Educating for Meaningful Citizenship: A Critical Corpus Analysis of Public Education Policy in Canada

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Fortin Lalonde, Codie L.




Public education is tasked not only with educating, but also with instilling values, knowledge and skill building, and preparation for citizenship (Lemke, 2008; Noddings, 2016; Westheimer, 2015). In Canada, education is provincially mandated, but there have been growing pressures and efforts to standardize policy, curricula, and practice across the country under the banner of inclusion, testing and assessment, and accountability within a globalized neoliberal society (Polster & Newson, 2015; Stack, 2016; Westheimer, 2015). Of particular concern is how these pressures are manifested within education policy and how they may in turn affect the way students and citizenship are invoked and talked about. This study critically investigates the discursive construction of particular actors (students and citizens) within policy-level education discourse (PLED). Informed by Critical Discourse Studies (CDS), I combine the discourse-historical approach (Reisigl & Wodak, 2016) and corpus-assisted discourse studies (Mautner, 2007, 2016) to analyze the discursive construction of and agency afforded (or not) to students and citizens. A total of 22 policy texts collected from the Ministries/Departments of Education across the provinces and territories between 2018-19 formed the basis of the small reference corpus, from which six provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia—were selected for deeper critical analysis. The findings reveal that although there are interesting nuances within and across the provinces, they generally construct the ideal student-to-be-citizen as a passive, complacent, and a lifelong receiver of knowledge, skills, and characteristics which are beneficial to the local, national, and global economy. Furthermore, citizenship is hyper-individualized and constructed in alignment with personal responsibility (Westheimer, 2015). Overall, a technologically advanced factory model of education seems to emerge, wherein educational metaphors blend to forward the student/citizen as automaton. These constructions are legitimized through emerging themes including a quiet moral panic paired with inter and con -textual silences regarding systemic issues and barriers. I conclude that in order for education to shed its oppressive attributes for a more socially just future, more must be done to resist neoliberal framings of education which focus narrowly on testing, standardization, closing performance gaps, and the economic return on educating students.


Education - Curriculum and Instruction
Social Structure and Development




Carleton University

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Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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