Citizenship in Transformation in Canada – HÉRBERT (CSS)

HÉRBERT, Yvonne M. ed. Citizenship in Transformation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 289p. Resenha de: GLASFORD, Larry A. Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.1, p., 2004.

Ideologically, the editor and contributing authors of this collection of thirteen essays on citizenship and citizenship education have written from the perspective of democratic pluralism. In this vision of utopia, equality trumps liberty and group rights take precedence over individual prerogatives. Equality itself is re-engineered as equity, a measured equality which seeks to factor in the negative effects of historic and systemic inequality, and then to alter the balance from the top down to ensure fairness. The intended result is harmony and social justice for all, and especially for new Canadians.

Implicitly understood as the antithesis of the authors’ democratic pluralism is classic liberalism, variously described in our time as neo-liberalism (in Europe), or neo-conservatism (in America). Individual freedom is sacrosanct, and the ideal role for the community, as embodied in the coercive state, is simply to ensure that personal liberty is maximized. Equality is understood to mean equality of rights, and equality before the law. As much as possible of human endeavour is kept beyond the realm of state intervention. Individual citizens are free to sink or swim, to prosper or suffer, as their own merits dictate.

Somewhere in the middle of these two poles is a third position: democratic liberalism. Proponents of this perspective seek to harmonize liberty with equality, and likewise to balance the competing claims of individuals and groups. Rather than an either-or proposition, they see democratic citizenship as a both-and challenge. Freedom and equality are important; people are unique individuals and they belong to, as well as self-identify with, a series of groups The book begins well. Inside the front cover, an abstract identifies two key questions as being the focus of the author team. First, what constitutes a ‘good’ citizen in today’s liberal democracy? And second, what social and educational policies are needed to sustain the lives of these citizens, while not impinging on liberal democratic principles? (p. i). Had the book concentrated on these two questions, had the editor imposed a disciplined structure on her own and her colleagues’ contributions, this volume would indeed be a valued addition to the shelf.

Although the essays seem to have been written over several years, the book in its final form still appears to be a rushed job. On page 4 we read Much of the citizenship debate is concern [sic] with four dimensions of citizenship. A few pages later we are told only within this century [sic] have women gained the federal vote (1918) (p. 7) despite the fact the book was published in 2002, well into the ‘next’ century. The appendix, a well-intended chart purporting to display a breakdown of key models of democratic citizenship, is flawed, almost worse than useless. In the first place, it analyzes fourteen historic governmental arrangements, far too many to be meaningful, without providing any rationale for their inclusion. Why was Machiavellian Florence analyzed, for example? More seriously, factual and conceptual errors abound. The prerogatives of the Emperor are discussed under the heading of Roman republican model (p. 250). Yet the institution of Emperors signalled the death of the quasi-democratic republic. Et tu Brut? Edmond Burke, famous for his liberal-conservative response to the French Revolution of 1789, is mysteriously identified with 17th-Century England (p. 252).

In too many places, the book’s language is excessively turgid and jargon-ridden, serving to exclude from understanding all but the ‘inside’ experts – ironic, given the sincerely inclusionary aims of the authoring team. Here are two examples. From the opening essay, we read that policy and institutional goals are marked by a range of conceptual possibilities and affect lived Canadian realities (p. 14). The authors appear to be saying that, with the best of intentions, government policy can sure mess up the lives of ordinary Canadians. Half-way through the book, we are informed that teachers mediated the curriculum and could challenge official views and even generate a political space in the classroom by using a critical alternative perspective (p. 122). Presumably, the author is saying that conscientious teachers closed the classroom doors and taught their students what they needed to learn.

Still, the verdict on this book is only partly negative. Yvonne Hbert and a co-author, Michel Pag, nicely capture the overlap of history and citizenship, in their concluding chapter. across Canada, the teaching of history is controversial as soon as it touches upon the face of national identity, which is still under construction (p. 245). So true, despite the mixed metaphor. A very useful feature of the book is the collective (appropriate for democratic pluralists) bibliography at the back, which draws upon the combined sources of each author, as cited in their individual chapter Notes.

Predictably, the quality of the specific chapters is uneven. For example, Veronica Strong-Bag’s contribution on the struggles of women, aboriginals and blue-collar workers is passionate, but vastly under-estimates the significance of multiple over-lapping identities. Romulo Magsino provides a very useful overview of three approaches to citizenship, which he classifies as liberalism, communitarianism, and republicanism, but how does critical pedagogy fit in? The article by Marie Battiste and Helen Semaganis is a fascinating, if one-sided, presentation of the hard-line First Nation perspective on treaties, culture and citizenship. The piece by Roberta J. Russel drones on in careful bureaucratese, piously informing us that The focus of citizenship education in a pluralistic society should be inclusive and should empower everyone to participate (p. 146). What else could an employee of the Department of Justice say? Nevertheless, her paper rewards a second reading, with good material on civics and citizenship, and insightful hints as to the federal government’s role in promoting citizenship.

Harold Troper’s article provides a sound historical overview of Canadian attitudes toward, and public policy about, the ideal of population diversity. For something completely different, try to follow the thread of Celia Haig-Brown’s meandering post-modern musings on appropriate democratic educational research, written as an unedited stream-of-consciousness flow. Or not. Cecille de Pass and Shazia Qureshi capture our attention by interspersing dramatic first-person narratives of blatant racial discrimination into their essay, then throw it all away with a dated, almost obscenely careless, stereotyping of the 21st -century Canadian upper middle class as the sectors of the population who share an attachment to historic Anglo symbols like the Union Jack and who became [sic] misty eyed when they hear the anthems and songs associated with the British Empire (p. 180). Hello! Did you miss the great flag debate of 1964? Only in the concluding chapter do we learn the underlying rationale for this book. These essays represent the work of a group of interested researchers, decision makers and practitioners who met in 1998 and developed a consensus around a pan-Canadian research agenda in citizenship education (p. 229). Known as the Citizenship Education Research Network (CERN), its primary task is the coordination of the research efforts of the founding members as well as of all others who wish to participate in the process (p. 232). In 1999, an elite national team of researchers was formed with responsibility for securing funding (p. 243). The mention of money brings us back to the conundrum of the democratic state. Is it (a) the likeliest threat to our freedom (classic liberal view), (b) the benevolent source of both our influence and our funds (democratic pluralist position), or (c) a two-edged sword to be watched, but wielded with cautious purpose in the interests of liberty and equality (democratic liberal perspective)? As every university student knows, the odds in a multiple-choice question ride with response (c).

Larry A. Glassford – University of Windsor. Windsor, Ontario.

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