Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy

Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy

Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy

Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy

Synopsis

Any liberal democratic state must honour religious and cultural pluralism in its educational policies. To fail to honour them would betray ideals of freedom and toleration fundamental to liberal democracy. Yet if such ideals are to flourish from one generation to the next, allegiance to the distinctive values of liberal democracy is a necessary educational end, whose pursuit will constrain pluralism. The problem of political education is therefore to ensure the continuity across generations of the constitutive ideals of liberal democracy, while remaining hospitable to a diversity of conduct and belief that sometimes threatens those very ideals. Creating Citizens addresses this crucial problem. In lucid and elegant prose, Professor Callan, one of the world's foremost philosophers of education, identifies both the principal ends of civic education, and the rights that limit their political pursuit. This timely new study sheds light on some of the most divisive educational controversies, such as state sponsorship and regulation of denominational schooling, as well as the role of non-denominational schools in the moral and political development of children. Oxford Political Theory presents the best new work in contemporary political theory. It is intended to be broad in scope, including original contributions to political philosophy, and also work in applied political theory. The series will contain works of outstanding quality with no restriction as to approach or subject matter. The series editors are David Miller and Alan Ryan.

Excerpt

Political debate in our liberal democracies is largely confined to questions about the pursuit of material prosperity and the maintenance of civil peace, respect for liberty, and the just distribution of wealth and privilege. Political debate about education follows the same pattern. We talk about how schools and other educational institutions could help to create a more productive workforce, mitigate the violence and lawlessness that afflict our cities, accommodate the freedom of people who want very different kinds of education for their children, and contribute to more just distributive patterns. These are certainly important questions, and what I have to say in this book bears on some of them. But most of the book is about what gets excluded from political debate about education when the questions I have just posed are thought to be the only really serious ones.

The importance of what gets excluded can be approached through a quick thought-experiment. Imagine an enviably wealthy and peaceful society that has descended, through a couple of generations, from the society to which you or I belong. Imagine also that the society exhibits whatever distribution of wealth you think best. The particular rights we require of any liberal democracy--rights to political participation, freedom of expression, religious practice, equality before the courts and the like--continue to have the force of law. But when elections are held, scarcely anyone bothers to vote. The mass media ignore politics because the consumers to whom they cater do not care. The parties who vie for power are sponsored by more or less the same political elites, and so virtually nothing separates one party from another. Freedom of speech has been reduced to a spectral existence because speech is no longer commonly used to defend a distinctive vision of the good and the right or to say anything that might initiate serious ethical dialogue with another.

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