Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 4, No 1 (2014)

 Linking Global Citizenship Education and Education for Democracy through Social Justice: What can we learn from the perspectives of teacher-education candidates?

Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education
Volume 4 Number 1 2014

Printer Friendly Version

Linking Global Citizenship Education and Education for Democracy through Social Justice: What can we learn from the perspectives of teacher-education candidates?1

Paul R. Carr

Professeur / Professor
Département des sciences de l'éducation / Department of Education
Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO)
Gatineau, Québec, Canada

Gary Pluim Ph.D. Candidate

Department of Education
Lakehead University (Orillia)

Lauren Howard

Lakehead University (Orillia)

Keywords: critical education, Global Citizenship Education, thick democracy, Education for Democracy, teacher-education candidates, social justice, equity, participation, reflexivity

ABSTRACT: The respective projects of education for global citizenship and Education for Democracy are inherently intertwined; the richness and salience of one is dependent on the expression of the other. While both of these ideals are varied and broad in definition, they are each gaining prominence in theoretical debates, in policy development, and at the school level, where the implementation of (formal) education takes place. In this article we examine the construction of meanings ascribed to Global Citizenship Education, survey its position in the curriculum today, and connect it with Education for Democracy. Structured around the findings of a multi-faceted study with teacher-education candidates in education programs at a university in Ontario, Canada, this article uses data that demonstrates how Education for Democracy, like Global Citizenship Education, is largely perceived in and between a binary of mainstream and critical orientations. The findings of our study highlight a passive, mainstream, or neutralized understanding of democracy, in which research participants made little or no mention of, or linkage to, equity or social justice to democracy. This paper argues that global citizenship, Education for Democracy, and social justice are interlinked, and necessary to create a more just society for all. Further, we find that central descriptors of critical perspectives have been coopted or conflated, resulting in reduced meaning. To add a practical element to this conversation, we present six proposals to develop and bolster the critical facets of Education for Democracy and global citizenship, including addressing the local in global, welcoming conflict in learning sites, and highlighting the primacy of equity in each approach.


Global Citizenship has emerged as a concept, practice and term that has captured a wide breadth of notions relating to anything from political identities, moral sensibilities, international competencies, environmental responsibilities and local actions. Education for and about global citizenship is subject to these variable definitions, and, similarly, encapsulates a broad swath of curricular approaches and delivery. In efforts to provide traction to these terms, scholars in the field have distinguished between two overarching paradigms that separate mainstream from critical ideals of Global Citizenship Education. The mainstream perspective works within current global structures, and focuses education based on formal, realistic, charitable and equality ideals of global citizenship (Jorgenson & Shultz, 2012). By contrast, critical perspectives focus on the values of equity and social justice in Global Citizenship Education, which are geared to promoting change to existing structures that unequally restrict access and benefits to many in society (Jorgenson & Shultz, 2012).

Similarly, Education for Democracy has become an approach, philosophy, and phrase that is obscured because of its breadth of application and diverse theoretical grounding. Exploring the literature on Education for Democracy produces a comparable binary to the mainstream–critical juxtaposition of Global Citizenship Education ideals. Carr (2008a) elucidates a thin approach to democracy as one that is upheld primarily, if not only, through the institution of elections, where diversity, plurality and multiculturalism is essentialized or romanticized, and is weakly, if at all, critiqued or politicized. By contrast, a thick approach to democracy relies on a population with a high degree of political and media literacy, one that critiques the mainstream, seeks alternative forms of democracy, and measures the welfare of society through a lens of social justice.

In this article we present the findings of our study on Education for Democracy with teacher-education candidates (often alternatively referred to as pre-service teachers or education students) at two campuses of Sunlight University2 in Ontario. This research was designed to better understand the teacher-education candidates’ experiences with democracy and education, their current perspectives on democracy in global contexts, and how they would integrate democracy as a component of their own teaching. In our research with these teacher-education candidates on Education for Democracy, we found the emergence of a similar binary representing mainstream and critical perspectives of democracy and global citizenship (Carr & Becker, 2013). Furthermore, we observe how this binary is clouded in the popular discourse, as once fundamental components, such as social justice, are co-opted for mainstream purposes, and equality and equity, are conflated to reduce their distinct meanings, and, thus, their potency and potential to address and rectify social injustices are further problematized.

By examining these findings against the literature on Global Citizenship Education we have observed that there are striking similarities between the construction of this discourse with that of Education for Democracy, and the challenges that educators face in moving beyond broad, vague, mainstream connotations of these concepts. First, each discourse is framed within a binary of mainstream, or thin, perspectives and critical, or thick, perspectives. Second, as we shall discuss, the critical and thick perspectives of Global Citizenship Education and Education for Democracy, respectively, rely on the understanding and incorporation of social justice as a central imperative. Finally, the prominence of social justice in critical Global Citizenship Education and thick perspectives in Education for Democracy present challenges that may have similar resolutions across these fields. It is our intent in this article to expound on these similarities between these discourses and the ways in which the findings and implications from our research on Education for Democracy might inform the teaching of Global Citizenship Education.

We begin the article by providing context to the theoretical construction of Global Citizenship Education, developing of theorizations of citizenship, and presenting the currently accepted binary between mainstream and critical perspectives of Global Citizenship Education. We then present our research with teacher-education candidates on Education for Development, and highlight two important findings relating to the research participants’ perspectives of democracy, of the role of social justice, and the importance of education for democracy. Finally, we discuss these findings in light of the challenges for Global Citizenship Education, proposing several recommendations for instruction that mutually benefits a critical approach to Global Citizenship Education and a thick Education for Democracy.


