Civic education has fast become among the most hotly debated topics of discussion within scholarly circles, political factions and public fora during the last few decades. Opinions about effectiveness, relevance, quality, consistency, accuracy and instructional methods vary widely from one stakeholder group to another. Nonetheless, all philosophical pondering and vehement debate are reducible to the following half-dozen questions:
1. To whom do full citizenship rights and civic responsibilities belong?
This question is particularly disputed with respect to alien immigrants, underage minor children and convicted felons.
2. Within what community contexts should individuals view themselves as citizens?
Besides obvious traditional nation-state backdrops, many people regard themselves as citizens of local geo communities, organizations, organized movements and even the entire world in general.
3. What incumbent obligations do citizens of each type of abovementioned communities have?
Are civic responsibilities uniform for all members or should bright-line distinctions be drawn between, for instance, the elderly and youth, or leaders and less prominent members?
4. What, if any, relationship exists or should exist between solid regimes and outstanding citizenship?
Aristotle once posited that multiple kinds of viable regimes existed, each of which required a different kind of desirable citizenry. That proposition necessarily begs the next question of what constitutes outstanding citizenship relative to regime genre. For instance, classic liberals embrace regimes that impose few demands on citizens as ideal, due to skepticism toward citizens’ ability to meet such demands and collective desire to safeguard individual citizens’ personal liberties. Similarly, civic republicans urge high activity and deliberate participation as the ideal environmental condition.
5. To whom should the job of defining good citizenship be delegated?
This question is especially relevant to secondary pupils in the U.S. Are parents, teachers, larger surrounding local communities, jurisdictional nation-state governments or the students themselves best qualified to decide the matter? One noted commentator observed an inherent danger that resides in collective identity assigned by those in power that could result in decisions dictated by power needs as opposed to political potential of complex collectiveness. That in turn can easily result in the opposite of intentional civic education’s desired outcome.
6. Which methods of civic education are ethical?
While it may prove quite effective to penalize students for failure to memorize patriotic assertions or pay them for community service, both strategies would undoubtedly spark widespread controversy. Thus, like other civic education subtopics, the appropriate relationship between means and ends is vigorously disputed.
The final analysis remains to be seen
All of the foregoing questions are virtually never contemplated in toto by prevailing civic education theories. By stark contrast, they are given short shrift and cursory attention in existing political science scholarly literature and educators. In addition, many of these queries remain unexplored by philosophists and civic education theorists, but frequently arise during public debate of civic education.
Positive parting commentary on various protections and future directions of civic education
While perhaps long overdue, this writer applauds various stakeholder groups for finally bringing all issues subsumed in the above question to the forefront of discussion. The next task at immediate hand is to assign proper priority to each question for further analyses that ideally culminates in effective resolution of all problematic aspects. That desired outcome is possible only with continued deliberation to ensure full consideration of all relevant influential factors.