Developing an International Framework for Education
in Democracy. ERIC Digest.
by Bahmueller, Charles F.
Is it possible to develop an international consensus on the meaning
of democracy and education for democratic citizenship? A cooperative project
administered by the Center for Civic Education (CCE) in Calabasas, California
is attempting to answer this difficult and thorny question. Since 1996,
the CCE has been developing "An International Framework for Education in
Democracy," an international project with advisors and critics from every
inhabited continent. This Digest discusses (1) the purpose of the project
to develop the International Framework, (2) the structure and content of
the International Framework, and (3) the ongoing process of developing
PURPOSE OF THE INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK
The purpose of the Framework is to create a generic statement on the
meaning of democracy that can be used by educators of any country to prepare
students for effective and responsible citizenship in a democracy. Thus,
the Framework can be a frame of reference for the development of a curriculum
in civics and government. The Framework is not intended to be a complete
democracy education program. Rather, it presents the universal concepts
at the core of the subject, which will be supplemented in various ways
by users in different countries and cultures in order to provide context-specific
information about their own political history, institutions, and problems.
The Framework is not meant to be a textbook for students. It can, however,
serve as a resource for the development of textbooks.
The initiators of the Framework project have recognized the worldwide
democratic stirrings and political movements that have arisen during the
post-Cold War era. They have noted, however, that many who profess democracy
do not share common understandings of it, which can provide a common basis
for communication and action. Now, therefore, is a ripe historical moment
to attempt a consensus on what democracy is, and how to implement it, from
which educators of any country can decide what should be included in civics
STRUCTURE AND CONTENT OF THE FRAMEWORK
The Framework was developed around seven key questions that constitute
the structure of this work.
1. What is democracy?
2. Who belongs and who governs in a democracy?
3. Why choose democracy?
4. What characteristics of a society enhance or inhibit democracy?
5. What characteristics of a society facilitate the functioning of a
6. How do democracies emerge, develop, survive, and improve?
7. How does democracy shape the world and the world shape democracy?
The first part of the Framework discusses the essential characteristics
by which a democracy is distinguished from other kinds of governments.
All democracies, for example, in order to qualify as "democracies," protect
the rights of citizens to freedom of political speech, association, and
assembly. They must also regularly hold free, fair, competitive elections
of representatives in government in which all citizens (with minor variations)
are eligible to vote and run for office. Democracy entails majority rule
with protection of the rights of individuals in the minority. There is
limited government and the rule of law, anchored in a written or unwritten
Constitution, which guarantees equally the rights of all citizens. If a
nation claims to practice democracy but its government does not conform
to minimal democratic characteristics and rules, its claim lacks merit.
The second part of the Framework deals with the status and roles of
the citizen in a democracy. It discusses the relationship of the government
to the individual, labeling it a key determinant of the character of any
political system. In a democracy, there is government by consent of the
governed and accountability of the government to the people. The Framework
contrasts democratic citizens -- active, independent adults with the right
to multiple and overlapping social loyalties of their own choosing -- with
other systems' treatment of individuals as passive, dependent, child-like
subjects whose right to multiple social loyalties is curtailed.
The third part of the Framework sets forth intrinsic and instrumental
justifications for democracy. In addition, the Framework gives a detailed
enumeration of arguments against democracy. It also points out that democracies
include some governmental institutions that do not function democratically,
such as much of the judicial branch of government, central banks, and the
military. All of these institutions, however, are subject to democratic
accountability. Similarly, from families to business corporations, a democratic
society contains institutions that do not function according to democratic
The fourth and fifth parts of the Framework ask, in effect, what makes
democracy work and how democracies function. In part four, the Framework
enumerates characteristics both conducive and detrimental to the well-being
of democratic societies and their individual members, social groups and
organizations, legal and educational systems, the economy, and government
institutions and officials. In part five, the Framework discusses the purposes
and functioning of democratic institutions. A detailed account of civil
society, the autonomous, voluntarily organized sphere of society not directly
controlled by the state, is included. There is also an account of the relationship
of state and economy and descriptions of alternative forms of democratic
government and institutions.
