Democratic Citizenship Education: A New Imperative for the Americas

Bradley A.U. Levinson, Daniel Schugurensky, Roberto González


During the last decade, countries across the Americas have been active in revising programs for civic education in order to create a broader and deeper democratic political culture. Perennially a bulwark of national identity and allegiance for more authoritarian or populist regimes, civic education has been reconceived as a space for fostering democratic citizenship. Yet school-based civic education remains but one actor in the drama, variously competing and aligning with the many forces and influences that shape the construction of citizenship, from popular culture and the media, to peer groups and economic relations, to political opportunities and the balance of rights and responsibilities present in each particular context. In discourse across the Americas, civic education is giving way to “citizenship” education, and the broader term, “citizenship formation,” is often preferred, especially in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. In our usage, then, democratic citizenship education (DCE) includes state-sponsored initiatives in schools and in non-formal education programs, as well as informal socialization processes and organized civil society initiatives.

During the last decade, the Organization of American States (OAS) has also played an important role in the region promoting DCE. At least since the Second Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago de Chile in 1998, numerous mandates for attention to “democratic values and practices” have been promulgated during OAS general assemblies, plenary sessions, and Summits of the Americas. Such efforts were strongly bolstered by the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS in September of 2001. Articles 26 and 27 of the Charter placed emphasis on the need to develop a “democratic culture” to accompany democratic political reforms. In particular, Article 27 mandated that “special attention shall be given to the development of programs and activities for the education of children and youth as a means of ensuring the continuance of democratic values, including liberty and social justice.” Since that time, the Department of Education and Culture, in collaboration with the Department for the Promotion of Governance of the OAS, has taken the lead in convening meetings with participants from governmental and non-governmental institutions throughout the Americas to share knowledge of best practices across borders and to exchange ideas through open discussions and debates.