Call for Proposals:
Journal of Transformative Education
Special Issue on Civic Education as Transformative Education
Guest Editors:  
Paul E. Mabrey III
James Madison University
Tetyana Kloubert
University of Augsburg


Justification: “Democracy is the only social order that has to be learned—again and again, day after day, for a lifetime" (Negt, 2004, p. 197). Civic education seems an obvious necessity for developing and sustaining democratic society. Its practices and policies foster democracy by helping adults learn tools and develop habits that promote participation, inclusion and empowerment. Civic education has occupied very different positions (in terms of approaches, tradition, support and practice) and used different terms: civic education, education for democratic citizenship, (global) citizenship education, democracy education etc. Various approaches have prescribed goals and practices for civic education, driven by diverse and sometimes contradictory educational theories. The most recent form of citizenship education was influenced, to a certain extent, by international developments: such global and cross-national bodies such as the UN and EU created pressure on national educational systems to promote forms of citizenship based on the common set of shared values (e.g. tolerance, human rights and democracy). Even these efforts are not without controversy as the role of international or non-governmental organizations as civic partners are called into question (Mansuri & Rao, 2014).

         Within North American higher education, for instance, civic education has been narrowly defined and operationalized across behaviors, knowledge, skills, and dispositions (The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2012; Torney-Purta et al., 2015). Institutions and their stakeholders are once again focused on understanding and developing civic education skills (e.g. information literacy, evidence-based reasoning, public speaking, empathy, collaboration). While the framing of civic education and learning around skills is useful, more than a skill-based focus is necessary for cultivating a civic learning capable of meaningful transformation. We define civic education in broader terms including learning initiatives for youth and adults with the aim of fostering and improving the democracy in different contexts in changing societies (Fine, 2012). We do not limit it to citizenship education (cf. e.g. Sliwka et al., 2006), but emphasize the fundamental aim of civic education to develop, analyze, implement and improve approaches, models, access and ideals of everyone’s acting in a democracy as reflective and active co-creator of the worlds in which we are living through meaningful and effective engagement in civic life (Levine, 2006). 

         A citizen in a democracy is expected (ideally) to live with a constant effort to critically reflect on oneself, the society and the world, in order to be able to pursue the democratic way of life and to co-shape and, when necessary, improve/change the democratic society as such. This type of justice-oriented citizen would seek for social change and improvement of society by critically analyzing and addressing social issues, patterns of thinking, and behaviors that lead to injustices (Westheimer & Kahne, 2014). Civic education that does not develop justice-oriented citizens may not be adequate for a genuine democratization for the society. Therefore, we contest that cultivating justice-oriented citizens who are capable of fostering and enduring deep changes in their own world-perspectives, and of encouraging critical reflection by others, should be seriously explored. We propose that the theory of transformative learning is a helpful frame for this approach to civic education. Rooted in humanism and the emancipatory tradition (Freire, 1970), transformative learning theory is defined by its programmatic commitment to individual growth and social development.

         The contributors to this special issue will thus advance the vision of civic education as transformative education that provides an approach to understanding deep learning and change (Mezirow, 1991). Civic education, understood very generally as educational efforts, practices and processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities (Crittenden & Levine, 2018), needs a theoretical underpinning that recognizes and situates the transformative dimensions of learning that it requires, such as critical reflection on basic assumptions and premises that guide one’s action on the personal, as well as on the social and political dimensions. For any essential social change to occur there is always a need for profound learning at the individual level, including a deep and sustainable perspective transformation (Hoggan, 2016; Mezirow, 1989). Civic education grounded in transformative learning theory may thus serve as a useful approach to address the process of (re-) evaluating and transforming personal worldviews situated within larger political and economic contexts.

The aim of the special issue: We as the guest editors of the JTED would like to invite all interested actors to join the academic discussion: national and international scholars, experts on education, professionals in training policies and practices, etc. The issue will present and discuss empirical and theoretical works from a variety of disciplines and fields addressing the transformation nature of civic education. Since one of the most common critiques of transformative learning theory is that it is missing a social dimension (e.g. O’Sullivan, 2002; Taylor, 2007), we want explicitly to address the potential of transformative learning theory to initiate, foster and accompany changes not only on a personal dimension, but with obvious social and political impacts.

Characteristics of the special issue: The following two general questions will guide this inquiry:

1) What do diverse transformative education perspectives contribute to our understanding of civic education in higher and adult education contexts?

2) What kinds of policies and practices should a transformative vision for civic education advocate to have a meaningful impact on the democratic development of society?

Starting from the assumption that effective civic education will require transformative dimensions of learning, such as the critical re-evaluation of one’s own premises of thinking and habits of mind, especially in the context of modern societies with their sometimes contradictory values, transformative learning theory appears to be particularly suitable for approaching the goals and practices of civic education. However, the implementation of transformative learning within civic education has not yet been a subject of systematic research.

