RUSSIAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: A CASE STUDY ON CIVIC EDUCATION IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD
(USA, Illinois State University, Normal)
"… civil society requires trusting and engaging with strangers. The conversations should take place at different venues and in different languages. I have a strong faith in debate and face-to-face conversations because this is the only real way that people can change their minds. The real intellectual hero of our time is not someone who defends a fixed position despite all odds but rather someone who can change his or her mind when faced with a better argument or data" – Ivan Krastev (Krastev, 2011: 35).
Sustaining democracy or transitioning to a democracy requires citizen participation. A noted scholar on citizenship, Russell Dalton, argues that "without public involvement in the process, democracy lacks both its legitimacy and its guiding force" (Dalton, 2009: 53). By its nature, democracy is constituted by civic participation. In other words, a "government of the people, by the people, for the people" cannot occur if "the people" are not involved in governance (Lincoln, 1863). Of course, participating in governance can occur in different capacities, but citizens must
be engaged in order for democracy to survive. What is troubling is that such participation seems to be waning in so-called "developed" democracies (Berger, 2011; Colby et al., 2007; Saltmarsh & Hartley, 2011; Verba et al., 2005) and in so-called "emerging" democracies (Adam et al., 2014; Coffé & van der Lippe, 2010; Fidrmuc & Gȅrxhani, 2015).
If we begin with the premise that democracy is worth maintaining, then we need to find ways of encouraging citizens (or reminding them) to be engaged in their democratic processes. Indeed, civic engagement is a process that involves "understanding, skill, motivation, and participation" (Colby et al., 2007: 29), and I would add a sense of efficacy. This means that developing knowledgeable, well-intentioned, competent and motivated citizens requires a systematic and concerted education program. Given the various ideas which exist concerning democracy, civic engagement, citizenship and civic education, I will attempt to define these concepts, but the nature of this paper will be to explore them in their generalities so they may be useful to most societies. However, to provide some particularized contextualization of this issue, I will examine Russia as a case study in civic education, and I will offer specific suggestions for how individuals and groups can implement and improve upon programs of civic education.
Civic education can occur in the curriculum of primary and secondary schooling, as well as at the university level. Additionally, civic education can exist in co-curricular or extra-curricular endeavors when youth have opportunities to learn, explore and practice civics-based issues. Crucial to the idea of developing civics knowledge, motivation and skills is examination and discussion of controversial issues. Despite fears that studying controversy will cause emotional reactions – including silencing – of student opinions, investigating such issues is vital for meaningful processing of civics issues, civic engagement, and concepts of citizenship. Indeed, controversy exists, and failing to explore controversial issues in an educational environment does a disservice to our students. Furthermore, the premise of democracy lies in diversity of experience and ideas, meaning that controversy is intrinsic to the democratic phenomenon, and citizens must have the skills necessary to engage in meaningful and effective dialogue, including negotiation and compromise.
In this paper, I explore the concept of civic education by focusing on its corollary components of civic engagement and citizenship. Given the importance of knowledge and skill development in civic competency, we need to examine possible pedagogical methods for successful civic education. Using Russia as a case study, I argue that civic education in post-Communist societies deserves careful attention, including a prioritization of civics-based learning for both students and teachers. In particular, I will explore models involving debate, discussion and dialogue as potential techniques for effective civic education. Civic education, Civic Engagement and Citizenship: Defining Key Concepts
Before we can explore the dynamics of civic education and possible methods for effective instruction, we need to examine the meanings of key concepts. This is particularly important when we consider comparative education between nation-states.
What is considered "civic" in one society may differ in another. Perhaps more importantly, what constitutes "effective" civic education in one country may not be an effective approach in another society. The reasons are simple: different histories, national goals, governmental systems, educational philosophies, and resources will, in part, dictate civic education programs in particular societies.
Civic education, then, is generally understood to include programs and curricula intended to teach citizens about two overarching concepts: the governing and electoral processes of a society, and opportunities for individual citizen involvement in various levels of societal and cultural activity. Of course, the notion of "citizen" is also a contested term and concept (Dalton, 2009), but generally refers to an individual who lives in a society and reaps the benefits of that society. If a person receives benefits from a society – particularly a democratic society – in the form of rights and welfare, then the person is said to be a "citizen" in so far as they also are expected to have a certain level of responsibility for the society as well, such as voting, volunteering, paying taxes, etc. Indeed, As Russell Dalton (Dalton, 2009: 21) argues, citizenship includes the "norms of what people think they should do as a good citizen", which, in democracies, typically entails degrees of participation, acceptance of levels of authority from the state, and notions of social responsibility. Additionally, the concept of citizenship can include: "developing traditional political skills or ‘tools’ (Bernstein, 2010), building ‘a soulful relationship with others’ (Tinberg, 2010), the ability ‘to participate in an informed
way in the ongoing social conversation around issues and problems’ (Geelan, 2010), being ‘actively involved and immersed in one’s surrounding community and civic society’ (Halualani, 2010), a vocation, ‘something we are called to do’ (Nowacek, 2010), and ‘the manner (skills, disposition) in which an individual responds to membership in a community and the mutual relationships that come with such membership’ (Fisher, 2010)" (Zlotkowski, 2010). But, for citizens to learn of their rights and responsibilities, a society needs some sort of civic education process to impart upon their citizens.
