Civic Character and Civic Service as Components of a Democratic Pedagogy

1 ‘Bottom up’ purposes of education

Democracy must be experienced to be learned and in this connection there is a democratic deficit in contemporary classrooms world wide.  

The need for a children’s democracy to underpin civic actions is not new. As English aristocracy was giving way to democracy in the 19th century, Matthew Arnold investigated popular education in France and other countries to determine what form of education suited a democratic age.  Arnold wrote that “the spirit of democracy” is part of “human nature itself”, which engages in “the effort to affirm one’s own essence…to develop one’s own existence fully and freely.  What he didn’t say is that a democratic education means cultivating the experience of engaging in political processes.

During the industrial age, John Dewey argued that children should not all be given the same pre-determined curriculum. In ‘Democracy and Education’ he develops a philosophy of education based on democracy. He argues that while children should be active participants in the creation of their education, and while children must experience democracy to learn democracy, they need adult guidance to develop into responsible adults.  In his view, the purpose of education is to uplift humanity Through self knowledge each person must decide what use he or she will make of their knowledge but the young should remember that their great aim should be the uplift of humanity. He said this should apply particularly to the use of evironmental resources. In his view the value of the resources of nature lies in the extent to which they are used for the welfare of humanity. By welfare he means health, happiness and prosperity.  Prosperity need not be measured in terms of financial gain. He said,

“The time will come when men will look back on the present and wonder how or why the knowledge of science was not used for the welfare of mankind. What can the colleges do to train the young best to serve their fellow men? Education should not be so practical; so devoted to gains that the great object in life is obscured. Do lawyers strive to serve their fellow men as they should? Are the efforts of all in authority; of all enjoying the best in life used for the betterment of the race? If education tends to improve the mind and lead the ones enjoying it to altruistic effort then it will not be in vain. This will be grand and an era of good will for mankind will be ushered in”.  

Amy Gutmann argues in ‘Democratic Education’ that in a democratic society, there is a role for everyone in the education of children. One of her central tenets is that education should maximize students’ future life choices without prejudicing them for or against any controversial conceptions of what the good life should be. The roles and goals of participators in mining Earth’s bounty are best agreed upon through deliberative democracy.  Deliberative democracy has its roots in Athenian-style democracy that originated in ancient Greece where decision-making was carried out by large gatherings of citizens, largely without the aid of ‘representatives’. It is based on the idea that authentic discussion between free and equal citizens, including young people, can enable local consensual decision -making. This has legitimacy and is much less vulnerable to the distortions that come with party politics, because modern democracies need a rich ecology of democratic practices supported by strong legal systems, different forms of citizenship education and a free press.

Gutmann summarizes the similarities and differences between her democratic educational theory and its progenitors as follows:

“Like the family state, a democratic state of education tries to teach virtue – not the virtue of the family state (power based upon knowledge), but what might best be called democratic virtue: the ability to deliberate, and hence to participate in conscious social reproduction. Like the state of families, a democratic state upholds a degree of parental authority over education, resisting the strong communitarian view that children are creatures of the state. But in recognizing that children are future citizens, the democratic state resists the view, implicit in the state of families, that children are creatures of their parents. Like the state of individuals, a democratic state defends a degree of professional authority over education – not on grounds of liberal neutrality, but to the extent necessary to provide children with the capacity to evaluate those ways of life most favoured by parental and political authorities”.

This theme was taken up by the journal “Democracy and Education’, which was established to investigate “the conceptual foundations, social policies, institutional structures, and teaching/learning practices associated with democratic education.” By “democratic education” is meant “educating youth…for active participation in a democratic society.

Yaacov Hecht claims that Democratic Education, being an education that prepares for life in a democratic culture, is the missing piece in the intricate puzzle which is the democratic state.

There are many reasons why education is important, but the above contributors to the debate about the purpose of education play down its contribution to economic growth and outcomes. Nevertheless, from an economic point of view, education continues to be defined as the stock of skills, competencies, and other productivity-enhancing characteristics.  This was the view of the World Economic Forum in 2016. Furthermore, politicians continue to see education as a critical component of a country’s human capital, which increases the efficiency of each individual worker and helps economies to move up the value chain beyond manual tasks or simple production processes. This value chain driven by education was described by the sociologist Ulrich Beck in the 1980s, when he called Germany an elevator society in which millions of skilled workers upgraded from Volkswagons to Audis and expected their children to rise further.  Now, the economic elevator culture is faltering abd young Germans are joining the precariat. In sociology and economics this is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term is a portmanteau obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.

Germany’s economic power is largely the result of its education and training system and its applied research in the eyes of interviewees.  But it’s impossible to quantify the relationship precisely because there are many other limiting factors.

The economic purpose of education in the UK was exemplified by Nick Gibb, Government Minister for English Schools, speaking at the 2015  Education Reform Summit. His standpoint was that the purpose of education is to underpin civic actions as follows;

  • it is the engine of our economy;
  • it is the foundation of our culture;
  • and it’s an essential preparation for adult life.

The minister put serving economic growth as the top priority of the English education system.  