The binary of mainstream and critical concepts of citizenship

The centering of global citizenship has gained prominence as an extension to longer-standing discourses of citizenship and education. While the concept of citizenship in itself is popularly interpreted as a single, accepted notion of a politically recognized individual, it is equally construed to describe a person who makes meaningful contributions to his or her society. Upon further deconstruction, however, it is clear that interpretations of citizenship are dynamic, contextual, contested and multi-dimensional. To provide a framework on the variability of citizenship meanings, Schugurensky (2010) isolates specific dimensions that enable clarity and understanding, such as identity, civic virtues, social capital, and agency. As according to mainstream perspectives, citizenship can refer to the status afforded to one who has formal allegiance to their state. Citizenship status has been generally associated with the responsibility to vote, or the necessary economic and political investment for many immigrants to attain status (Schugurenksy, 2010). Here, citizenship reveals its fundamental exclusive nature. Similar to the ways in which power is unequally distributed in societies, the construct of citizenship was originally developed as a means to privilege some at the explicit expense of others.

Citizenship can also refer to the identity tied to the feeling of belonging in one’s society (Schugurensky, 2010). Realizing citizenship through one’s identity involves seeking ties to society, something that can vary considerably depending on whether one sees oneself as a citizen of their region, nation, some diasporic configuration or, potentially, the planet (Schugurensky, 2010). With these ties, the increasing connection inferred to global education becomes apparent and necessary.

Citizenship could also denote the acquisition of civic virtues that are often associated with being a “good citizen.” Evidently, depending on each citizen’s context, these traits could vary considerably based on the social norms of one’s society. For example, Kabeer (2005) proposes that ordinary citizens in Bangladesh can deepen democracy through “habits of the heart,” such as social participation, activism, lobbying, and engaging in representative democracy. Fung (2003) disaggregates such civic virtues as respect for others, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, willingness to participate in public life, and self-confidence as necessary components. Schugurensky (2009) notes that participatory democracy develops when citizens are informed, critical, tolerant, and concerned for the common good. Undoubtedly, the seminal work of Dewey (1916) was preoccupied with the connection between society and schooling as well as habits that could lead to more meaningful citizenship and democracy.

Collectively, these virtues, traits and habits are theorized to build the “good society” (Schugurensky, 2010). Putnam (2000) describes this communal feature as social capital3, the “connections among individuals – [the] social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (p. 19). Putnam (2000) suggests that social capital is constructed through the active participation of citizens in public life; norms of reciprocity in which individuals contribute to others (or society) with a specific or general expectation that they will eventually be repaid; and trustworthiness, in which social life is “lubricated” by efficiencies incurred when threats of cheating, corruption, and dishonesty are minimized. Such varying perspectives are important; however, it is crucial to recognize individuals in society as not only a member of their own or home country but, rather, as citizens of the globe who can positively participate to the environmental and societal good of all.

Finally, citizenship can be construed as the agency of the individual to change society, and to work against the oppressive and unjust structures of society that marginalize and discriminate against some while privileging others. As agency, citizenship involves individuals and groups participating to develop human capabilities, address human rights, and tackle social injustices. As Schugurensky (2010) explains, “citizenship as agency, then, has to do with the willingness to ask difficult questions, with the confidence that one’s agency can potentially influence changes (political efficacy) and with the collective capacity to address injustices and build a better society” (p. 4). In this context, the term citizenship highlights the agency upon which individuals exert power to invoke change. Carr (2011) discusses the critical pedagogy of democracy, and outlines an amalgam of concepts, attributes, dispositions and actions that combine to create the conditions of critically engaged citizenship.

These four perspectives of citizenship demonstrate some of the ways that the notion is variably conceptualized and mobilized in society. The implications made throughout the four perspectives acknowledge how mainstream conceptualizations of citizenship are centred upon the immersion of an individual into pre-existing social constructs (Schugurensky, 2010). The notion of status has been intertwined with formal acceptance by the state as well as presumed identity through one’s attachment to society, or the civic virtues that are associated with hegemonic and dominant norms of societal structures (Schugurenksy, 2010). Standing alone is a critical conception of citizenship that is based on the contestation of society, and rests on the individual’s citizenship as agency to recognize, contextualize and deconstruct injustices and power imbalances, leading to the pursuit of a more just society (Schugurenksy, 2010).

Other scholars working in the field of citizenship education have associated this binary to a variety of terms. For example, academics such as Cogan and Morris (2001) and Davies and Issitt (2005) have bounded citizenship education between minimalist – with attention given to legal and civic knowledge to promote the “good” citizen – and maximalist– one that focuses on societal diversity and social disadvantage. Similarly, DeJaeghere (2009) and others in the field of international development education propose a “critical” dimension of citizenship education to bring to the fore the realities of exclusion and discrimination, “two factors that prevent the full enactment of democratic citizenship in multicultural societies” (p. 226). As we shall explore, this critical approach to citizenship is a major tenet in critical framings of Global Citizenship Education that draw on theories of colonialism, critical pedagogy and critical multiculturalism, and are connected to political literacy and transformative education (Carr, 2011; Carr & Becker, 2013; Carr, Zyngier, & Pruyn, 2012). The extension of the citizenship discourses to include a broader conception of global citizenship and the implications of Global Citizenship Education are predicated on the centrality of this juxtaposition between conventional and critical pedagogical approaches, which we explore further below.

Critical perspectives on Global Citizenship Education to contrast mainstream citizenship perspectives

While global citizenship remains a broadly defined construct in Canadian policy, theorization and practice (Brigham, 2011; Evans, Davies, Dean, & Waghid, 2008), theoretical conceptualizations have been constructed to aid meaning. Contemporary perspectives in global citizenship theory have extended the straightforward framework that underscores the distinction between mainstream and alternative perspectives of citizenship. Andreotti (2006) contrasts soft with critical global citizenship orientations, in which a soft perspective views global issues as problems of poverty and helplessness, whereas a critical perspective underscores the problems of inequality and injustice. Arguing for the importance of a critical perspective, Andreotti (2006) suggests that understanding global issues requires educators and students to examine a complex web of cultural and material processes as well as local and global contexts. In recognizing the hegemonic and dominant instructional structures and social aspects that have created local citizen views of countries in need of “development” and Western help, Andreotti (2006) highlights the central issue of whether and how to address the economic and cultural roots of inequalities in power, wealth, and labour distribution in a global context. For Andreotti, it is crucial that Global Citizenship Education be structured around the understanding of global issues through an exploration of critical literacy and social justice, rather than a charity approach to development issues.

