civic education that is less about the state

We are completing the tenth (!) annual Summer Institute of Civic Studies, which revolves around the three schools of civic theory outlined below. (Each “school” encompasses diverse views and criticisms.) Today we talked about what these theories would mean for civic education at various levels and in several nations.

I certainly don’t advocate assigning The Theory of Communicative Action vols. 1-2Governing the Commons, or Hind Swaraj in an 8th grade civics class. But we might involve 8th graders in managing common resources, incorporate them in the public sphere by inviting them to join public deliberations, and ask them to develop strategies for addressing power disparities at the human level. Indeed, we do all these things, but they tend to be somewhat marginal in civics curricula around the world, which focus much more on the state, the law, and the citizen in relation to those.

The Bloomington School of Political Economy (Elinor Ostrom et al) The Frankfurt School in its second generation (Jurgen Habermas et al) Nonviolent social movements (Gandhi/King)
Fundamental problem People fail to achieve what would be good for them collectively People manipulate other people by influencing their opinions and goals People fail to view others (or themselves) as fully human
Characteristic starting point People know what they want but can’t get it People don’t know what they want or want the wrong things Some people won’t recognize other people as fellow citizens
Prominent example of failure We destroy an environmental asset by failing to work together Government or corporate propaganda distorts our authentic values One national or ethnic group exploits another
Essential behavior of a citizen Working together to make or preserve something. Talking and listening about controversial values. Using nonviolent sacrifice to compel change
Keyword Collaboration Deliberation Relationships
Instead of homo economicus (the individual who maximizes material self-interest) we need … Homo faber (the person as a maker) Homo sapiens (the person as a reasoner) or homo politicus (the participant in public assemblies) A satyagrahi (the person as a bearer of soul force)
Role of the state A set of nested and overlapping associations, not fundamentally different from other associations (firms, nonprofits, etc.) Citizens form public opinion, which should guide the state, which makes law. The state should be radically distinct from other sectors A target of demands
Modernity is … A threat to local and traditional ways of cooperating, but we can use science to assist people in solving their own problems A process of enlightenment that liberates people, but it goes wrong when states and markets “colonize” the private domain For Gandhi: An imperialist imposition, undermining swaraj
How facts and values are combined Not explicitly. Implicitly by using research on collective action to liberate people for reflective self-government By proposing counterfactual ideals such as “the ideal speech situation” and diagnosing the reasons these are not met Through “experiments in living”

In a prophetic mode

Main interdisciplinary combination Game theory plus observations of indigenous problem-solving Normative philosophy (mainly achieved through critical readings of past philosophers) plus system-level sociology Critical theology plus military strategy

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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