Two of the most prominent tasks with which education is familiarly charged in liberal democratic societies are those of developing the autonomy of the individual and of laying the foundations of democratic citizenship. Within such societies, in what sense, if any, should education be concerned with questions of national identity? More specifically: in what sense, if at all, should education in a liberal democratic context seek to form a national identity?
There are several ways in which education can aim at the formation of a national identity. An educational institution can form a ‘national consciousness’ in its students through particular aspects of, and emphases in, its curriculum, through teaching methods and media, and through the ethos and organisation of the institution itself. Further, education more broadly can help to shape a national identity in society as a whole through its wide ranging influence upon culture, the media and political life. In this discussion, rather than engage in any detailed exploration of the broader ways in which education can shape national identity, we shall concentrate upon some questions relating to the formation of a ‘national consciousness’ in students.
In what sense, and to what extent, should education in a liberal democratic context seek to form a national identity in this way? Our discussion falls into two parts. In the first part we shall consider some matters of general principle relating to this question, derived from reflection upon a conception of education appropriate for a liberal democratic society. In the second part, we shall consider these matters of principle in relation to the specific context of Lithuania, which is currently wrestling with its transformation into a liberal democratic society.
Any conception of education based on liberal democratic principles is suspicious of particularity, especially when the particularity involved concerns the