Reading, a form of citizenship?

When we think of citizenship we think of membership in a community, being informed on local issues, knowing your rights, knowing your duties, and realizing the power of working together for the common good. It is important to know that reading can further the cause of citizenship. Reading newspapers, articles, and other media from a variety of sources can help a citizen remained informed on the issues that are impacting the community around them. Reading can also facilitate an opportunity for students and people in general to know their rights and duties as a citizen. (which all of them may not be discussed in class). Knowing these two things are crucial to being a citizen. However, what this article is trying to get that is a more nuanced approach to the importance of reading, which is to read critically.

In another class of mine, we are discussing universal vs differentiated citizenship. Universal citizenship meaning that citizens all have a common bondage, something that is universally in common. This sometimes means having to strip away pass identities in order to become a member/citizen of a certain community. Differentiated citizenship meaning that all different identities (whether ethnic groups, race, language etc.) are accepted in the mainstream of the communities. This ties into the Werner’s piece on textual analysis and historical reading. “There is more to reading than initially meets the eye. Young people learn from experience that books are sources of uncontested information, repositories of answers to be mined under the guidance of end-of-chapter questions or worksheets.” He goes on to say how students take reading textbooks at face value and I believe this is true. We rarely think, or are challenged to read critically or venture out to hear new perspectives. This is missing on a huge aspect of history that it is not just a list of facts, but a representation of past perspectives and it is our job as historians to search for the the perspectives and answers ourselves.

When texts are made, crucial choices are involved. Werner comments, “Creating a text involves complex choices about what ideas and perspectives to include and exclude, what and whose stories to tell, and how to put them all together to achieve a relatively smooth and believable presentation” Who makes these choices and who these people are should be questioned by every social studies educator and ultimately their students. History is incredibly complex with countless perspectives and events that happened, and are thought of in the past. These people making texts for students have the power to choose who and what was important in the past. It is the job of the history teacher to facilitate more nuance to the conversation in history and allow opportunities to think outside the textbook so they can gain their own perspectives rather than just taking texts at “face value” and believe everything they read. Doing this will fulfill one of the most important duties of a citizen.

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