Democratic Citizenship Education


Democratic Citizenship Education encompasses those approaches to schooling that are attentive to collective process and cultural inequities. The discourse blends two prominent, collective-oriented educational themes:
  • Democratic Education – a mode of formal education founded on principles of democratic governance of one’s school and student autonomy in managing one’s learning. Some variations are specifically aligned with one or more Activist Discourses, and thus also emphasize emancipation, empowerment, and voice.
  • Citizenship Education (Citizenship; Civics; Education for Democratic Citizenship) – a focus on preparing students to contribute to a better society, encountered as either a formal course or a prominent cross-curricular emphasis. Themes consistent with Activist Discourses are currently prominent, but local foci tend to reflect the setting’s population, history, and politics.
Informed mainly by the social sciences, its principal aims of Democratic Citizenship Education are to promote social justice and productive collective action, in part through recognizing and (where appropriate) subverting hegemonic structures. Prominent associated discourses include:
  • Contractualism (Tim Scanlon, 1990s) – a perspective on morality and ethics founded on the metaphor of a “social contract.” Individuals are assumed to be equals and acts are determined to be right or wrong based on social agreement, which in turn rests on specific and (usually) tacit Modes of Reasoning. Associated constructs include:
    • Social Contract Theory (ancient, often associated with Socrates [400s BCE] and/or Thomas Hobbes [mid-1600s]) – the principle that a society’s behavioral, moral, and political rules of interaction are rooted in always-evolving (and often-tacit) shared agreement – as opposed to, for example, divinely bestowed or logically derived
    • Group Cohesiveness (Group Cohesion; Social Cohesion) – perspectives on the factors that most influence the qualities and robustness of social groupings. The number of factors varies from one theory to the next, with “emotions” and “task relations” appearing in most lists. Other commonly mentioned factors include implicit contract, social relations, shared purposes, and perceived unity.
  • Critical Reconstructionism (Reconstructionism) (William Schubert, 1980s) – an orientation to curriculum design that focuses on social justice through nurturing critical consciousness and engaging in meaningful action/activism aimed at challenging instances of inequitable opportunity. Within Critical Reconstructionism, continuous social reform is embraced as aim of formal education.
  • Digital Citizenship (Karen Mossberger, 2000s) – a reference to one's capacity to meet social and societal obligations through digital technologies. Associated notions include:
    • Digitality (Digitalism) (Nicholas Negroponte, 1990s) – broadly speaking, life in a digital culture – in a sense intended to be analogous to Modernism (see Premodern Formal Education) and Postmodernism (see Epistemology). In addition to digital literacy, the notion summons matters of networked connectivity, persistent surveillance, and excesses of information.
    • Digitalization – the utilization of digital technologies across an increasing array of applications and activities, along with the emergent activities and transformative possibilities that come with such usage
    • Netizen (Michael Hauben, 1990s) – a portmanteau of “internet” and “citizen,” used in reference to one who is active on the internet, especially when that involvement is concerned with advancing the internet as a social, political, and/or intellectual resource.
  • Multicultural Education ­(various, 1980s) – an umbrella notion that spans any educational or pedagogical approach that brings together the two or more ethnic or cultural perspectives, in the process emphasizing social justice, pluralism, and inclusion
  • Reconstructivism (Frankfurt School, 1930s; Jacques Derrida, 1980s) – the assertion that societal evolution should not be left to chance; rather, ongoing reform should be geared toward greater citizen awareness and more ethical institutions. Recent versions often draw heavily on methods associated Deconstruction.
  • Social Reconstructionism (Karl Marx, 1910s) – in theory, the principle that formal education can be deployed as the means of transforming society into a utopia (or into whatever form is desired by political leadership)
  • Urban Pedagogy (Walter Benjamin, 1930s) – an educational attitude that embraces and spills into the urban ethos that it occupies, attending in particular to the manners in which urban spaces frame one’s perceptions and possibilities


Commencing in the 1800s and culminating in the mid-1900s, a series of civil rights movements helped to awaken public awareness to a range of social inequities rooted in popular ideologies and mythologies. Schools were implicated as they were shown to do more to perpetuate social conditions and uncritical prejudices than to challenge them.


Paradigmatically – that is. in terms of a fitting model or symbol – we note that this graphic is reflective of currently popular images involving clusters of people, united around a shared theme. The integrity of the individual is preserved, but that integrity is situated among the many. The intention here is to signal a simultaneity of individual/self and collective/society – which, among discourses on learning, is typically articulated in terms of participation, situatedness, and co-dependencies.  


Prominent Metaphors of Learning

Prominent Metaphors of Knowledge

With major influences of Democratic Citizenship Education coming from Marxism and cognitive science, knowledge was framed in terms of socio-cultural phenomena that are unavoidably partial – that is, as both incomplete and biased. Notions of social contracts, social constructions, and collective hallucinations rose to prominence to characterize shared truths.

Prominent Metaphors of Teaching

Paralleling the assertion that knowledge is partial, teaching within. Democratic Citizenship Education took on two emphases, on co-participation and conscientization. That is, teaching is seen as a process of empowering by involving learners in participatory projects and through prompting critical understandings of their situations.


  • Citizenship Education (Citizenship; Civics; Education for Democratic Citizenship)
  • Contractualism
  • Critical Reconstructionism (Reconstructionism)
  • Democratic Education
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Digitality (Digitalism)
  • Digitalization
  • Group Cohesiveness (Group Cohesion; Social Cohesion)
  • Multicultural Education
  • Netizen
  • Reconstructivism
  • Social Contract Theory
  • Social Reconstructionism
  • Urban Pedagogy

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Democratic Citizenship Education” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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