DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
This chapter employs a comparative perspective to analyze how the Chinese and Australian national curriculum guidelines in citizenship education approach the task of developing the critical capacities of future citizens. Reflecting the central theme in this book, the concluding section offers some observations, based on the findings of this study, on how the cultivation of ‘critical citizens’ is negotiated alongside the aim of developing ‘good citizens’.
The question of how school education develops ‘good citizens’ is attracting growing attention in the international literature (e.g., DeJaeghere, 2000; Lee, 1999, 2010). In the Chinese context, Tse (2011, p. 176) analyzed two versions of Grade 7-9 textbooks published in 1997 and 2005, and found that the construction of “good citizens” in Chinese citizenship curriculum highlights the needs of the society, the nation, and the state, and largely puts the emphasis on “shaping individuals’ psychological qualities, personal ideals and moral virtues according to the needs or requirements of the collectives in general and the nation in particular.” This finding closely resonates with the understanding of a “good” citizen defined according to DeJaeghere (2009, p. 226) as one “who is law-abiding, contributes to society, and possesses a good character”. Dejaeghere also observes that the aim of cultivating ‘good citizens’ through citizenship education shows some underlying tension with the objective of developing ‘critical citizenship’ that intends to empower the students to challenge and change the unequal power structures in the social reality (DeJaeghere, 2009). The findings of this study indicate how ‘being critical’ is embodied in the national citizenship curriculum in two nations that differ significantly in both their cultural traditions and political systems; they also show how nurturing the critical mind is integrated within their respective overall aims and learning objectives.
The objectives of citizenship education in China are straightforward and clear: training responsible and supportive citizens of the state, nation and mainstream society. A prominent difference between the citizenship curriculum guidelines of the two countries is that the Chinese document involves many more moral components, especially at the primary level. The Chinese students also tend to develop critical thinking more on social issues, but less on moral and political issues. Generally speaking, the China curriculum appears to construct a black and white world for the students, in which the young citizens are required to differentiate ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ with no shades of grey in between. In spite of the opportunities for students to exercise their critical minds and despite the promotion of the students’ independent thinking and critical capacities, the citizenship curriculum guidelines in China are unambiguous and explicit: the outcome of teaching is to foster students’ internalization of the dominant values (see also Zhao & Fairbrother, 2010). This educational priority relates to the nature of the country’s political regime and is also influenced by China’s historical and cultural context. For example, while discussing how to strengthen emerging citizenship education in China, Tan (2011) noted that the existing approach stresses the transmission of civic knowledge and failed to give sufficient attention to the nurturing of students’ civic consciousness, critical capacities and other skills. He proposed that education should avoid indoctrination and treat the students as autonomous, free individuals entitled to rights; but at the same time, Tan (2011) also pointed out that education should help the students understand how to make a choice based on some established principles. In this sense, the Chinese curriculum guidelines demonstrates an approach to citizenship education that aims to develop the ‘good citizen’ and the students’ critical mind, in which the latter is subject to the former and where the purpose of critique is to further strengthen the nurturing of good citizens.
By contrast, the Australian civics and citizenship curriculum guide tends to grant students more autonomy in making their own decisions and more autonomy in negotiating their roles as citizens in society. Despite the failure of the Australian Shape Paper to explicitly explain how developing students’ critical minds supports the purpose of nurturing active citizenship, it is clear that nurturing the ‘critical citizen’ does play a much more important role in the overall aims and learning objectives compared with the Chinese curriculum counterpart. The Australian students are empowered to develop a critical perspective on social/civic issues and media which is not as constrained as the Chinese case. Although both Australia and China may share similar challenges in preparing students to become adult citizens in a globalized world, the Australian curriculum adopts a different approach by integrating the roles of being “good” and ‘critical’ in developing the student citizens. It combines the cultivation of critical minds with ‘critical thinking’ and describes them as a general capability ‘in which they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems’ (ACARA, 2012, p. 17). Similar to other general capabilities, the capability of ‘critical and creative thinking’ is used widely in all learning areas and subject. As discussed previously, in explaining this general capability the Australian citizenship curriculum guide does not seem to make any distinction between being ‘critical’ and ‘creative’. The purpose of developing students’ critical skills seems to be for learning knowledge through inquiries and for problem-solving. This approach appears to confine nurturing the critical mind and developing ‘good citizens’ to different learning domains: one is the cognitive domain, and the other is in the social domain. Interestingly, in spite of its relatively infrequent mention of ‘critical’ roles, the Chinese curriculum is also concerned with the development of students’ innovative and independent thinking ability.
In conclusion, this comparative analysis between the Chinese and Australian citizenship education curriculum guidelines indicates how the intrinsic tension between nurturing ‘good citizens’ and ‘critical citizens’ is negotiated in the two distinct societies. In the Chinese case, the curriculum presents clear criteria for students exercising critiques and explicitly states the purpose of examining some issues critically. This is in sharp contrast with the Australian citizenship curriculum guideline that does not purposely cultivate the students’ moral commitments and political loyalty but grants the students more autonomy and more opportunities to build their capacity for ‘critical and creative thinking’. The research findings illustrate how the goal of developing citizens with critical minds is socio-culturally contextualized in different settings and this disposition is interlinked with other dispositions of a citizen to strike a balance between developing ‘critical’ but “good” citizens at the same time in the national curriculum.