13 SES 16 A, The Paradox of Public Education: A European Exploration
The question of social cohesion is not just a concern for European nation states, but has increasingly become a concern for ‘Europe’ itself, particularly to the extent to which Europe does not just see itself in economic terms but rather as a value-based ‘project,’ held together by a set of common values. If in the past there was a sufficient degree of cohesion within and between countries, this has significantly decreased in recent years. This is, for example, visible explicitly anti-democratic developments in some countries and settings. It is also visible in a desire, by individuals, groups and, in some cases, countries as a whole to ‘exit’ from Europe’s democratic project. To counter these trends, the European Commission has not just invested in the teaching of common values but has actually made the ‘promotion of common values’ through education into official policy (see European Commission 2018; see also Veugelers et al. 2017). While it may look sensible to suggest that education should play a key role in teaching common values, there is the question whether such a push towards what might be termed ‘democratic communitarianism’ is the best and most meaningful way forward. After all, those who doubt or oppose the values of ‘Europe’ because they clash with their own values, may just see Europe’s attempt to push its own values as part of the problem, rather than part of a solution. In this presentation I therefore explore a different direction for Europe’s democratic future through the suggestion that the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity should not be understood as a set of values everyone who wishes to be part of the European democratic community should adopt, but should rather be seen as a set of infrastructural values – or in philosophical terms: conditions of possibility – upon which it becomes possible to live together in plurality. Rather, therefore, than increasing the tension between the ‘common’ values of Europe and the ‘private’ values of communities that oppose such values, it would be better to characterise the values of liberty, equality and solidarity as uncommon values: values that are owned by no one and are, in that sense, alien to all private values. An educational focus on teaching such uncommon values might be a better way to address the problem of Europe’s democratic future than the current insistence that everyone should adopt the same set of ‘common’ values.
European Commission (2018). Council recommendation of 22 May 2018 on promoting common values, inclusive education, and the European dimension of teaching. Brussels: European Commission. Veugelers, W., de Groot, I., & Stolk, V. (2017). Research for CULT Committee: Teaching common values in Europe. Brussels: European Parliament, Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies.
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