Democratic civic education in times of crisis
Should democratic civic education produce informed, patriotic, conformist and law-abiding citizens, or critical individuals with a mind of their own, who are capable of democratic participation both in defence of their individual interests and in extension of social justice in the democratic sense? Should all citizens, including future initiators, activists, spokespersons and contesters, first learn the sense of responsibility, conformity and patriotism? How many critical citizens does a democracy need? Do we need critical citizens in larger or smaller numbers during times of crisis?
The article addresses these dilemmas by distinguishing four types of informed citizen behaviour and political participation: conformist, active, liberal critical, and radical democratic. In times of crisis, governments are tempted to strengthen conformist civic education, which in itself is not sufficient for a long-term preservation of democracy. All systems of government (including non-democratic ones) need conformist and responsible citizens. Conformist civic education is also vital in democracies for sustaining public order and securing political support for the government. Democracy, however, also requires significant proportions of citizens who are participating critically either for liberal and individual reasons, or for the sake of protecting and extending social justice. As critically participating democratic citizens require significantly more sophisticated political knowledge, elaborated insights and social skills than conformist citizens, the education of critical democrats is significantly more complex and more difficult to achieve and assess. It also depends on the shared commitment of the government, the citizens and the educators to advance democratic civic education, which would encourage an increasing number of students to assume the role of critically participating citizens. When these conditions are met, it becomes possible to advance democracy through democratic civic education even in times of crisis.