Making this point he positioned education in relation to the state of the economy, “….which in 2014 grew by 3% – the strongest growth since 2006, and the fastest in the G7”.  Employment in 2014 was at its highest-ever level, with 1.85 million more people in work since the last government entered office. Business investment had increased by 25.6% since the first quarter of 2010.

Regarding the role of education in achieving this success the minister said

“….most important of all, we must ensure that more people have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a demanding economy. For example, the UK’s … “long-term performance has lagged behind those of our international competitors. Our 15-year-olds are on average 3 years behind their peers in Shanghai in mathematics and we are the only OECD country whose young people do not have better levels of literacy or numeracy than their grandparents’ generation”.

The implication is that Government  beĺieved that a better performing education system would boost year on year economic growth, which is the foundation of the UK consumer culture and a driver of climate  change.

2  A bottom-up global democracy of children

The first Earth Summit, held in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, was the largest meeting of world leaders ever. Together these leaders created a document called AGENDA 21, a blueprint for saving Planet Earth.  After the conference ended, thousands of young people from nearly 100 countries, funded by the UN and other international agencies,worked together in an extraordinary effort to find out exactly what was agreed in this important document. Their efforts produced a unique book, designed, written and illustrated by children, for children, to inspire young people all over the world to join the rescue mission ‘to save planet Earth from environmental degradation’.

The UN Secretary General of the UN at that time was Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  He wrote:

“I sincerely hope that this book will help children from all countries better to understand and appreciate the fragile world in which we live and to dedicate themselves to do everything possible to protect and enhance this Earth. ” .

As they edited the book the production team thought about how to organise the thousands of young people who had had an input to the project.  They put it this way.

“How on earth could 2.5 billion human beings under the age of 18 be connected in a way that would be democratic without being bureaucratic?  How could we enter into the adult’s decision-making process without starting to be as boring as them? The first thing to do is select issues, not representatives. That way we can all choose what we want to talk about, after which the question of who does the talking is less important.  The first place is to organise is in our schools. Each Rescue Mission will start with a conference where we would decide the isssues and select a small action council to see things get done. Like the School’s Councils in Frace, we will have regular access to local government and work with them, perhaps to organise the Local Agenda 21”.

Their solution was to promote a network from schools that would carry a Global Democracy of Children through the various levels of government in partnerships with NGOs.

Their aim was for the schools to help the communities they served make local action plans for improving local well-being (Fig 1).   

The book ‘Rescue Mission Planet Earth’ failed to galvanise the adults as teachers and politicians to change an education system that had been designed by the western powers long ago  to serve colonialism. Also, in 1994 the Internet and social media were in an embryonic stage and not available to provide a platform for young people to gather globally and voice a new educational framework to promote prosperity for all without denuding humanity’s ecosystem services.

Fig 1  Networking a global democracy of children

The new framework has to be the Millenniium Ecosystem Assessment and the 2030 goals for a sustainable global economy  The Assessment marks the advent of the ideational educational knowledge framework of cultural ecology, where humankind works with nature instead of battling against against it.

No one has defined the philosophy of cultural ecology better than David Orr who  in 1994 set out its new educational imperatives.

“Those now being educated will have to do what we, the present generation, have been unable or unwilling to do: stabilise world population; stabilise and then reduce the emission of greenhouse gases; protect biological diversity; reverse the destruction of forests everywhere; and conserve soils. They must learn how to use energy and materials with great efficiency. They must learn how to utilise solar energy in all its forms. They must rebuild the economy in order to eliminate waste and pollution. They must learn how to manage renewable resources for the long run. They must begin the great work of repairing as much as possible, the damage done to Earth in the past 200 years of industrialisation. And they must do all this while they reduce worsening social and racial inequities. No generation has ever faced a more daunting agenda”.

Fig 2 Common ground of a school/community democracy

A  school/community democratic pedagogy incorporates two essential components, civic character and civic service .

Civic character includes social and emotional skills, the principles and practices of democratic participation and the values and dispositions of an effective responsible citizen.

These skills and values are vital for successful relationships and participation in school, organizations, community and career, as well as political engagement.

  • Value and demonstrate honesty, personal integrity  and respect for others;
  • Understand and effectively manage their emotions and behaviour;
  • Act toward others with empathy and caring;
  • Resolve differences in constructive ways;
  • Understand how to participate in the political process and democratic institutions that shape public policy;
  • Exercise leadership for social justice;
  • Work to counter prejudice and discrimination;
  • Think critically and creatively about local, state and national issues, and world events;
  • Contribute time and resources to building community and solving problems.

Civic service includes the understanding of a community/national/world problem and planning and implementing a project to help solve that problem, in the context of learning and practicing the knowledge, values and skills of citizenship.

Civic service involves student groups devising and operating an action plan for tackling a local issue by :

  • Identifying a current issue that they believe needs to be addressed.
  • Researching the issue from multiple perspectives, with help from community
  • mentors.
  • Choosing a potential solution and presenting a rationale for their choice.
  • Planning and implement a project to promote their solution.
  • Reflecting on learning  about themselves, their team, their  issue and civic responsibility.
  • Giving a formal presentation of the project, what was learned, and conclusions.

