ERIC Identifier: ED390781
Publication Date: 1995-12-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Civic Education for Constitutional Democracy: An International
Perspective. ERIC Digest.
The ideas of liberty, democracy, and constitutionalism have risen to global
prominence in the 1990s, as major bastions of totalitarian communism have
crumbled and collapsed. In various parts of the world, from Central and South
America to South Africa to Central and Eastern Europe to Central Asia, newly
empowered citizens have tried to build democratic foundations for their
nation-states. And in their daunting pursuit of the "blessings of liberty," they
have understood that new curricula for their schools are as important as new
constitutions for their governments. Among other educational goals, they have
recognized that schools must teach young citizens the theory and practices of
constitutional democracy if they would develop and sustain free societies and
Regardless of their differences in history, culture, and resources, all
people interested in teaching constitutional democracy authentically and
effectively must address general educational elements pertaining to civic
knowledge, civic skills, and civic virtues. These general and basic categories
of civic education may be treated variously by educators of different countries.
But there are certain themes within each generic category that are international
and transcultural. They are the criteria by which we define civic education for
constitutional democracy. So, these defining characteristics or standards must
NOT be avoided or violated by anyone who would teach authentically the
knowledge, skills, and virtues of civic life in a constitutional democracy
dedicated to liberty.
ESSENTIAL CIVIC KNOWLEDGE
The first objective of civic
education is to teach thoroughly the meaning of the most basic idea, so that
students will know what a constitutional democracy is and what it is not. If
students would be prepared to act as citizens of a constitutional democracy,
they must know how to distinguish this type of government from other types. The
label, constitutional democracy, has often been used by regimes with showcase
constitutions proclaiming popular governments and individual rights, which have
meant little or nothing to the regime's victims of tyranny. The so-called "people's democracies" of former communist countries are tragic
twentieth-century examples of the bogus use of a political label.
Through their civic education in schools, students should develop defensible
criteria by which to think critically and evaluate the extent to which their
government and other governments of the world do or do not function
authentically as constitutional democracies. A few key concepts necessary to a
deep understanding of constitutional democracy must be taught and learned, such
as the rule of law, limited government, representative government, individual
rights, popular sovereignty, political participation, and civil society.
Students must learn how these key concepts of democratic political theory are
institutionalized and practiced in their own country in comparison to other
nation-states of the world.
Finally, students must pursue inquiries about the transnational, generic,
perennial problems of any constitutional democracy: how to combine liberty with
order, majority rule with minority rights, and private rights with the public
good. They must understand that a constitutional democracy will fail (1) if the
government has too much power or too little power and (2) if the government
overemphasizes majority rule at the expense of minority rights or vice-versa.
How to practically and effectively address these dilemmas is the ultimate
challenge of citizenship in a constitutional democracy and the determiner of the
political system's destiny.
ESSENTIAL CIVIC SKILLS
Core knowledge must be applied
effectively to civic life if it would serve the needs of citizens and their "civitas." Thus, a central facet of civic education for constitutional democracy
is development of intellectual skills and participatory skills, which enable
citizens to think and act in behalf of their individual rights and their common
good. Intellectual skills empower citizens to identify, describe, and explain
information and ideas pertinent to public issues and to make and defend
decisions on these issues. Participatory skills empower citizens to influence
public policy decisions and to hold accountable their representatives in
The development of civic skills requires intellectually active learning by
students inside and outside the classroom. Students are continually challenged
to use information and ideas, individually and collectively, to analyze case
studies, respond to public issues, and resolve political problems.
ESSENTIAL CIVIC VIRTUES
A third generic category of
democratic civic education pertains to virtues. These are traits of character
necessary to preservation and improvement of a constitutional democracy. If
citizens would enjoy the privileges and rights of their polity, they must take
responsibility for them, which requires a certain measure of civic virtue.
Civic virtues, such as self-discipline, civility, compassion, tolerance, and
respect for the worth and dignity of all individuals are indispensable to the
proper functioning of civil society and constitutional government. These
characteristics must be nurtured through various social agencies, including the
school, in a healthy constitutional democracy.
THE DEMOCRATIC TEACHER
Three generic components of
democratic civic education, which transcend political boundaries and cultures
are (1) core concepts that denote essential knowledge, (2) intellectual and
participatory skills that enable practical application of civic knowledge, and
(3) virtues that dispose citizens to act for the good of their community. The
effective democratic teacher develops lessons and learning activities for
students that emphasize and intertwine the three generic components of
international civic education in a classroom environment compatible with the
theory and practices of constitutional democracy and liberty.
The democratic teacher, for example, emphasizes interactive learning tasks in
which students are challenged to take responsibility for their achievement of
educational objectives. The democratic teacher encourages and protects free and
open expression of ideas in an atmosphere of academic freedom. Further, the
democratic teacher establishes and applies rules fairly, according to principles
of equal protection and due process for each individual. There is recognition
that true liberty is inextricably connected with just rules, and that the equal
right to freedom of individuals depends upon an equitable rule of law for all
members of the community. Finally, the democratic teacher creates a classroom
environment in which the worth and dignity of each person is respected.
Democratic teachers take responsibility for developing challenging and
interesting lessons for students. Thus, they continue to educate themselves
through a life-long program of reading, thinking, reflecting, and planning to
enhance their capacities for the education of citizens. And, they continue to
seek, obtain, and use resources for civic education, such as those listed in
this ERIC Digest.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information provided
or requested through Interlibrary Loan.
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Bahmueller, Charles F., general editor. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC
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Brzakalik, Krystayna, and others. LIFE IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY: A PRIMARY
SCHOOL CIVICS COURSE FOR POLAND. Warsaw: Ministry of National Education, 1993.
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EASTERN EUROPE. Bloomington, IN: Social Studies Development Center (Occasional
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with the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education,
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