Specific research questions might include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

Theoretical underpinnings of civic transformative education

  • Which philosophical foundations are necessary for conceptualizing civic education within transformation learning research?
  • Under what conditions can civic education be conceptualized as transformative education that addresses practices such as critical reflection of one’s own meaning perspectives and patterns of behavior?
  • How does/may civic transformative education look differently across different contexts? Different parts of the higher/adult education institutions? Different cultures? Different countries?
  • What could/should be the relationships between civic and transformative education?

Challenges for educational practice

  • Which challenges and prospects are associated with implementing transformative education in the field of civic education?
  • How and to what extent can we advocate the practice of cultivating civically orientated transformative moments?
  • What role should and can educators and learners play in transformative civic education?
  • How can the theoretical framework of transformative learning be applicable to civic education and the transitory process of different societies that are undergoing deep crisis and where the need for profound change is evident?

Critical Perspective

  • Shall civic education necessarily focus on promoting and fostering autonomy and rational critical thinking? How can a transformative civic education face the challenges of diverse societies based on plurality of values?
  • How can civic education maintain and develop its critical voice and transformative dimension while promoting and fostering societal integration and cohesion at the same? 

Review and publication process for the special issue: Guest editors, in consultation with the JTED editorial board, will review abstracts in the initial selection phase. Qualified reviewers will be recruited by guest editors, with oversight from the JTED editorial board, to provide constructive feedback and recommendations for publication on full article manuscripts in a double anonymous review process. Final approval of articles for publication in this special issue will require the consensus of the guest editors and the JTED editorial board. Special efforts will be made to solicit proposals from a diverse group of scholars, including those from or working in international settings and those belonging to and/or studying underrepresented minority groups.

Required details for proposal abstracts: Two-page double-spaced proposals (500 words max) using Times New Roman (12 pt) font should be submitted by April 15, 2020 to Paul Mabrey ( and Tetyana Kloubert ( Submissions should include:

  • Name and contact information of the author(s), including telephone and email
  • Title of manuscript
  • Relevant special issue theme (from above)
  • Description of the project or discussion

Proposal selection will be based on academic quality of the proposal and concordance with and importance for the themes of the special issue. Authors will be notified regarding the acceptance of their proposals and will be provided with feedback for improving the proposed manuscript by May 15, 2020. Please see the information below for the entire timeline of the special issue.

Submission of abstracts/article proposals April 15, 2020 Extended due to COVID-19

Decisions on abstracts/article proposals May 15, 2020

Submission of full manuscripts for review August 30, 2020

Decisions on full manuscripts September 30, 2020

Revised manuscripts due November 30, 2020

Edited and formatted manuscripts complete; Issue ready for publication 2/1/21


Crittenden, J., & Levine, P. (2018). Civic education: The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

Fine, M. (2012). Critical civic research. In D. W. Harward (Ed.), Civic provocations (pp. 35–40). Bringing Theory to Practice.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

Gormley Jr, W. T. (2017). The critical advantage: Developing critical thinking skills in school. Harvard Education Press.

Hoffman, D., Domagal-Goldman, J., King, S., & Robinson, V. (2018). Higher education’s role in enacting a thriving democracy: Civic learning and democratic engagement theory of change.

Hoggan, C. (2016). Transformative learning as a metatheory: Definition, criteria, andtypology. Adult Education Quarterly, 66(1), 57–75.

Levine, P. (2006). Learning and democracy: Civic education. The Kettering Review, 24(3), 32–42.

Mansuri, G., & Rao, V. (2014). The challenge of promoting civic participation in poor countries. In P. Levine & K. E. Soltan (Eds.), Civic studies (pp. 59–72). Bringing Theory to Practice.

Mezirow, J. (1989). Transformation theory and social action: A response to Collard and Law. Adult Education Quarterly, 39(3), 169–175.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass.

Roland, R. C. (2017). Public debate and American democracy: Guidelines forpedagogy. In J. M. Hogan, J. A. Kurr, M. J. Bergmaier, & J. D. Johnson (Eds.), Speech and debate as civic education. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Sliwka, A., Diedrich, M., & Hofer, M. (2006). (Eds.). Citizenship education: Theory–research–practice. Waxmann.

Taylor, E. W. (2007). An update of transformative learning theory: A critical review of theempirical research (1999–2005). International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26(2), 173–191.

The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. (2012). A crucible moment: College learning and democracy’s future. Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Torney‐Purta, J., Cabrera, J. C., Roohr, K. C., Liu, O. L., & Rios, J. A. (2015). Assessing civic competency and engagement in higher education: Research background, frameworks, and directions for next‐generation assessment. ETS Research Report Series, 2015(2), 1–48.

Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2004). What kind of citizen? The politics of educating fordemocracy. American Educational Research Journal, 41, 237–269.


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