Similarly, Shultz, Abdi and Richardson (2011) observe that public engagement of Canadians in global citizenship predominantly focuses on helping “pitiful” victims suffering or lacking in inferior nations who are in need of “development.” Shultz et al. (2011) contrast this perspective with a critical perspective of global citizenship that deliberately examines the colonial histories that enabled the current hegemonic relations that sustain global inequities. Thus, for Shultz et al. (2011), critical global citizenship encompasses the responsibility of deconstructing colonialism as well as the recognition that diverse, positive, and engaged roles are needed for global citizens to achieve awareness, engagement, and action towards a number of social injustices. Shultz et al. (2011) concur that a transformative model of global citizenship is based on a form of social justice that is fundamentally about changed relationships, and, further, that it is essential to work towards a more just distribution of benefits of human life, with a deep reciprocal recognition of the full humanity of all people. In transcending and deconstructing the destructive and artificial borders that have been created by “development” and “charity,” methods and approaches can be conceptualized in recognizing internal relations and roles as global citizens (Shultz et al., 2011). It is necessary, therefore, for critical questions to be posed, and for perspectives to be introduced that can assist students and citizens to deconstruct tokenism, manipulative messages, consumerism, and hyper-individualism of the current practices of public engagement and educational experiences in Canada.

Critical global citizenship, therefore, provides the necessary analysis of historical, political, and social development of this ever-changing globalized world. It is contended that educational experiences should empower young individuals through their learning of global issues, neoliberalism, and hegemonic structures (Carr & Becker, 2013). It is necessary that educators equip students with critical tools and skills to gain confidence and to be proactive in making a positive difference in this world.

In challenging issues of environmental sustainability, racism, white privilege, and global poverty, a vast array of social injustices, and growing inequality, potential solutions necessitate “conscious” and “conscientized” – to cite Freire (1970) – individuals to creatively recognize their importance and the value of engagement, awareness, and participation (and what Freire referred to as “conscientization”). It is fundamental that educational experiences provide the opportunity to learn about important global issues, think critically, and, importantly, engage in deeper, often uncomfortable, yet, nuanced analysis, in addition to acting as responsible global citizens, concerned with the welfare of one another, and the planet.

Thin and thick perspectives on Education for Democracy

Mirroring the mainstream and critical frames enshrined within Global Citizenship Education are a binary of thin and thick approaches to Education for Democracy. Through a thin orientation, democracy is upheld primarily, if not exclusively, through the institution and process of elections and electoral politics (Carr, 2011). This perspective focuses on representing citizens equally, on identifying majority positions, and establishing a mainstream political authority. As follows for this perspective, education about, or in relation to, democracy involves the education of contemporary models of democracy. Teaching about democracy would be seen as an objective and unbiased process aimed to placate and reinforce the system within society. A thin approach to Education for Democracy reinforces its contemporary, formal political framing. Here, learning about the political parties, their platforms and positions on various issues is one of the central tenets.

In opposition to a thin approach are perspectives on Education for Democracy in ways that we classify as “thick.” In this sense, critical principles of power, equity and representation are privileged, and alternative forms of democracy are envisioned, in which deliberative measures are taken to reach a broad range of groups to participate in various types of societal decision-making. A thick approach to Education for Democracy makes explicit connections between education and democracy, and there are conscious references to diversity, social justice, and the manifestations of power.

In the development of each of these frameworks, it appears that an overlap exists in the analytical and empirical models that highlight binaries of Education for Democracy and (critical) Global Citizenship Education. Both models describe a mainstream majority that define democratic and global citizenship as participation in established structures and charitable interventions to regulate social inequalities. At the other end of each binary is a critical minority that analyzes, questions, and disrupts social structures to address social inequities through political literacy, transformative education and social justice. These models each describe how major world events could be understood either through a reliance on limited, official sources where information is conveyed statically, or in a way in which war, conflict, geopolitics, and human rights are placed within a critical and dynamic frame of reference with emphasis on diverse perspectives and data-sources. Each model distinguishes an approach to education that either inspires action towards harmony and tolerance in society, or responsibility to think critically and engage in meaningful, deliberate dialogues. A comparative layout of these models is exhibited in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Ontological framing of societal perspectives

Overall Perspective Mainstream view Critical view Key Scholars
Global Citizenship Soft Critical Andreotti (2006);
Shultz et al. (2011)
International and
Development Education
Minimal Maximal DeJaeghere (2009);
Davies and Issitt (2005)
Education for
Democratic Citizenship
Participation in Society Pursuit of Justice Westheimer and Kahne (2004)
Education for Democracy Thin Thick Carr (2008, 2011)

Clearly, thick approaches to Education for Democracy are intrinsically linked with critical Global Citizenship Education. It is these perspectives that make explicit references to broad and socially constructed forms of diversity, social justice, and manifestations of power. Thick perspectives of democracy imply critically assessing society to examine how some benefit but not others, and to understand that for many, democracy – in the sense of having power and/or meaningful participation in the decisions that affect their lives – is a myth. Education for (a thick) democracy makes clear the very local connections to global issues, such as war and peace, equity, race/class/gender, and the environment. Working towards transforming these injustices is incumbent in a critical education for global citizenship, and for a thicker, more engaged and aware, and socially just democracy.

A research project with teacher-education candidates in relation to Education for Democracy

Research background and design

The purpose of our study is to identify, analyze, and compare the educational experiences of teacher-education candidates to better understand perceptions, experiences and perspectives of education related to democracy and to global citizenship. The main data-collection instrument is an online survey, administered in 2013, which invited teacher-education candidates at the Northern and Southern campuses of Sunlight University to participate in this study. Sunlight is a public, provincially supported, research-intensive university with a variety of undergraduate and graduate level programs. The Northern campus of Sunlight has approximately 8,000 students, and is situated in a lakeside municipality in a relatively remote part of the province with a sizeable population of citizens of Scandinavian and Aboriginal heritages. The Southern campus has approximately 1,500 students, and, while also located in a lakeside village, is much closer to large, cosmopolitan urban centres.

