Citizenship education and the teaching of literature: Lessons and suggestions from the american expe


Sandra Stotsky


To develop effective programs for civic education in the schools today, educators must confront in some countries a deepening hostility to the inculcation of a national, or civic, identity in any form. Much of this hostility emanates from those who espouse something called "cultural democracy," or what has recently been called "illiberal multiculturalism." This form of multiculturalism may be described as an effort to "close young people off into identities already ascribed to them" and to make them think that they bear no personal responsibility for their thinking or behavior because -so the illiberal multiculturalist claims-both are determined by their "culture" or their "race, ethnicity, or gender." In drawing on the various academic disciplines in the school curriculum, civic educators have tended to overlook literary study for its potential contribution to civic education, both to strengthen it and to address these anti-civic forces.

The ultimate purpose of this essay is to show how the construction of literature curricula and the study of literature can contribute to these goals. In this essay, I describe the anti-civic forces now at work in literature programs in American schools and explain why these forces exist. I then suggest how literature programs can honor the essence of literary study (that is, the teaching of literature as literature) and at the same time strengthen the underpinnings of a constitutional democracy centered on individual rights and a concept of personal responsibility as well as combat the anti-civic forces emanating from illiberal multiculturalism. Although I will of necessity use examples from chiefly American and British literature to illustrate my suggestions, civic educators in other countries can draw on the literature of their own countries as support for civic education and to combat these anti-civic forces provided they are clear about what they are trying to accomplish.

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