Myth that civic education threats national identity and individuality is groundless

5 October, 2015

Tamar Gurchiani

What is Civic Education?

Civic education is a subject that has long been taught in our schools, and its purpose is not only to make the pupils to learn more about the state structure, constitutional system, democracy and human rights, but to encourage them to become active citizens. Active citizenship is a person's involvement in civil society and participation in the political life of a country through the way of respecting human rights and law, without violence.

In general, contrary to the prevailing opinion, education is not a privilege. Education is a human right to be equipped with the necessary competences and skills to be able to fully realize his/her potential. Therefore, the civic education and training, upbringing a child as a citizen is the commitment of the state as well. In Georgia, as well as in the rest of the world, only public schools have the opportunity to teach equally almost all children in the country critical thinking skills and provide them with the appropriate knowledge.

Civic education teaches pupils critical thinking

The issue of teaching critical thinking is really a serious problem in Georgia. Critically-minded pupil is not a passive recipient of information; he/she analyzes the information and makes the conclusions himself/herself. Critically thinking pupil does not perceive the things he/she is told as an undisputable truth, but he/she gives questions, does the assessment and finds errors. If a pupil does not have an ability of clear and rational thinking and analysis, he will never be able to find social problems, will never have a civic concern of something, shall never overcome the prejudices and make his/her contribution to the establishment of a safe space, where he/she can live peacefully and allow the others, regardless of differences, to live in peace.

Education or Indoctrination?

As we said, a school has to train a pupil to be the citizen. Citizenship does not mean a single-minded faceless community but it implies the autonomous personalities with individual freedom and responsibility as well as diversity. People who do not see the place for civic education in school curricula demand from school indoctrination, not education. What is indoctrination? This is the politics, instructing a pupil to perceive fully the ideas, opinions and beliefs of one particular group and do not take into account the other group’s ideas, opinions and beliefs.

Indoctrination means unconditional acceptance of these ideas, without any kind of criticism and giving any question. I think it's time for everyone to realize that the Soviet schools and brain washing time has long gone; the modern education means to acknowledge the pupils with all ideas, opinions and beliefs, to give them the opportunity to make a choice, to enable them to judge, make their own decisions, fulfill their intellectual work independently. In other words, schools should teach children not what to think, but how to think.

What is the School’s Civil Mission?

Many people think that schools should train competitive pupils, who shall be able to find their place in the labor market independently with their skills. Of course, I share this opinion, but we often forget that the school has its civil mission. Eleanor Roosevelt used to say that if human rights have no meaning in small places, such as school, family, street, they would have no meaning anywhere else, in larger areas. Therefore, there is no doubt that along with a family, the school should teach an individual to respect law, equality, dignity, individual freedom and autonomy.

In Georgia, schools’ civic mission is perfectly expressed in the general education national goals determined in 2004. According to the document: "Georgia's general education system is aimed at creating favorable conditions for the development of a free personality with national and universal values. In addition, the education system develops a juvenile's mental and physical skills, gives him/her the necessary knowledge, establishes a healthy lifestyle, provides the pupils with liberal and civic consciousness based on democratic values ​​as well as helps him/her in realizing his/her rights and obligations before the family, society and the state ".

Although the loyalty to the traditions is deemed as the most important and cherished national trait, the skeptics still fail to recognize and appreciate some prudent reforms, such as education reform with some sort of heritage and experience of it (of course the experience implies failures as well).

Civic Education Criticism

Civic education has its skeptics always and everywhere. However, in Georgia such resistance is supported by some absurd arguments like this:

The new subject "Me and Civil Society” confronts the cultural, ethnic and religious traditions under the guise of tolerance...

"The introduction of the mentioned text-book will lead to irreversible deformation of the psyche of the younger generation, i.e. we shall get sexless, unprincipled and faithless new generation without a family, which perfectly fits the ideology of the Liberal International."

Of course, any sense and concern has the right to exist, but this argument, to put it mildly, is not serious. In fact, the goal of civic education is to establish and develop national awareness, not to destroy it. The main line of criticism of contemporary models of civic education is focused and concentrated specifically on the ethnocentric values ​​instead of the diversity; it accentuates a common culture instead of a variety of cultures and achieves all these by cultivating the respect to history and traditions.

Civic Education Unites

In her article "Democratic Objective of Education” Sandra Day O'Connor, the US former Supreme Court judge wrote that American republicanism was the very experimental form of governance, because its success was depended on the participation of citizens and the self-governance. The Founding Fathers found the only solution from this situation and it was the citizens' Education. Sandra Day O'Connor quotes Horace Mann - one of the pioneers in the field of education, who was the Secretary of Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1837.

Mann says that general education is a powerful equaling tool that would help the mutual understanding of the poor and the rich, the immigrant and the native population and unite them; in his opinion, common schools would give everyone an equal opportunity to receive education, which was necessary for active involvement in governance. Mann also said that the Republic was a "political mistake" without citizens, who are not educated about the roles and responsibilities of the different branches of government.

Our country faces many challenges today; the pupils, who come from different social classes or belong to different ethnic, religious and other groups need the education, which, by recognition and respect for these differences, make them to feel themselves the full-fledged part, i.e. the citizen of the state - a political body. Civic education is one of the important ways of achieving this.

Are We Ready for a Real Civic Education?

In her article Sandra Day O'Connor also wrote that in the 1950s and 1960s in the US civics and history textbooks taught the pupils that: "The United States was the richest, most productive, most classless society, the mankind has ever known and that specifically this made the United States the most distinguished and great state”. At the same time, these textbooks ignored the issues, such as poverty, women's rights and the African-American struggle for equality.

I do not think it would be correct to have the US 1950s and 1960s standards now, in Georgia in 2015, and to teach the children only the bright sides of our history and the political system. Good civic education is a serious investment in this country’s future and therefore the state has to work on retraining the teachers and improving the program instead of wasting time on repelling the populist skeptics.