The survey builds upon previous studies conducted in Canada, the USA, and other sites internationally as part of the Global Doing Democracy Research Project, of which the first author is the co-director. Table 2 outlines the demographic make-up of the two samples, which is largely constituted of young (less than 23 years of age), white, female, Canadian-born, teacher-education candidates. The North-campus sample contained some graduate students who were fulfilling the teacher certification requirement within a master’s degree program; however, most of the teacher-education candidates were part of a one-year Bachelor of Education program that they were enrolled in as a consecutive degree following the undergraduate degree. At the South campus, a significant number of teacher-education candidates were in the final year of a four-year concurrent education program in which their teacher certification was rolled into their Bachelor of Education degree. These differences in program structures would help explain the greater number of participants within the 23-30 age range at the North campus, and age differences between sample populations may have had an impact on the collection of their responses.

Table 2. Demographic data of teacher-education candidate participants

Sample n= Gender Country of
Age Caucasian
Level of
Southern Campus 168 F: 87% Canada:
< 23 years: 50%
23-30 years: 37%
89% 1st & 2nd Year B.Ed: 17%
3rd & 4th: Year B.Ed: 28%
Professional: 50%
Concurrent: 4%
Primary: 93%
Northern Campus 118 F: 67% Canada: 92% < 23 years: 21%
23-30 years: 51%
83% 1st & 2nd Year B.Ed: 12%
3rd & 4th Year B.Ed: 7%
Professional: 57%
Master: 11%
Doctoral: 4%
Secondary: 39%
Primary: 29%
Graduate: 17%

To deepen our analysis in this study, we draw on these demographics through a coding system with markers of identity to distinguish voices in our study. Correspondingly, we extricate for each research participant their home campus at Sunlight University (N or S), their number code for each site (between 1 and 168), their sex (M or F), their age group (1=under 23; 2=23-30; 3=31-40; 4=41-50; 5=over 50), their university level (undergraduate, U; professional year, P; or graduate, G), their racial origin (Caucasian, W; racial minority, RM), and whether they were a first-generation university student (FG). For example, based on the coding system elaborated in Table 2, (S–74–F–1–U–W–FG) would be Participant 74 from the Southern campus, a female, undergraduate student, white, and a first-generation university student. In some cases where a demographic identifier is left blank, this is because of a lack of information related to a specific participant or in relation to a specific participant answering a specific question. While there are many facets of the identities of the research participants that we may have solicited, we selected these markers as one way to gain further insight and understanding of the participants’ qualitative comments regarding their conceptualization of Education for Democracy.


Data were collected through an online questionnaire relying on a main section of 20 open-and closed-ended questions as well as an introductory section to collect demographic information, which facilitates correlations and cross-tabulations as well as the generation of themes emanating from the data. Research participants remained anonymous at all times and were free to respond to or omit any question they wished. Participation in the study was voluntary, and participants were solicited through a general call through email for participation across the two campuses in the study. The survey included quantitative data that were gathered using a Likert scale, with one representing the lowest adherence to the proposed statement, and five the highest. Open-ended comments related to the Likert scale questions by survey respondents were used to assist and guide the qualitative and narrative data. Variations of this study as well as others within the broader project and their findings are also taken up elsewhere, detailing the perceptions of democracy by teacher-education candidates (Carr, 2007, 2008b, 2008c, 2011; Carr & Becker, 2013; Carr & Pluim, 2014; Carr & Thésée, 2009; Carr et al., 2012; Lund & Carr, 2008).

Five questions from the survey are highlighted for this article. We wanted to better understand the experiences that future teachers had in their own education in relation to engaging in and with democracy. We also wanted to gain an understanding of how they viewed democracy in relation to social justice. Finally, we wished to get a sense of how these teacher-education candidates planned to introduce democracy into their own classrooms once they became teachers themselves. As such, the specific questions we are using for this analysis, drawn from the questionnaire, are highlighted in Table 3.

Table 3. Survey questions attended to in this article

1 From your perspective, is the education system in which you were educated democratic?
2 From your perspective, has your university education promoted an understanding of democracy?
3 How important do you feel the issue of social justice is in relation to democracy?
4 What do you understand by the term Social Justice?
5 If you are planning to teach in a school setting, how would you promote Education for Democracy?

The analysis of the data relied on a critical, constructivist theoretical approach. A two-stage process of open and focused coding (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996) was employed as an analysis to sort the data into themes and sub-themes. This analysis focused upon participants’ responses and conceptualizations of whether or not they consider Canada to be a democratic country based upon their knowledge and educational experience as well as their understanding of social justice in relation to democracy. The other two areas of focus examined whether or not participants (teacher-education candidates at Sunlight University) experienced an engaged and democratic educational experience, and, importantly, what they would do (or intend to do) as future educators with such learned knowledge to teach critical engagement and global citizenship.


Teacher-education candidates’ experiences with Education for Democracy

The binary of representations of democratic citizenship as a formal-political manifestation versus a critical-social position was evident in the findings of our study with teacher-education candidates at the two campuses of Sunlight University. When teacher-education candidates were asked about their own education experiences, two main representations were expressed with respect to the degree to which they were democratic. On one hand, the majority contingent responded to this question in terms of the degree to which they had opportunities to access the system and the structures as they existed. For example, as one participant described, “I was able to voice my opinions during my school year and to make a change. Student councils are an example” (S–126–F–1–P–W). Another student noted:

I think the education system, as a student, you have some say in student affairs, but when it comes to administration and big decisions students often feel as though they are citizens in a democratic society who have not yet reached age of eligibility. (N–37–F–2–P–W–FG)

Within this paradigm there was both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the existing structures: “Overall, I believe students are encouraged to be a part of the learning community and that their voices are heard” (N–68–F–3–P–W), on one hand, and, “Yes there is voting, but it is apathetic and usually poorly informed choices being made with regards to education” (S–11–M–3–P–W–FG), on the other.