In its sixth part, the Framework points to a multitude of factors that
allow societies to choose a new political direction. Conditions antecedent
to democracy are the spread of literacy; making information and ideas more
widely accessible; dissatisfaction with the status quo and dissemination
of democratic ideas; a decline of fatalistic attitudes; and economic development
sufficient to allow people to look beyond themselves and their present
needs. The Framework also points to the necessity of differentiation of
persons as individuals rather than as indistinguishable parts of a social
Factors that may prompt fundamental political change range from revolution,
economic development, and modernization to opposition movements, international
norms, popular demand for participation, accountability, and improvements
in daily life. Circumstances that contribute to democratic development
are positive economic performance, the evolution of appropriate legal and
educational systems, and the rise of civil society, which creates networks
of association and communication that energize civic life and disseminate
knowledge and ideas. This section concludes with consideration of the citizen's
role in the renewal and improvement of democracy. According to one model,
democracies may be conceived as having "life cycles." In this view, like
living organisms, democracies are born, in the right circumstances they
mature, and then they may die. But, the argument proceeds, rather than
dying, democracies may regenerate themselves.
The citizen's role in the renewal, self-correction, and ultimate survival
of democracy is decisive. For example, citizens can explore and critically
question their polity's basic principles and whether they are adhered to.
And they can evaluate the extent to which the first principles of democracy
are atrophying and act on that evaluation. In general, conscientious citizens
ensure that their civic actions reaffirm and are grounded in fundamental
democratic values. Effective and responsible citizens are a democracy's
grounding and fundament; collectively, they are the force that makes democracy
The seventh part of the Framework discusses the complex interplay between
democracy and "the world." It asks and discusses, but does not definitively
answer, whether democratic values are universal. It also discusses how
the concept and practices of democracy shape interactions among the world's
nation-states. Finally, the Framework looks at the international conditions
that affect the status of democracy, and it discusses the role democratic
countries should play in encouraging democracy throughout the world.
ONGOING DEVELOPMENT OF THE FRAMEWORK
The Framework is being developed by the Center for Civic Education as
a joint project of an international network of educators and scholars.
It was begun in 1996 when an International Steering Committee composed
of scholars and educators was formed for the purpose of reviewing and revising
an initial Framework draft. Steering Committee members were drawn from
countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Once a first draft
of the Framework was constructed, prospective reviewers from throughout
the world were contacted and the document was sent for review; the process
was repeated several times. Reviewers have included teachers and scholars,
national education ministries, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations)
from more than 40 countries on six continents.
The Framework can be accessed and downloaded at the World Wide Web site
of the Center for Civic Education: <http://www.civiced.org/>.
Colleagues in civic education are invited to review the current draft
of "An International Framework for Education in Democracy" and join in
developing it by offering constructive criticism to the CCE staff. The
final version of the Framework will be published in 2003.
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; World Wide Web <edrs.com>; 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, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Bahmueller, Charles F., Ed. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC EDUCATION.
Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1991. ED 340 654.
Fischer, John M., and Dawn M. Shinew, Eds. COMPARATIVE LESSONS FOR DEMOCRACY.
Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1997. ED 422 200.
Hendrick, Joanne. "Where Does It All Begin? Teaching the Principles
of Democracy in the Early Years." YOUNG CHILDREN 47 (March 1992): 51-53.
EJ 441 890.
McLeod, Shannon, and Christina Houlihan, Eds. HELP YOUR NEIGHBOR, HELP
YOURSELF: GLOBAL DEMOCRACY PROMOTION AND U.S. NATIONAL INTEREST. Washington,
DC: American Federation of Teachers, 2000. ED 448 104.
Patrick, John J. "Concepts at the Core of Education for Democratic Citizenship."
In Charles F. Bahmueller and John J. Patrick, Eds. PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
OF EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES AND
PROJECTS. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1999, 1-40. ED 434 866.
Patrick, John J. "Constitutionalism in Education for Democracy." In
Andrew Oldenquist, Ed. CAN DEMOCRACY BE TAUGHT? Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta
Kappa Educational Foundation, 1996. ED 401 207.
Veldhuis, Ruud. EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: DIMENSIONS OF
CITIZENSHIP, CORE COMPETENCIES, VARIABLES, AND INTERNATIONAL ACTIVITIES.
Paper presented at the Seminar on Basic Concepts and Core Competencies
in Strasbourg, France, December 11-12, 1997. ED 430 867.