ERG SES D 06, Policies and Education
In response to terrorist attacks and other challenges in the European democracies in recent years, EU member states have made a commitment to renew efforts to reinforce democratic values through education – starting from a very early age (European Commission 2015). The Council of Europe Department has thus identified the strengthening of democratic culture and the focus on children and young people’s development of democratic competencies as a main priority in the new programme of activities 2018-2019 (Council of Europe 2018).
Drawing on a Foucauldian inspired approach this paper explores the case of Denmark as a European national case. It explores how recent developments in European education policy focusing on efficiency and accountability through standards and measurable learning outcomes (Hopmann, 2008; Krejsler, Olsson & Petersson, 2014) increasingly conflict with the ambition to reinforce democratic culture. The hypothesis is that the imagination of what good education is and what the purpose of school is has changed in fundamental ways and as a result, so has the idea of ‘good teaching’ as well as the narrative of the ‘good student’. In a Foucauldian perspective, the power of this narrative reaches all the way into the students’ own feelings, thus the external demand for higher test scores and measurable outcomes intervene with the construction of the student’s identity and subsequently the student will begin to identify and internalize the requirement to perform the ideal student. The question for this paper is how this ‘ideal student’ matches the ideal of the ‘good democratic citizen’ we wish to promote.
Schools inevitably influence children and young people’s understanding of democracy, including their views of the world. The question therefore is not whether or not we should teach citizenship but rather what kind of citizenship our schools promote (Westheimer, 2014). Since 1975 the democratic purpose has been embedded in the general purpose of the Danish law of primary school, and is thus not attended to by any particular course or subject, but is expected to be embraced within the overall diversity of school activities and practices (Danish law of primary school, 1975, 1993, 2006). In Denmark, the European commitment to reinforce democratic culture has led to comprehensive action plans containing a series of initiatives e.g. a national citizenship week, a taskforce of citizenship consultants in the Ministry of Education and workshops for teachers etc. At the same time, an international study shows that democratic common values are mainly represented at a level of general purpose in the Danish framework of competencies whereas they are only reflected to a limited extent in the more specified curriculum goals (except for curricular goals of social studies in 8.th grade) (Veulegers, 2017). Since accountability measures within the Danish school system build on the curricular goals, this paper asks whether the ambition to reinforce democratic values risks sliding out of focus in everyday practices in schools. Drawing on the theory of education philosopher Gert Biesta the paper presume that potential positive impact of external initiatives like citizenship week are always mediated by the everyday experiences that children and young people have with democratic ways of acting and by their experiences with their own position as citizens (Biesta, 2013). The democratic quality of the processes and practices that make up the lives of children and young people is essential to the ways they learn and practice their democratic citizenship. Therefore, the European ambition to reinforce democratic values through education needs also to address the democratic quality of schools everyday practices, which is the object of this paper.
This paper adds to research stressing that in order to strengthen democracy and democratic values through education it is necessary to understand what kind of citizenship our school programs imagine and how children and young people experience and learn different kinds of democracy and citizenship through the everyday practices that are made of the configurations of the school. The paper draws on Foucault’s concepts of dispositive and power as a methodological approach. Furthermore, the paper draws on Gert Biesta’s three domains of education: qualification, socialization, subjectification (Biesta, 2011, 2014). The domains provide a language for the more complex and difficult-to-measure learning outcomes of educational activities. In other words, the domains will serve to reveal the hidden curriculum. Finally, the paper draws on the work of Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kain and their three visions of citizenship (Westheimer, 2014). Each vision reflect a distinct set of characteristics, which will serve to analyze underlying assumptions and goals that drive different kinds of notions of ‘the good citizen’. In particular, but not only, the focus will be on language, as language constitutes what can be seen, what can be understood, what can be said, and in the end what can be done (Biesta, 2009). The empirical data consists of observations of teaching, interviews and documents of municipal strategies of school development.
The expected outcomes of the paper is that the current emphasis on standardization and effect in education leads to everyday practices in school that somewhat conflicts with the ambition to strengthen democratic values. The paper expects to demonstrate how the ‘ideal student’ that is imagined in current education discourse conflicts with the notions of the ‘good democratic citizen’, which raises the question; do we then reinforce the democratic culture, we wish to do? The paper contributes to current debates on how to and what it means to reclaim education in the service of democratic values, as well as it adds to research that stresses the need to debate the ideal of the ‘good democratic citizen’ and the question of what democratic values and competencies can be.
Biesta, G (2011): God Education in the Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics, Democracy. Taylor & Francis Ltd Biesta, G (2013): The Beautiful Risk of Education. Paradigm Publishers Biesta, G (2006): Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future. Routledge Hopmann, S. T. (2008). No child, no school, no state left behind: schooling in the age of accountability. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40, 417-456 Krejsler, J. B., Olsson, U. & Petersson, K. (2014). The Transnational Grip on Scandinavian Education Reforms: The Open Method of Coordination challenging national policy-making. Nordic Studies in Education, 34(3), 172-186. Westheimer, J. (2014). Westheimer, J (2015): What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good. Teachers College Press, NY Veulegers, W, de Groot, I & Stolk, V (2017): Research for CULT Committee – Teaching Common Values in Europe. European Union. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/585918/IPOL_STU(2017)585918_EN.pdf Council of Europe (2018). https://www.coe.int/en/web/education/competences-for-democratic-culture European Commission (2015). Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education. http://www.participation-citoyenne.eu/sites/default/files/cck-files-official-documents/2015-3-10_declaration_en.pdf
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