Paper: The Politics of Educating for Democracy

Posted on May 2, 2003

[from Public Education Network Weekly Newsblast]

The notion of democracy occupies a privileged place in our society. Educators and policymakers are increasingly pursuing a broad variety of programs that aim to promote democracy through civic education, service learning, and other pedagogies. The nature of their underlying beliefs, however, differ. For some, a commitment to democracy is associated with liberal notions of freedom, while for others democracy is primarily about equality of opportunity. For some, civil society is the key, while others place their hope for social change in healthy free markets. For some, good citizens in a democracy volunteer, while for others they take active parts in political processes by voting, forming committees, or protesting. “What Kind of Citizen?” calls attention to this spectrum of ideas about what good citizenship is and what good citizens do. In this article, the
authors detail three conceptions of the “good” citizen: personally responsible, participatory, and justice oriented. The authors argue that these three conceptions embody significantly different beliefs regarding the capacities and commitments citizens need in order for democracy to flourish; and they carry significantly different implications for pedagogy, curriculum, evaluation, and educational policy. They conclude that politics and the interests of varied groups are often deeply embedded in the ways we conceptualize, implement, and study efforts to educate for democracy.

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