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Lévesque, Stèphane. “Journey into the World of the School: High School Students’ Understandings of Citizenship in B.C. and Québec.” Ph. D. Diss., The University of British Columbia, 2001.


This study examines (1) what teachers formally and informally present to high school students in citizenship education and (2) what students learn from these classes in English Canada and Quebec. It begins with two presuppositions that the ‘nation’ and ‘state’ remain central institutions in the life of democratic citizens and that public schooling is a good thing for our democratic societies.

Two multi-ethnic high schools, one in Québec (Montréal) and one in British Columbia (Vancouver) are used to examine how students construct and understand citizenship in light of their school experience. These classrooms were chosen because much of the burden of Canadian citizenship education has officially been assigned to history (grade 10) in Québec and social studies (grade 11) in B.C. This study uses the above high-schools as case studies in a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with both students and teachers and direct observation in the classroom.

This study argues that the future of democracy is dependent on the education of young citizens. The civic competencies that permit students to think, deliberate, participate, and ultimately live democratically are not innate; they have to be learned. Citizenship education helps develop these competencies. Canadian schools, and more specifically school subjects such as history and social studies, been identified by the state as the critical link between education and citizenship and as the locus for the creation of democratic citizens. Documents and interviews from both locations suggest that citizenship education is the raison d’être of history and social studies education. The study also finds that citizenship education takes on its full meaning when those who learn it in the classroom can express their own views, concerns, and understandings.

This study includes a discussion of: the historical and political issues concerning citizenship education in Canada; the origins of modern citizenship; an analysis of citizenship education in democracy; how Canada’s two historical nations have utilized different conception of citizenship and citizenship education; and a comparative study of both B.C. and Québec students’ understandings of their national identity, nation, and citizenship.

This study suggests the urgent need for more discussions and research in Canada on the nature of citizenship education. Discussions with students, teachers, and staff in both locations suggest that Canadians have little experience of their country as a whole and illustrates an urgent need for a pan-Canadian consensus on what to teach and how. It also suggests the need to incorporate a more active role for students in determining with adults the nature of their schooling. The challenge here is for public schools to contribute actively to the development of the various civic competencies needed by students to become democratic citizens. The study concludes that educators must reconsider how citizenship is taught and learned in the classroom and that more resources and energy need to be invested in the research and development of citizenship education in Canada.

Mary Chaktsiris