Through this process students will experience working together to achieve a common purpose. They will demonstrate an understanding of their civic responsibility and contribute  meaningful solutions to their community. The vision of Rescue Mission is that students will become civic service leaders, caring for their school, community, nation and world.  This means looking from the inside out and see the embeddedness of education into the surrounding cultural environment and its rich variety of services and actors.  The aim is to develop the outward looking school, a school that opens up towards both its internal and external actors – physically and mentally that manage their community’s environmental services.

3 Ecosystem services in education

The concept of ecosystem service was first coined in early 1980s. By drawing attention to the many services ecosystems provide for human beings, the aim was to raise public interest and concern for ecosystem protection

While originating in the ecological sciences, the ecosystem service concept puts human needs and preferences in the centre of cultural ecology and measures the health of ecosystems based on their ability to provide humans with benefits.  The United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2003 and 2005 stimulated interest in the cultural aspects of ecosystem services, which are defined as the ‘nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences’. In this classification system, ecosystem services include ten subcategories of which cultural heritage is one.  Each of these services is given a short explanation. Cultural heritage is defined more broadly by Tengberg et al as follows:

‘Many societies place high value on the maintenance of either historically important landscapes (cultural landscapes) or culturally significant species’. These valued elements of human experience can be understood as heritage when the focus is on physical objects or places, that have been passed on from generation to generation. But heritage also incorporates various practices and tangible aspects such as language or cultural behaviour in a broader sense. This also incorporates ways to go about conserving things and choices we make about what to remember and what to forget, often in the light of a potential threat and in relation to future generations. Cultural heritage is thus not only what former generations built up but also the way it is interpreted, valued and managed by contemporary society in our everyday life. Historical artefacts and the way practices are reconnected to historic features within landscapes are reconsidered as heritage because we attribute values to them. Cultural heritage is therefore not static but is constantly changing by being re-evaluated and interpreted in various ways by different actors”.

As the ecosystem services approach is becoming a key tool in environmental decision-making, there is a need for the practical discipline of conservation management of cultural heritage to engage and influence the ecosystem services societal discourse so that cultural heritage is seen as a useful and valuable environmental resource for living sustainably.  Education has a key role, which is evalutated in the European Commision’s thematic paper ;The Outward Looking School and its Ecosystem’ (2015) a rethinking of education as learning entrepreneurship through introducing opportunities to open up the community served by the school as a learning resource.

Europe is facing major changes in education, one of the domains, which has evolved less than others since the 19th century. Rethinking the educational system tends to break down barriers and adapt to a changing world. However, the school curricula still remain too centred on key subjects with little connection between one and another, not sufficiently related to present-day realities and not sufficiently encompassing skills in digital technology. This leads to poor PISA results, early school dropouts and increased unemployment. Where schools and teaching institutions see in culture and cultural heritage an important mind-opener they remain too imprisoned in a day-to-day organisation lacking flexibility, personnel and appropriate financing. Field trips require time, money, efficient, properly trained teachers, and shared responsibilities. In this context the local heritage sector is a relatively untapped dynamic outdoor laboratory.

The heritage sector is in constant evolution, rethinking its goals, encompassing new fields and being at the core of new declarations and conventions. It enhances participation, engaging not only specialists but also the layman. In developing public-oriented activities, from schools to adult lifelong learning, the awareness and need to protect our common heritage has grown, as has the idea of considering it a responsibility shared withhin the community. However, heritage education as such is too often related to one-time events and not centred enough on the long-term cultural trajectory.

Integration of heritage matters in a variety of sectors, among which heritage education is an important if not essential answer to:

  • Democratic citizenship;
  • Environmental protection;
  • Job growth;
  • Social inclusion;
  • Sustainable development;
  • Well-being;
  • Political engagement

In ecology, ecosystems consist of a systemic community of living organisms which interact with the non-living elements in their environment. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment. They can be of any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces.

In the world of education, ecosystems may be defined as the full variety of actors (i.e., living species) and all nonliving elements in use for education through teaching and learning. The full variety of actors involves the population inside school (mainly teachers, principals, students, other staff) as well as the population outside school (entrepreneurs, associations, institutions, parents, families, friends and private persons etc.). The non-living (abiotic) elements inside this milieu are defined by all available material means (buildings, classrooms, external locations, tools, IT resources, etc.) and they influence the nature of interaction of populations.

All these populations are connected through networks. They form together a meta-population and inhabit the same milieu. In the entrepreneurial school, the nature of this milieu is characterised by a shared entrepreneurial context.  To understand the constituents of the entrepreneurship education ecosystem of a school requires an investigation of the motivations of the actors in the ecosystem. Primarily, this motivation is held by the educators who may spread it to learners. Since motivation is based on perceived benefits, a school needs to investigate primarily the benefits desired and perceived by teachers. In this context teachers and learners become entrepreneurs, and their entrepreneurial activities may be of monetary nature, but they can also be related to the ‘marketing ‘ of societal, philosophical and personal values. Hopefully some of these products would be elements of a democratic pedagogy necessary for future generations to to implement a global circular economy.

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