kind of Global Citizens Do We Want Emerging From our International Schools?



What Kind of Global Citizens Do We Want Emerging From our International Schools?

By Gordon Eldridge, TIE Columnist


The protest movement triggered by the killing of George Floyd has generated some very healthy conversations in international schools about education for anti-racism and social justice. Most of our schools include some conception of global citizenship in our guiding statements and this seems like an obvious umbrella for organizing a systematic approach to these issues across a school. With this in mind, I am going to use this column across the year to focus on what research tells us about developing effective programs for global citizenship. In this instance, we will look at articles that may help define the term “global citizen.” Subsequently, we will look at related curriculum and pedagogy.

Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne conducted a two-year in-depth analysis of ten citizenship programs in the United States. Their conclusions offer valuable insights into the ways we define citizenship and the consequences of these definitions for program design and student outcomes. Their analysis led them to identify three broad conceptions of citizenship; (1) the personally responsible citizen, (2) the participatory citizen, and (3) the justice-oriented citizen. The sample actions Westheimer and Kahne give for these illustrate each idea in a nutshell. The personally responsible citizen might contribute to a food drive. The participatory citizen might organize the food drive. The justice-oriented citizen would explore why people are hungry and act to solve the problem at the level of root causes.

While these three conceptions are not mutually exclusive, it is also not the case that fostering one kind of citizenship necessarily also fosters the others. Programs that focus on personally responsible citizenship are the most common, but some research suggests that a focus solely on personal responsibility can actually undermine efforts to foster participatory or justice-oriented citizenship. But what of the two other approaches? Do they have the potential to cross pollinate? Westheimer and Kahne provide descriptions of two of the ten programs to investigate this question.

What were the two programs?

The first program, in Madison County, was categorised by the researchers as encouraging participatory citizenship. After studying a condensed version of a standard government course, students could participate in a service curriculum during second semester. Groups of students worked with local government offices on projects such as identifying possible jobs for inmates incarcerated for less than 90 days and comparing costs with similar programs in other places. Pre- and post-surveys combined with interview data, indicated that students in this program increased their:

  • belief in their personal responsibility to help others

  • commitment to and belief in community involvement

  • belief that government should help those in need

  • sense that they could be effective leaders and had the skills to engage with the community

  • sense of agency

  • knowledge of micro-politics (e.g., between government departments)

The second program, called “Bayside Students for Justice,” explicitly aimed to develop community activists and was categorized as a justice-oriented program. One example is a class that studied different manifestations of violence in their community, from child abuse to domestic violence to gang violence. The class pushed deeply into these topics, considering the social, political, and economic forces that contribute to violence. The approach obliged students not only to critique societal structures, but also to consider how these structures impact how individuals behave. Pre- and post-surveys combined with interview data indicated that students in this program increased their:

  • belief that social change is the product of collective effort

  • interest in discussing politics and in being involved in politics

  • understanding of the need to identify root causes of problems

  • belief that civic involvement should address issues of social justice and include macro-level critique of society

  • likelihood of proposing structural explanations for social problems

For the most part, the changes evidenced in students in one program remained unchanged for students in the other program. Madison students did not, for example, express interest in or demonstrate knowledge of social critique and systemic reform, nor did they become more interested in politics. Bayside students did not increase their belief in personal responsibility to help others (in contrast to their beliefs about collective effort), nor did they increase their sense of leadership skills.

What does this mean for us in international schools?

These two programs took place in a national context. In international schools, we have an obligation to broaden the scope of citizenship to also include issues at a global level as well as highlight those in our community and nation. The research highlights that the vision of citizenship we choose matters a lot. Both programs achieved their goals, but the goals were different and therefore the results were different. We need to carefully consider what our vision of a global citizen is so that we can structure our programs accordingly.


Westheimer, J.  & Kahne, J. (2004) What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy. American Educational Research Journal, Volume 41, No. 2 pp. 237 - 269 10.3389/feduc.2019.0087

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