The second group – a minority, but present within our sample – concentrated on whether issues of equity and justice were addressed. They saw democracy through a lens of power. “It was the industrial education complex,” described one teacher-candidate, adding, “Not available to all, serving less and affordable to no one” (N–82–M–3–P–W). “Most teachers are white and come from privilege. School work has to be completed by outdated and sometimes ignorant templates” (N–109–M–3–UG–RM). “No, I was not allowed to say what I thought of the prejudice, racist, white teachers who pretended to tolerate me. I was told that I could not do a certain type of job as a black person” (S–104–F–4–P–RM–FG).

Similar trends were exhibited for responses of teacher-education candidates of their university experience. Ten of 59 study participants on the Northern campus felt disenfranchised with the level of democracy at their university. In this instance, a teacher-candidate reflected on her experience to recall the connection of her undergraduate education with democracy:

I could count on one hand the amount of courses that even mentioned democracy. To be honest, I had to really think about what democracy is before answering these questions because I had forgotten since I haven’t really talked about it since my first year. (S–28–F–1–UG–W–FG)

Other teacher-candidates shared similar perspectives. “We didn’t even know that there was an election for [the Sunlight University Student Union] president until this morning, only by email. No campaigning – nothing” (N–44–F–2–P–W). Another participant highlighted, “I feel as though I am and have been in an institution where you perceive to be in a democracy, when in reality you have little say” (S–60–F–2– P–W).

Yet, 47% of teacher-candidates alluded to the presence of democratic theory within the education degree. “Also, I had the opportunity to read: Plato, Marcus Aueliois [sic], Locke, Rousseau among many others who wrote ground-breaking ideas about democracy [sic]” (N–101–F–2– P–W–FG); “Some of my classes in sociology have made a strong effort to teach and promote democracy in society” (S–49–F–1–UG–W).

However, very few, if any, teacher-education candidates spoke about equity or social justice as part of democracy. This absence greatly intrigued us, as it correlated with what we had found elsewhere in our international studies. We probed this component further to better understand if and how teacher-education candidates saw and understood this linkage.

Democracy and social justice

Upon further investigation of social justice as an integral part of democracy, we found that most respondents felt it was, indeed, a crucial component. At the Northern campus, 79% scored this question as “yes” or “very much so”: “How can we have a democratic society if there is no social justice?” (N–68–F–3–P–W) “Democracy and social justice go hand in hand” (N–20–F–2–P–RM). “It should be evident in all aspects. But it is not” (S–118–M–2–P–W).

However, as we further interpreted the data, we found that most participants veered towards a passive, mainstream, or neutralized version of the construct. For example, many respondents described social justice in terms of freedom, equality, and an avenue to voice one’s opinions: “It comes down to equality and the opportunity to speak your mind” (N–56–F–2–M–W–FG); “Social justice should be a reflection of the democratic will of the people” (S–11–M–3–P–W–FG), and; “Every demographic must be created equally” (N–107–M–2–P–W–FG).

When asked to provide a definition of social justice, over 40% used equality as a central characteristic. For example, “Social Justice is based on the principles of equality” (N–26–F–2–P–W–FG); social justice means “equality to everyone” (S–12–F–1–UG–RM–FG); “Equality and rights and dignity of human beings” (N–35–F–1–P–W); and “Fairness, equality, safety, freedom” (N–70–F–3–M–W–FG).

Only a minority of respondents alluded to the challenging nature of current structures and the disruption of power in their definitions of social justice and its reference to democracy. One participant commented: “Social justice involves creating a community where everyone has … equitable access to life’s necessities” (S–60–F–2–P–W). Others said that as for social justice and democracy, “They go hand in hand – equalizing voices and, therefore, power is justice” (N–119–F–3–D–W–FG). “Social justice refers to the promotion of equality between social classes (S–46–F–1–UG–A).

When asked to provide their understanding of social justice, only 16% from the Northern campus aligned it with dissent: “Not a whole lot, just what my parents have dragged me through” (N–48–M–2–P–W); “That things that are right will be upheld, but things that society deems as “wrong” or “bad” will be demonized” (N–69–F–1–P–W). One particularly revealing comment from a participant elucidated the racialized nature of society, and its importance in relation to social justice.

Social justice refers to justice being exercised at all levels of a society; that is not what happens in this country. Different ‘classes’ are treated differently, people are racialized, there is a bias towards the rich, white people, and now an ever-increasing bias in favour of the wealthy. When police stop you, or even when they are deciding whether to harass you or not, they are making snap decisions on your race, your appearance, and how ‘together’ you are – if you look poor, scruffy, native, black, or any combination of those things, you are more likely to be stopped, questioned, and essentially harassed. No one will believe you against the police – they choose not to. If a put-together white person were in the same situation, they most likely would not be stopped, that wouldn’t even pass through an officer’s mind to stop them. (N–17–F–2–P–RM–FG)

Discussion: Relevance of findings to Global Citizenship Education

The findings from our study motivated us to think more deeply about how Education for Democracy is taught in universities to teacher-education candidates, and how these learners would ultimately educate their own students about democracy. Of specific interest was how and whether a thick approach to democracy would be integrated in teaching for democracy. What elements of thick education for democracy should be incorporated in teaching for democracy, how might this be integrated, and how would social justice be mobilized to educate for a richer, more critical understanding of democracy?

In this process of analysis it occurred to us that these questions – and the ensuing recommendations – might also be relevant to the challenges of Global Citizenship Education. As elaborated earlier, similar issues of ambiguity and apoliticization hamper each initiative. As Evans et al. (2008) note:

Canadian teachers face different challenges as they attempt to educate for global citizenship. Conceptions of what is expected and included in Global Citizenship Education, for example, lack clarity.… In particular, instructional practices that aim to address beliefs, values, and notions of social justice, and participation in civic life, appear to receive little attention in current Canadian curriculum policies and materials. (p. 284)

O’Sullivan and Pashby (2008) support the development of the nuances of Global Citizenship Education through classroom realities to conceive of an approach to global issues from the confines of provincial curricula and national discourses. However, various educational policy developments in Ontario in recent years elucidate the objectives and projected outcomes of Global Citizenship Education. To help shed some light on how exactly Global Citizenship Education is advanced in schools in Canada, several contemporary curricular documents are selected as exemplars.

