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Does Democratic Governance Require Civic Education?

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It is known that there is a high correlation between education and politics, but do democratic citizens in these global times need more than just their everyday education in order to get involved into politics? Most of the states nowadays are considered democratic, which means they are ruled by the people or by representatives chosen by the people. The question is however, do people really know what is best for them and the state without any political education, or does democratic governance require civic education? In this essay I will argue that civic education is crucial for a democratic state to function well and its citizen to make right decisions. Firstly democracy will be defined, the importance of education will be outlined and a relation between the two will the drawn. Secondly civic education will be defined and it’s impacts on political personal opinions and importance of public decision will be shown.

Thirdly it will be shown how classroom behaviour and class activities can teach us about the importance of debate and compromises. Then the issue of the youth will be tackled, its involvement in politics and the spread of information. Finally the arguments will be put together to once more show why civic education is necessary for a democracy. Concluding with the confirmation of the argument that states that a democratic governance does require civic education because through such education citizens learn about their government, and achieve a better understanding of the politics in general hence being able to make better decisions.

Democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” and “kratos” which mean people and rule. Therefore the dictionary definition of democracy is “Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them or by officers elected by them”. From the definition we can understand that the people, the citizens of a democratic state assume great responsibilities as all the decisions are to some extend in their own hands. We can therefore assume that in order for citizens to “rule” their state well, they need knowledge of what a state is and how to go about running it. In the modern world there are representatives, which run the state and get elected by the people. The assumption that politicians will have a good knowledge of politics can surely be made. But they get elected by the people in the first place, so the question we should be asking is; do the people know enough about the state to be able to look beyond the big political personas and see what is truly good for their state.

“At first glance, it appears unarguable that formal education increases political knowledge; the more years a student spends in school, the more likely he or she is to understand the political world.” Several researches established that the higher education people have the more likely it is they will to some extent get involved into political life. Education gives people a wider view of the world, opens them to different interests amongst which is politics. “Studies conducted from the mid-1960s on concerning what impact high school classes in American government and civics have on political knowledge have, for the most part, found that there is little or none.” From this second quote we can draw to the conclusion that specific civic education is not necessary for people to have a higher knowledge of the political world. But at this point we have to take in consideration two factors.

The first one is that these studies were based on American high school students, which means their level of education was lower that the level of education other people who are usually involved in politics. But the second and more important point, in the context of this essay, is that civic education offers a different type of education. It might not offer the knowledge of current politics but it does teach the base of politics and makes the understanding of the current situation easier. Civic education or also called education of politics teaches the citizens of a state about their government, the dynamics and relations inside of it and other important matters of the politics of a state. As mentioned before, some studies show that civic education does not necessarily increase an individual’s knowledge of current politics. Civic education however still plays an important role for politically active citizens. “One can only be well informed about the day-to-day aspect of politics only when one understands the context in which the government operates.” And here we understand why civic education is of crucial importance for a democratic state. Nowadays news travel fast and the media has great impact in the world of politics. People hear opinions, debates, speeches made by important figures on the news all the time.

But if they have no background in politics they are, sometimes, bound to miss understand what a politician is saying or means by what he says. But it is not just the media that influence our knowledge and understanding of politics. We learn about it from out friends, family, the environment we are in. All of these factors may or may not make our decision and way of thinking bias towards a view, which maybe if we knew more about, would not seem as good anymore. This is where the importance of civic education first come into play. As stated earlier civic education teaches people the bare basics of how a government functions. If every democratic citizen would understand the basic rules of politics, they would possibly have a better understanding of the current situation. Trough a civics class a person would therefore learn how to make a decision, which will be less bias, as it will be based on learned facts about politics rather than daily influences which will only be a secondary source for our political decisions.

Civics classes will also teach the citizen about the importance of public decision-making. Civic education however its not only important for the content of the subject but also the class activities and classroom behaviour. In a class like civic education the citizens have the possibility to learn about the importance of debate and consequently decision-making. “Participation is the key role of citizens in democracy. It is not only their right, but it is their duty.” This statement, taken from a civics book used to teach in schools and based on the principles of democracy, shows that civic education does bring up democratic citizens through what it teaches. What a democratic state requires from its citizens is that they are actively involved in political life through debating and other forms of deliberation. In a civics class all these aspects could come to show. It can be said that such a class does slowly shape a democratic citizen. Through debates, the students learn about listening to views that will many times be opposed to theirs, this will lead them to learn how to be open to different views which could in the end make ones own argument much stronger and demonstrate mistakes that have never been noticed before.

