Navigating Competing Conceptions of Civic Education: Lessons from Three Israeli Civics Classrooms

Mar. 27, 2016

Source: Oxford Review of Education 


The concentration of this study was the documentation and analysis of ways in which competing conceptions of citizenship play out in actual classroom settings. Examining three cases in the context of the Israeli education system, its findings show that civics teachers’ views and beliefs influenced ways in which they interpreted the curriculum standards and reacted to schools' policies and atmosphere, even in cases where these views contradicted. Nevertheless, when confronted with competing conceptions of citizenship as presented by their students, the teachers were less willing to open true democratic conversations, resulting in lessons that did not necessarily create a true democratic atmosphere.

This study aims to explore this aspect of democratic civic education by concentrating on ways in which underlying conceptions of democratic citizenship influence and direct practice. As will be shown, the very complexity and multiplicity of democratic citizenship may result in confusing classroom realities of competing conceptions of citizenship, leading to non- democratic atmospheres. In this manner, this study of three Israeli civics classrooms examines how such a gap between democratic ideals and non-democratic educational practices occur. The concentration of this study was the documentation and analysis of ways in which competing conceptions of democratic citizenship play out in actual classroom settings, questioning: (1) what different competing conceptions of citizenship manifest in three Israeli civics classrooms; and (2) how do civics teachers manage this reality of multiple conceptions?

The main argument to be presented is that whereas the civics teachers that stood at the heart of this study held coherent and consistent conceptions of citizenship, and interpreted the nationwide curriculum standards based on these beliefs, once these conceptions were challenged by students during the enacted civics lesson, the teachers did not engage in true democratic conversations accepting these competing beliefs, but rather dismissed student views that were inconsistent with their own pre-existing conceptions, reinforcing the gap between democratic ideals and actual practice.

Considering the Israeli context, these findings are troubling in the sense that civics lessons did not contribute to the creation of true respectful and democratic experiences, which are arguably important elements in a state still striving to create its democratic ideals and convey them to its students. These findings have important implications for both research and practice. Moving beyond the will to understand teachers’ personal beliefs and ways in which these beliefs influence their decision-making process, future studies may consider examining teachers’ reactions to contradictory conceptions as presented in official curricula, school policies and atmosphere, as well as by students themselves. Examining teachers who were more successful in acknowledging, responding to, and meaningfully analysing such competing beliefs within their lessons may contribute to our understanding of how this may be done. When considering civics teacher education programmes, not only is there place to enable future teachers to establish their own civic stance (Adler, 2008 ), there is great importance in their developing a ‘democratic soul’, enabling them to respect and interact with conceptions of citizenship that contradict their own personal beliefs in a true democratic manner.

Updated: Jul. 06, 2016