National Identity and Young Children: A Comparative Study of 4th and 5th graders in Singapore and the United States.
Author(s)Koh, Serene S.
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AbstractDebates about nationality and identity have particular relevance for multicultural nations such as Singapore and the United States where trends in immigration and an increasing multiplicity of identities problematize the notion of citizenship. Given that a nation???s schools are where the dominant discourse of nation identity and history are promulgated, we need to study the role of schools in citizenship formation if we are to understand how and why citizens develop commitment to the nation. My study adopts a comparative perspective by looking at the curriculum and students in Singapore and the United States. I propose that Singapore shares with the U.S. the need to conceptualize and clarify what citizenship and citizenship education mean in the face of debates over immigration and multiculturalism. This study investigates the symbols and strategies children use as they reflect on issues related to nationality. Using a combination of interviews and observations, it also examines whether children embrace the nationalizing function of the school or whether they resist and/or reshape this endeavor to suit their own understandings. Analyses reveal a master narrative that characterizes national identity in each country- in general, children in Singapore talk about national identity in material terms while American children evoke more abstract ideas. However, these opinions vary interestingly by cultural groupings such as ethnicity and immigrant status. I also show that children do not merely passively react to and accept the social and political world that is presented to them, but instead consciously struggle with the tensions of identity in multicultural societies. Results from this study speak to the discursiveness of national identity formation, the agency that children exercise in identity construction, and the important role of schools in this process. This dissertation proposes that in order for citizenship education to instill in children informed allegiance to their nations, teachers, curriculum planners, and teacher-educators need to know more about how children think about these issues. It also provides insights about when it is appropriate to teach children to think critically about issues of diversity and nationality, and has implications for curriculum and policy related to citizenship education in multicultural nations.