The premise of democracy is that citizens (or "the people") govern themselves. Of course, no country in the world has an entirely pure form of democracy, but the democratic idea is to allow and encourage as much citizen rule, or oversight of government bureaucracy, as possible. The myriad ways citizens are involved in the democratic process may be termed "civic engagement." Also occasionally known as, but sometimes carefully distinguished from, "political engagement," civic engagement entails providing individuals knowledge, skills, and opportunities for civic action (Berger, 2011). As a result, civic engagement is a necessary, if not vital, component for teaching about participatory democracy. The Nature of Civic education
In democracies all over the world, general indifference, cynicism and skepticism abound with citizens. Any semblance of democratic vitality is jeopardized by disappointment stemming from failed policies, frustration with bickering politicians, confusion over the ever-increasing complexity of governing bureaucracy, and feelings that individual citizens cannot make a difference. Numerous studies and scholarly writings point to this troubled nature of democracy throughout the world. While this disheartening malaise exists, the reasons for citizen apathy may differ from country to country.
All indications are not grim, however. While apparent lethargy has overwhelmed the democratic populace, we can also point to areas of renewed democratic faith, re-energized public spheres, and revitalized organizations in civic sector. Many groups are attempting to invigorate the citizenry in an effort to resuscitate democratic ideals and principles. The way youth are engaging with media on social, cultural and political issues speaks to vibrant signs of participatory democracy (Bennett et al., 2011; Jenkins, 2016; Palfrey & Glaser, 2008).
One vital realm where these efforts to resuscitate democracy exist is the area of education (Nie et al., 2006). Approaches aimed at teaching the processes of government, concepts of citizenship (including the roles of citizens), and ideas of civic leadership and involvement are often called "civic education." Civic education essentially entails the process whereby governments, school boards, school districts, schools themselves and individual teachers orchestrate curricula to teach students to be aware of their governments and the possible roles the students have in the proper functioning of the state. We know, for example, that teaching student-centered, participatory civic education increases political socialization, improves content knowledge for students and parents, and can provide a sense of political efficacy (Hutchens & Eveland, 2009). Especially for democracies, this sort of philosophical approach to teaching civics is crucial, since the "better educated are more likely to vote more often, to be active in their community, to be more knowledgeable about politics, and to be more politically tolerant" (Dalton, 2009: 39).
If civic education primarily entails efforts to teach the governing and electoral processes as well as to make citizens aware of opportunities for involvement, then we might be surprised to learn that most civic education programs are ineffective at doing either. To teach competence and awareness of governing processes, most civic education curricula focus on lecturing students about important elements of governing and the nation-state that culminates in some sort of an exam to "test" students’ knowledge. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge taught in this way is not retained, nor is it deemed very important by many students. Additionally, if opportunities for engagement are taught, teachers usually include such opportunities in the same exams as the knowledge-based content. Occasionally, we may find civic education curricula that encourage or require service learning-based exercises for students, which can be helpful (Billig, 2000; Rimmerman, 2011); but, many of these opportunities fail to generate long-term commitments or an appreciation for meaningful civic involvement (Colby et al., 2007).
These criticisms notwithstanding, civic education can provide some meaningful content knowledge as well as offer students idea for involvement (Finkel, 2012; Finkel, 2013). Some school programs, along with the tenacity of committed teachers, can have a very positive impact on some students. And, to be sure, even when civic education programs are not ideal, they are certainly better than not having any civics programs at all. In fact, as Finkel’s (Finkel, 2013: 147) study suggests, "civic education does have moderately strong effects on individuals’ participation in politics locally, and in many instances has had significant effects on individuals’ knowledge about politics, sense of their own political efficacy, and support for democratic norms and values like political tolerance and trust in political institutions. Given the skepticism often aimed at civic education and at democracy assistance generally, these results provide evidence of larger effects than much of the existing theoretical scholarship on the topic would lead one to expect". And, as will be discussed later, different approaches to civic education that are student-centered, focus on open debate, and are based on solid teacher training can yield very positive results.
