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Curricular translations of citizen participation within a Massachusetts newcomer citizenship education program

Mary T Comeau-Kronenwetter, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Citizenship education is a traditional tool for establishing the roles that newcomers are expected to take on as citizens. As such it is shaped by assumptions of what defines "good citizenry." Although it is commonly assumed that a good citizen participates in the political and social life of the community, notions of narrowly defined citizen participation such as voting have frequently prevailed in citizenship education programs. Opposing this restrictive tradition are empowerment-oriented citizenship education programs emphasizing a citizen participation that encompasses a view of citizenship as personal and community empowerment. This study examined the definitions, skills, and contexts of citizen participation in the words of the directors, facilitators, and participants of a Massachusetts community-based citizenship education program. Examples of how citizen participation was promoted through the curricula are offered. Internal and external challenges to the full participation of newcomers in their new society are also identified. Research strategies included multi-site case studies and historical and theoretical literature review. Data collection techniques included participant observation, interviewing, and document analysis. Research participants were found to be collectively creating varied and meaningful definitions of citizen participation. The citizenship education program examined was found to be contributing to the development of rationale, motivation, and skills for citizen participation by (a) providing opportunity for newcomers to investigate and connect historical and contemporary events; (b) facilitating the acquisition of critical tools including literacy, English, and information collecting and sharing skills; (c) providing support for the development of greater self esteem; and (d) offering opportunities to interact and act collectively within their local and greater communities. In the final chapter, the concept of critical civic literacy is discussed in the context of the research findings. Suggestions for empowerment-based citizenship education program development are offered. Citizenship education programs can make constructive use of participants' backgrounds as they begin the process of social, collective construction of the meaning of participatory citizenship.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|American studies

Recommended Citation

Comeau-Kronenwetter, Mary T, "Curricular translations of citizen participation within a Massachusetts newcomer citizenship education program" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841856.