Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Educating for a Plural Democracy and Citizenship - a Report on Practice

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Educating for a Plural Democracy and Citizenship - a Report on Practice

Article excerpt

Conceptions of citizenship - what kind of citizenship is important and why?

The notion that education plays an integral part in the moral and political development of individuals and their societies has resurfaced in recent educational and political theory (Nussbaum, 2002; Osler & Starkey, 2003; Schuitema, Ten Dam & Veugelers, 2008). Various arguments have been presented in favour of a renewed emphasis on teaching for civic engagement and social change in higher education (Furco, 2010; Hartley, Saltmarsh & Clayton, 2010). These arguments frequently call upon the notion of citizenship to capture values of social responsiveness and political engagement. But what kinds of social responsiveness and political engagement are valuable and desirable? Osler and Starkey (2003) point out that citizenship, since its conception, has been a contested term and, depending on the context, could implicitly support conflicting values and ideals. There can be no neutral conception of citizenship. Indeed, critical theory has encouraged suspicion of any claims of neutrality in social and political realms. Consequently, calls for civic education need to articulate clearly the assumptions, norms and values that support the particular conception upon which they rely. Within the literature on citizenship education it is evident that different understandings of democratic citizenship (Nussbaum, 2002; Waghid, 2002), global citizenship (McDougall, 2005; Weinstein, 2004) and cosmopolitan citizenship (Osler & Starkey, 2003) have been advocated. However, despite the articulation of the different conceptions, the conflict between them is often overlooked.

Osler and Starkey (2003:244) argue that, while contemporary notions of democratic citizenship allow equal participation in theory, "in practice, this formal equality is undermined by discriminatory practices and public discourses that exclude minorities or which marginalise them within the imagined community of the nation". This suggests that, although liberal democracies are committed to the principles of freedom and equality and, as such, should accommodate multiple cultural identities, in reality, the norms and values of a particular group are naturalised and become dominant. The notion of pluralism seeks to amend this tendency. Weinstein (2004:236) defines pluralism as "the political situation in which people of different fundamental beliefs and histories share equally within a common governance and live within common borders". This conception requires the separation of public and private spheres, and assumes that the public sphere is a neutral one. Thinkers opposed to the notion of a 'neutral' political and social space are critical of the idea of pluralism and suggest an alternative in the form of multi-culturalism. Weinstein (2004:237) refers to a counterclaim made by Feinberg that multiculturalists "suspect that this idealised common identity is just a disguise for the dominance of one cultural group over others". Instead, multiculturalists propose a less compartmentalised understanding of public and private space and advocate the expression and promotion of different cultures within the public sphere. Weinstein (2004:237) responds that pluralism, and indeed liberalism, has no right to make such a claim to neutrality in the public sphere but, instead, has to substantiate the values it promotes as an equal participant in a democratic system.

Weinstein (2004:237) points out that the traditional role of politics and philosophy as set out by the Greek thinkers was the defining and promoting of 'the good life' (Aristotle, Nussbaum). The defining aspect of liberalism is that the state is neutral on the question of good life. In liberal thought, this question is an individual prerogative, which is exempt from social judgement unless individual choices infringe on the freedom of others. Weinstein (2004:237) (along with thinkers such as John Rawls and Michael Sandel) argues that liberalism does, in fact, make various non-neutral value claims - the most obvious being freedom itself: "[T]o choose freedom over restraint is a violation of neutrality, yet this non-neutral commitment lies irrevocably at the core of liberal theory". …

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