They will also realize there is a need to reflect before rushing into decision-making and then come to a better compromise. Such constructive debates would also teach student about the importance of compromise. “ Schools should encourage students to participate in simulations of democratic processes and procedures. Evidence shows that simulations of voting, trials, legislative deliberation and democracy, leads to a heightened civic/political knowledge and interest.” This is just one of the ways in which civic education tries to bring up students to be more politically involved not by forcing them but by making politics something they are interested in. All these different class activities will work towards bringing out own ideas amongst students and hope to make they interested in both domestic and international politics. They will be able to understand the importance of having firm values, which will then help them lead a democratic life. A very important aspect of civic education and imposing it in order to have a better democratic rule is that it will educate the “future generation”.

Seen as civic education is taught in school to children of all ages it is very important to recognize the fact the student will be the future generation of politicians and people who will potentially get involved into politics. As already mentioned in the previous paragraph civic education is likely to trigger some interest into politics from the side of the student. “Two thirds of young people agree that “our generation has an important voice, but no one seems to hear it.”” In this case a civics class would offer a good place where the student can share his or her ideas and maybe take part in workshops that will then take him or her to a national level. Civics education might be a very good way for information to spread and more and more people to get involved. With a basic knowledge of politics more young people would join different gatherings and get more or less actively involved into politics from their early age. Since it would be hard to impose civic education on adults as in most cases they already have very firm ideas and views on the political situation or are not at all interested, it becomes even more important for the youth to understand the political situation and learn to think about it in their own way.

The “future generation” will gain knowledge on a new subject and will be less bias when taking decisions which is crucial in a democratic society. If the students grows up being somehow surrounded by a type of civic education they will prioritize it and we can deduce that they will, as adults, think about it more and act like democratic citizens, acting for the good of the state and the society. In conclusion it can be said that there are various reasons for which civic education is indeed necessary in a democratic governance. Growing up in an environment, which teaches you about politics will make people more interested in choosing the right leaders which will then bring the country to be a good democracy. There are certain needs a democracy has and principles on which it is based. It is therefore important for the citizens of a democratic state to act in a democratic way.

Through civic education student to learn to be democratic. Civic education reduces the bias, at the same time offering different views from various subjects. Students learn about the basic structures and relations inside a government and will therefore be better at analyzing the day-to-day situation of their own sate. Civic education will show students that their voice is important and the involvement of each citizen in crucial for a democracy. It will also emphasize the importance of debate and portray politics as something interesting. All these are key factors in making citizen more aware of what a democracy requires from them and how they can make it run better. Finally it can be stated that looking at the evidence civic education is required if a state wants to have a successful democratic governance.


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“Civic Education.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Web. 22 Nov. 2012. . Democracy for All: Education Towards a Democratic Culture. Street Law. Print. Dryzek, John S., and Patrick Dunleavy. Theories of the Democratic State. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print. Galston, William A. “POLITICAL KNOWLEDGE, POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT, AND CIVIC EDUCATION Volume 4, Number 1 (June 2001), Pp. 217-234,.” Annual Review of Political Science 4.1 (2001): 217-34. Print. Glaeser, Edward, Giacomo Ponzetto, and Andrei Shleifer. “Why Does Democracy Need Education?” Journal of Economic Growth 12.2 (2007): 77-99. Print. “The Importance of Civic Education.” Democracy and Society The Importance of Civic Education Comments. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. . Milner, Henry. Civic Literacy: How Informed Citizens Make Democracy Work. Hanover: University of New England, 2002. Print. Niemi, Richard G., and Jane Junn. Civic Education: What Makes Students Learn. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998. Print. “Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. . “The Role of Civic Education.” The Role of Civic Education. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. . Rubin, Beth C., and James M. Giarelli. Civic Education for Diverse Citizens in Global Times: Rethinking Theory and Practice. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008.
Print. Simpson, J. A., E. S. C. Weiner, and Michael Proffitt. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford [England: Clarendon, 1993. Print. “Six Proven Practices.” Six Proven Practices. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. . “SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRACY.” SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRACY. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. . Westheimer, Joel, and Joseph Kahne. “Reconnecting Education To Democracy: Democratic Dialogues.” Democracy and Civic Engagement Sept. 2003. Print.

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