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Mel Brennan

VP - Programs and Initiatives,

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Is there a difference between being a citizen and being a consumer? Does it matter?

I was told by my son's teachers that his school couldn't emphasize the tools of a citizen life during the school day because rigorous national and state standards left little time for "extras." Then one day he came home with an extracurricular economics booklet that defined him, my wife and I, and his sister not as citizens, but as consumers. Not as human beings who in the course of their citizen day might have consumer interests and behaviors, but, definitively, as consumers, a way of seeing Self, Other and the Group from which everything else sprung. Of course, we experience this way of describing ourselves from lots of outlets, everyday.

Question: is there a difference between being a citizen and being a consumer? Does it matter?

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  • Feb 26 2011: I agree with the implication being made here in some comments that the labels of user, consumer, developer, even citizen are related to context (citizen in the political environment, consumer in the economic system, etc.). I think though, if I'm not mistaken, that Mel is pointing to, and concerned about, some kind of lopsided priority underlying his question that suggests that to the education system at least, there is no time for considerations of our role as citizens, but there is as consumers... I kind of agree with him on this score. Therefore my strict answers to his specific questions would be yes, and yes. That is yes, there is a difference between being a citizen and being a consumer, and yes, it does matter.

    I also agree with what I believe to be Mel's concern. I believe that whatever roles we may play as users, consumers, clients, producers, etc. - and whatever role that the education system may play in fostering those roles through various disciplines - our role as citizens inhabits a more fundamental layer in our social interactions when we live in a civil society. Because of that, I believe that the educational system has a corresponding fundamental role in the development of citizens (in addition to other aspects of a student's personhood).

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