Giving Compass’ Take:
• Key considerations for developing civic education that can effectively serve the needs of diverse societies.
• What role can you play in supporting the development and implementation of civic education?
In its current incarnation, civic education is often seen as the potential solution to numerous societal challenges—from political apathy and youth unemployment to the need to orient newly arrived immigrant and refugee youth to their new society. But although these challenges may be shared by many societies across Europe, the initiatives designed to remedy them vary widely across countries, localities, and schools. Limited time and resources mean that governments must decide where their priorities lie. In doing so, it can be helpful to carefully consider several key tradeoffs:
- Imparting formal knowledge versus developing individual capabilities. While knowledge can be both useful and empowering (and may even protect people against the sway of populism or radicalization), overly technical material or promotion of majority norms without open debate can be alienating for some students. Other programmes may instead choose to focus on fostering skills that will help individuals participate in the social and political life of the country.
- Demanding national loyalty versus empowering individual citizens. Democracy is designed to encourage open debate, but educators may struggle to balance the need for discussion with the responsibility to inculcate (national) values and dispositions. Encouraging students to question authority may mean governments must be willing to accept critical scrutiny of its core institutions and values as well.
- Fostering collective political virtues versus individual economic resilience. In some countries, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, civic education has been designed to prepare citizens to succeed in global and highly competitive markets. Teachers in German schools, by contrast, have expressed concern that this approach encourages economic self-interest over social responsibility and other, more collective civic virtues.
At its heart, civic education is designed to produce ‘good citizens’—though ideas about what constitutes such an individual vary from country to country. This concept often includes a blend of several different dimensions: values (from autonomy to social justice and, at times, economic self-sufficiency); virtues (from tolerance and impartiality to self-confidence); identity (whether ‘constitutional’ patriotism or pride in an explicitly ethnic or religious heritage); and cognitive skills and knowledge (e.g., understanding of how institutions work or ability to think critically).