Examples of global education curriculum at the elementary and secondary level

Two educational guides, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s (ETFO, 2010) Educating for global citizenship and Global citizenship: A practical guide for schools in Atlantic Canada (UNICEF Canada, 2011), are curriculum resources that focus on programs and initiatives that primary- and secondary-school teachers can use to introduce conceptual realities and issues of global citizenship. These educational curricula have been implemented in Ontario and in Atlantic Canada. A number of strategies and objectives are highlighted in these current curriculum mandates and educational policies that connect larger critical global perspectives to the potential outcome of engaged and critically aware global citizens. The general themes highlighted from both mandates consider the necessity for young adults to have the opportunity to experience a critically reflective educational experience and engage with notions of global citizenship.

Educating for global citizenship: An ETFO curriculum development inquiry initiative (ETFO, 2010) includes important resources that focus upon reflective educational practice, action research, and innovative pedagogy in which students and educators in Ontario are actively engaged in promoting and creating notions of global citizenship and education for peace. This curriculum tool by the ETFO provides inquiry and initiative to the notion of educating for global citizenship. Throughout this curriculum-based mandate, there are many intended learning goals, such as the ability of students to deconstruct hegemonic forms of power, privilege and racism, as well as learning for equality, social justice, global themes, diverse worldviews, and most importantly, purposeful action (ETFO, 2010). An example of this are the curriculum samples of junior and intermediate social-issues framework and planning that focus on children’s rights, and month-by-month social issues. Throughout each framework, there are guidelines and resources available to potentially engage and discuss a range of societal and global issues, such as fair trade, global water facts, poverty/ famine, and human and civil rights, among a variety of examples (ETFO, 2010). The hopeful result of this framework of inquiry and constructivist-based learning is critical and engaged shared conversations, reflective dialogue, and positive activism (ETFO, 2010). This curriculum provides important and necessary opportunities for elementary- and secondary-school educators to investigate varying perspectives and practices for educating for global citizenship.

Educating for global citizenship: A practical guide for schools in Atlantic Canada (UNICEF, 2011) is a curriculum developed by UNICEF Canada that includes programs and tools for engagement for primary- and secondary-school educators within the educational curriculum in Canada. It encompasses the notion of a rights-based, action-oriented, and pedagogical approach to education. Through this approach, the classroom context should be a creative space where students are active participants, and rights of both students and educators are modelled, upheld, and respected (UNICEF, 2011). Students are able to deconstruct, decode, analyze, and understand images, messages, environments, as well as local and global networks and contexts (UNICEF, 2011). By adapting curriculum to this perspective and incorporating programs into this practical guide, it is hoped that students will have the opportunity of a transformative educational experience. Transformative educational experiences would potentially influence education, Education for Democracy, and global citizenship in a positive way, in which educators and students can critically engage with important societal issues and to hopefully create a more democratic society. Young adults should feel as though their opinions matter while developing awareness, appreciation, as well as respect and responsibility for themselves and each other at the global level. Examples throughout this global citizenship guide focus on participatory teaching and student-centred pedagogy, in addition to the methodology of “head, heart, hand” (a cycle of learning that is to stimulate curiosity, morality and responsibility, and an opportunity to take action (UNICEF, 2011). In examining each of the ETFO and UNICEF curriculum resources, one might conclude that one represents an example of a soft approach to Global Citizenship Education, and the other critical, or at least how these resources each possess a variety of elements in each approach.


Implicitly or explicitly, education faculties today, through their courses, policies and programs, are entrenched with issues and aspects of democracy and global citizenship. This is consistent with recommendations that advocate for their immersion in the routine workings of the institution to enable sustainability of strategic vision (Jorgenson & Shultz, 2012). However, a common feature of education programs at universities today is the prioritization of the mechanics of teaching over the politics of education. The contention that we make here is that Education for Democracy must be critical and engaging, resulting in thick democracy, and, equally, that global education must be critical and engaging to challenge existing power structures and hegemony. Avoiding this contention may lead to simply reproducing – or more likely exacerbating – the existing injustices in society. Teacher-education candidates and larger structures and organizations of the institution must seek these opportunities to ensure that education is about reinforcing opportunities for bona fide equity and justice, much more than just the nuts and bolts of teaching.

The synergies between Education for Democracy and Global Citizenship Education, we believe, may present such opportunities in education programs today. Indeed, aspects of Education for Democracy and global citizenship can and should be integrated into other university education courses in a variety of creative ways. Interdisciplinary education that is not constrained by disciplinary boundaries, and that is open to diverse epistemological thinking and perspectives should be promoted, such as democratic education, environmental education, or schooling in society. However, unique courses in democratic and global education can also richly cross-pollinate each other’s curriculum. Increasingly, universities are endorsing global education and democratic education, either explicitly through courses, cohorts and options, or implicitly through references in policies and program philosophies. Thus, thick Education for Democracy can be accessed through critical Global Citizenship Education (and vice versa).

To maintain the fundamental values entrenched in thick and critical approaches, we propose six pedagogical qualities that, we believe, would contribute to reinforcing the ways that teacher-education candidates conceptualize and promote democracy and global citizenship.

Ensuring clarity of terminology and concepts

A central theme of our findings was a general tendency towards the conflation of terms, terminology and concepts introduced in the research. For example, when we asked teacher-education candidates how they felt about a normative, “critical” ideal, they tended to respond favourably. However, when pressed, probed, or invited to qualify their responses, they responded through mainstream ways. Terms designed to elucidate distinctions in social approaches can be co-opted, conflated, or rendered ambiguous. Social constructs such as social justice, multiculturalism, critical literacy, or democracy are essentialized, depoliticized, and romanticized. Instead, critical Education for Democracy and global citizenship should begin by identifying and deconstructing these terms. They need to be problematized from the perspective of who benefits from these normative accounts, and, as Jorgenson and Shultz (2012) propose, educators and their institutions need to articulate the intentions and expectations of Global Citizenship Education within their locations of power and interest in their ongoing search for just relations that engage with difference. Democracy, equity, social justice, and global citizenship should be clearly framed throughout educational frameworks at multiple levels so that their intents are clear, to either disrupt the traditional ways that power pervades social structures, or how to reproduce relations with social justice and peace.

