Pedagogy of power: Education for participatory, democratic citizenship

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Emily Robertson


critical pedagogy, conflict resolution

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction


Reports assert that American civil society is breaking down, specifically that there is an "eclipse" of active and responsible citizenship. Many are calling on public schools to provide a remedy for weak citizenship in the form of civic and character education. But some of the same reports also suggest that Americans doubt the ability and interest of democratic citizens. I refute the common belief that the eclipse of citizenship is due simply to citizens being unwilling to be socially responsible, that they are apathetic, or they are lacking in character, intelligence or discipline. The fact is that a particular political philosophy and educational arrangements were decided long ago that were based on inactive citizenship. Additionally, dominant American economic and social cultures have long played major roles in forming citizen attitudes and behaviors. The theory herein of the expansion of democratic citizenship to a more powerful role in local and national public affairs is grounded in the Anti-federalist and Jeffersonian arguments that a good Constitution is necessary but not sufficient to create a democratic way of life. But, for a more powerful and participatory role, citizens must be appropriately educated, specifically for (a) agency, (b) civility, and (c) equal opportunity, understood as citizen efficacy, cooperation and respect, and justice.

Employing a new pedagogy of power as a basis for this kind of democratic education, American public schools can contribute to enabling powerful citizenship. A few exemplary public school programs are provided. Although the feasibility of a new pedagogy of power is dubious, change can be based on the premise that (1) reality is not static, and, (2) transformations of the individual and society are reciprocal and dynamic in nature, i.e., individuals' consciousness transform while they are trying to transcend existing limits imposed by society and therein change society's limits and themselves in the process. However, any proposal for democratizing education and changing teacher practices must address changes on both the individual and social levels.


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