Joel Westheimer


Joel Westheimer
Professor and holder of the University Research Chair in the Sociology of Education

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Courriel professionnel:

Joel Westheimer


University Research Chair in the Sociology of Education

Faculty of Education

Research Focus

To explore the ways educational theorists conceive of teaching democracy and the ways school practices embrace or challenge these conceptions. The research is based on parallel and longitudinal case studies of schools explicitly teaching democratic citizenship and a corresponding process of reading and interpreting social, theoretical, and historical sources.

Research Relevance

The proposed research promises to impact important issues concerning teaching and learning as well as the social and political contexts of schooling.

Educating the "Good Citizen"

Concepts of "good citizenship" imply conceptions of a good society. Yet when scholars, practitioners, and civic leaders expect schools to promote democracy and good citizenship, they often imply that there exists an articulated and commonly understood notion of what democracy requires and what good citizens do. According to Joel Westheimer, the reality is that educators hold a multitude of different and sometimes contradictory beliefs about democracy and the role of schools in developing democratic citizens.

A Professor with the Faculty of Education and co-director of Democratic Dialogue, Prof. Westheimer has been struggling with the concept of democracy in schools since he was a student at Stanford. Considered to have gone deeper and broader than any other research on this topic, Westheimer has found ways to connect to the theoretical literature while rooting his work in educational practice. His concern about how to teach democratic values while continuing to clarify what people mean by democracy is a significant contribution both to research and to our broader understanding of democratic values.

By allowing him to study the school practices that reflect distinct notions of democracy and citizenship, the University Research Chair will significantly accelerate Prof. Westheimer's ability to answer fundamental questions about our society and the values that guide us. What does "good" citizenship mean in contemporary democracies? What role can schools play in educating citizens able and willing to participate effectively in democratic life? His research will further our understanding of the obstacles and opportunities to pursuing these goals and to addressing the social and cultural challenges that Canadian democracy now faces.

Awards and Accomplishments

  • Social Sciences and Humanitarian Research Council (SSHRC) $135,984 research grant, 2003-2006
  • The Center for Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) / Carnegie Foundation $89,481 research grant, 2004-2006
  • Outstanding Paper of the Year, American Political Science Association (APSA), Division on Teaching and Learning 2003
  • Best Paper of the Year for Research in Social Studies, American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2003
  • Jason Millman Educational Scholarship Award, Cornell University 1998
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