Elevating the importance of social justice

In this paper we argue that thick democracy is not just related to global citizenship, but that it is also an inherently integral and bi-directional component of it. On both campuses, equity is brought to the forefront, making it a logical, moral and epistemological starting point in education. Alternative forms of democracy prioritize not only the values of economics and freedom that are highlighted in mainstream camps but, instead, centre on the importance of equity in participation, voice, and citizenship. Likewise, the political economy of the world seen through the lens of the critical global citizen does not address only problems of helplessness and poverty but also deficiencies in social justice. Education for a thick democracy, therefore, contributes to critical Global Citizenship Education by highlighting the opportunity for social justice.

Focusing on the global…

There is much that can be taken from global examples of democratic policies, practices and philosophies. Societies are interconnected by migration, culture, and digital communications as well as through the recognition of the different dimensions of global citizenship. Thus, this can lead to making educational experiences an opportunity to conceptualize global perspectives and for positive and fruitful global citizenship to flourish. Suggestions along these lines also emerged within our data from teacher-education candidates at Sunlight University, as 58% of respondents from the Northern campus, for example, proposed integrating democracy through teaching and discussion. One student suggested:

Presenting literature and texts that outline the concerns in global politics and issues worldwide. I would seek permission from the principal and administrators if necessary to engage with controversial topics in the effort to expand the students’ knowledge and awareness. I would seek to equally represent different population groups and merely provide the information so that the students may form their own opinions and thoughts. The idea is to bring them into the pool of knowledge and conscious thought. From here, they can stroke to whichever direction they believe. (N-95–M–2–P–RM)

To teach for a thick democracy, examples of – and a context for – robust, thick, and critical democratic participation must be emphasized. Benefits of promising activities around the globe can be shared with students, teachers, families, and the wider community with open, sustained and critical assessments of what democracy does and should look like. Democracy must be considered as a process, not an outcome, and must involve vibrant, critical and meaningful participation by all sectors of society, especially in and through education.

…And the local

O’Sullivan and Pashby (2008) propose that “an ethos of global citizenship” should articulate a fundamental dualism of our time, referring to the national versus the global. We would extend the national to personal, implying an intensely personal dimension of the local. Whereas global is often interpreted as “a world out there” (Pluim, MacDonald, & Niyozov, 2014), it must also be seen as our everyday intra- and interactions between beings. Critical understanding of the linkage between social justice and social change as well as the salience of the social construction of identity, privilege, and systemic injustice can be highlighted, resulting in an emphasis placed on engagement as well as reflection and learning so that praxis becomes a tangible objective. Critical reflexive practice as a pedagogical tool for and with teacher-education candidates can be used to facilitate a negotiated change, “from the inside to the outside,” to “analyze own position/context and participate in changing structures, assumptions, identities, attitudes and power relations in their contexts” (Andreotti, 2006, p. 47).

Practice and praxis

To enable critical approaches in education, instructors can provide a meaningful forum for expression and deliberative democracy, so that engagement, critique, and debate can take place. Forty-two percent of teacher-education candidates at the Northern campus suggested through the survey that democracy could be learned by practising it in the classroom. “I would set up my class as an example of democracy in the world” (N-48–M–2–P–W), suggested one teacher candidate. Another envisioned that he would “continue to build on a class democracy from there to model what democracy should encompass [sic]” (S–11–M–3–P–W–FG). Nurturing the concepts of citizenship and democracy at an early age throughout the educational experience in formal and informal ways, inside and outside of the classroom, is one way to engage in ideas proposed in this paper. Further, educators can facilitate democratic activities in and beyond school, such as student consultations, inter-school exchanges, service education, deliberative democracy, and integration into the community.

Engaging in controversy, conflict and discomfort

Within teaching, there is a general concern that educating for thick democracy would be considered “political,” “biased,” or “indoctrination” (Carr, 2011). As Pike (2008) has pointed out, we tend to ignore the unfamiliar and uncomfortable lessons from history. However, by virtue of not addressing issues of justice and equity in any depth or through critical and/or transformative approaches is to essentially allow for the reproduction of inequities and current hegemonic structures. As one teacher-education candidate expressed it, “I like the idea of being able to discuss controversial issues in a safe way in the classroom” (S–70–F–3–M–W–FG); “Let everyone have an equal opportunity, incorporate teaching about multiculturalism and current controversial issues” (S–43–F–1–UG–A–FG). A thick perspective of democracy means understanding that to be neutral is to side with hegemonic powers, and that discussing controversial issues does not equate indoctrination; instead, avoiding critical discussions can lead to passive acceptance of injustice, war, and hatred, and also cultivate compliance and docility among students (Carr & Becker, 2013). Andreotti (2006) argues that it is necessary for educators to understand the risks and implications of informed decisions and to make responsible pedagogical choices. As educators, we need to demonstrate and encourage critical engagement for democratic participation and social justice. Embracing this discomfort as students or teachers, and seeking to work in unpredictable, constructivist settings will not only be transformative for students but for instructors alike.


An integral component of critical Global Citizenship Education is the pedagogies employed within the conceptualization of a thick democracy or through Education for Democracy. Spheres of Education for Democracy must also be primary arenas for the integration of critical Global Citizenship Education as well. The formal and implicit spaces of discourses, policies, courses, workshops, and other curricular areas that embed Education for Democracy exist widely, and provide opportunities to re-entrench the harmonies between thick democratic and critical global citizenship perspectives. The work of Dewey (1916) has legitimized the integration of democratic goals and the exploration of possibilities in education discussions, which can permeate to faculties of education, and, thus, routinely ground the framework of a large swath of teacher-education courses. Within the normative perspective, (thin) democratic education – in theoretical arenas, at least – has been established as a pillar of education. Yet, as we have outlined in this article, the meanings of democracy – just as is the case for global citizenship – can vary greatly. As Westheimer and Kahne (2004) put it:

It is not enough to argue that democratic values are as important as traditional academic priorities. We must also ask what kind of values. What political and ideological interests are embedded in or are easily attached to varied conceptions of citizenship? (p. 21)

Thus, our focus in education should be the consideration of the synergies between global citizenship and Education for Democracy, and, in particular, how critical approaches of one can reciprocally complement the thick perspectives of the other in ways that social injustices, oppressions, and inequities might gain insightful attention from tomorrow’s teachers and, ultimately, their students.

End Notes

1 This paper is part of, and has benefited from funding from, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research of Canada (SSHRC) project entitled Democracy, Political Literacy and Transformative Education (DPLTE), which is led by the lead author, who is the Principal Investigator. The two co-authors are research assistants on this project.

2 This research is part of a broader comparative project referenced in the note above. The name of the university is not considered relevant for the purposes of this paper, which is why a pseudonym is used. For more information on the DPLTE project, please go to

3 Putnam’s notion of social capital has two aspects: bonding and bridging social capital. Each of these aspects has relations to conceptualizing participation, bonding to citizenship as identity, and bridging to democracy.


Andreotti, V. (2006). Soft versus critical global citizenship education. Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, 3, 40-51.

Brigham, M. (2011). Creating a global citizen and assessing outcomes. Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, 1(1), 15-43. Retrieved from

Carr, P. R. (2007). Educational policy and the social justice dilemma. In H. Claire & C. Holden (Eds.), Controversial issues in education (pp. 1-10). London, England: Trentham.

Carr, P. R. (2008a). ‘But what can I do?’: Fifteen things education students can do to transform themselves in/through/with education. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 1(2), 81-97.

Carr, P. R. (2008b). Educating for democracy: With or without social justice? Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(4), 117-136.

Carr, P. R. (2008c). Educators and education for democracy: Moving beyond ‘thin’ democracy. Inter-American Journal of Education and Democracy, 1(2), 147-165.

Carr, P. R. (2011). Does your vote count? Critical pedagogy and democracy. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Carr, P. R., & Becker, D. (2013). The language of hegemonic democracy, and the prospects for an education for democracy. The Social Educator, 31(1), 22-34.

Carr, P. R., & Pluim, G. W. J. (in press). Education for democracy, and the specter of neoliberalism jamming the classroom. In M. Abendroth & B. Porfilio (Eds.), School against neoliberal rule: Educational fronts for local and global justice: A reader. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Carr, P. R., & Thésée, G. (2009). The critical pedagogy of understanding how educators relate to democracy. In K. Daly, D. Schugurensky & K. Lopes (Eds.), Learning democracy by doing: Alternative practices in citizenship learning and participatory democracy (pp. 285-295). Toronto, ON: Transformative Learning Centre, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Carr, P. R., Zyngier, D., & Pruyn, M. (Eds.). (2012). Can teachers make a difference? Experimenting with, and experiencing, democracy in education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Coffey, A., & Atkinson, P. (1996). Making sense of qualitative data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Cogan, J. J., & Morris, P. (2001). The development of civic values: An overview. International Journal of Education Research, 35(1), 1-9.

Davies, I., & Issitt, J. (2005). Reflections on citizenship education in Australia, Canada and England. Comparative Education, 41(4), 389-410.

DeJaeghere, J. G. (2009). Critical citizenship education for multicultural societies. Inter-American Journal of Education for Democracy, 2(2), 222-236.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2010). Educating for global citizenship: An ETFO curriculum development inquiry initiative. Retrieved from

Evans, M., Davies, I., Dean, B., & Waghid, Y. (2008). Educating for ‘global citizenship’ in schools: Emerging understandings. In K. Mundy, K. Bickmore, R. Hayhoe, M. Madden & K. Madjidi (Eds.), Comparative and international education: Issues for teachers (pp. 273-298). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Freire, P. (1970). The pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Fung, A. (2003). Deliberative democracy, Chicago style: Grass-roots governance in policing and public education. In A. Fung & E. Wright (Eds.), Deepening democracy: Institutional innovations in empowered participatory governance (pp. 111-143). Retrieved from

Jorgenson, S., & Shultz, L. (2012). Global citizenship education (GCE) in post-secondary institutions: What is protected and what is hidden under the umbrella of GCE? Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, 2(1), 1-22. Retrieved from

Kabeer, N. (2005). Inclusive citizenship: Meanings and expressions. London, England: Zed Press.

Lund, D. E., & Carr, P. R. (Eds.). (2008). ‘Doing’ democracy: Striving for political literacy and social justice. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

O’Sullivan, M., & Pashby, K. (Eds.). (2008). Global citizenship education: Canadian perspectives. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers B.V.

Pike, G. (2008). Citizenship education in global context. Brock Education Journal, 17(1), 38-49.

Pluim, G. W. J., MacDonald, A., & Niyozov, S. (2014). Bend without breaking: A study on teacher candidates’ practice of critical reflexivity as learners and teachers of global education. In D. Montemurro, M. Gambhir, M. Evans & K. Broad (Eds.), Inquiry into practice: Teaching global matters in local classrooms (pp. 115-120). Toronto, ON: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto Press.

Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Schugurensky, D. (2009). Citizenship learning for and through participatory democracy. In K. Daly, D. Schugurensky & K. Lopes (Eds.), Learning democracy by doing: Alternative practices in citizenship learning and participatory democracy (pp. 723-733). Toronto, ON: Transformative Learning Centre, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Schugurensky, D. (2010). Citizenship learning for and through participatory democracy. In E. Pinnington & D. Schugurensky (Eds.), Learning citizenship by practicing democracy: International initiatives and perspectives (pp. 1-19). Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Shultz, L., Abdi, A., & Richardson, G. (Eds.). (2011). Global citizenship education in post-secondary institutions: Theories, practices, policies. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

UNICEF Canada. (2011). Educating for global citizenship: A practical guide for schools in Atlantic Canada. Retrieved from UNICEF Canada website:

Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2004). What kind of citizen? The politics of educating for democracy. American Educational Research Journal, 41(2), 237-269.