Civic education is also an important component to educate youth about the role of a nation or society in a globalized world. For many years, efforts to teach our youth about the world and their role in it were based on an idea of "internationalism" – the belief that our respective countries must get along with others. As I will describe in a moment concerning the Russian context, however, this approach privileges the concept of the nation-state, an approach that is problematic in at least two different ways. First, emphasizing the role of the nation-state in internationalization encourages a reliance on, and a faith in, patriotism. An unwavering belief in the patriotic ideal may be valuable for certain aspects of a society, but it does not foster an effective collaborative ethic toward international interdependence. A second problem with the nation-state approach to civic education is that neglects, and sometimes completely ignores, global problem-solving efforts that are not premised on the nation-state. Voluntary civic associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international NGOs, trade unions, student organizations, and even individuals are viable and crucial architects for a better, more democratic globalized world. Yet, focusing our attention on the nation-state eschews these approaches. Deprioritizing or ignoring these other options no doubt contributes to the conditions of malaise and apathy felt by many of our youth.
A better approach, and one that is gaining more currency in schools around the world, is a "globalized" perspective of civic education. Globalism, as opposed to internationalism, is a more balanced approach. It includes the important contributions of the nation-state, but it also emphasizes other opportunities for civic involvement in democracies (Pomerantz, 2008; Redden, 2008; Smallman et al., 2011). With a globalized approach, civic education can empower students to see the vital resources and options in civil society as a means for reinvigorating participatory democracy (Zompetti, 2006). To this end, if some of the problems faced by a society are caused by governmental policies, or the lack of governmental action, then our youth do not need to feel like there are no other choices for societal problem-solving.
Although we focus on the efforts by schools and universities when teaching civic education, it is not the only way that youth can improve their civic and political knowledge. What is most obvious, but also the most overlooked in the literature, is the influence of parents and other family members on young people (Hutchens & Eveland, 2009). Familial views and perspectives are extremely impactful on the development of civic knowledge. Given the frequency with which children are around their parents, the degree of importance placed upon familial views, and the level of influence family members have on children, it is not surprising that we grow up largely mimicking the political views, perspectives and philosophies as our families.
Of course, as we grow older, we are exposed to more sources of political knowledge that are also more diverse than the ones shared by our family members. This contact allows us to question our previously held views, often creating some tension with our families. At times, we eschew the new perspectives in order to maintain our political alliances with family members; but, we can also incorporate the new knowledge we have learned to formulate an independent political consciousness, separate from our family. In either case, the more knowledge that is gained, the more likely we are to develop political skills and civic awareness. Opportunities for participation and membership into civic organizations or associations also occurs at this point. In short, if a citizen has an open mind, their exposure to greater amounts of civic knowledge increases.
Despite these opportunities to gain civic knowledge, however, probably the single most influential place for political and civic learning occurs in the classroom. In terms of civic lessons, in particular, civic education is typically our primary source of information for civic and political knowledge. To understand better the process of civic education, it will be helpful to examine a case study. Most literature in the area of civic education uses examples from the United States or Western Europe (Desjardins & Schuller, 2016; Dobryakova & Froumin, 2010). While those examples may be useful for ascertaining certain pedagogical techniques or even philosophical ideas about the nature of civic education, many areas around the globe would also be served by an example that looks at a different context. For this reason, we will take a look and the nature of civic education in Russia. Understanding Civic education in a Particularized Context: The Case of Russia
Russia is an example of a nascent democracy grappling with the issues of civic education in a post-Communist environment (Pietrzyk-Reeves, 2008). The post-Communist experience is important to consider when discussing civic education. As Howard (Howard, 2012: 161) notes,
the consistently low levels of participation in civil society organizations in contemporary post-communist Europe can best be understood by taking into account the common elements of the communist experience, as well as the events of the last decade. In particular, three important factors are common to the wide array of societies in post-communist Europe: 1) the legacy of mistrust of communist organizations; 2) the persistence of friendship networks; and 3) post-communist disappointment. Taken together, these three factors help to explain the lasting weakness of civil society in the region.
Given the amount of post-Communist societies and the increasing liberalization of countries around the world, Russia provides an excellent example of a particular type of civic education model. It is a model that is currently undergoing changes, and it represents the types of challenges countries face when planning a coherent, organized approach to civic education.
During the Soviet years, Russia had a centrally-planned education system. Issues pertaining to civics were largely taught in non-direct ways. In other words, instead of a class or courses that focused on civics, principles supporting the state were embedded into daily activities and curriculum. Since the fall of Communism, Russia has experienced renewed economic and political liberalization, a new constitution based on democratic ideals, and a massive overhaul in its federal education system (Glagoleva, 2015). These changes have ushered-in a spirit of democratic openness, particularly in the field of education, since "the ideas of personal freedom and individual responsibility for life choices have emerged as an important part of public consciousness, thus transforming society's understanding of the goals and objectives of public education in Russia" (Glagoleva, 2015). Furthermore, a majority of Russians, despite many of their complaints, favor democracy over Soviet-style Communism (Petukhov, 2007). Nevertheless, some scholars also argue that it is precisely because of the Soviet legacy that many citizen-students are apprehensive and even resistant to government-sponsored education programs aimed at improving political knowledge and instilling a sense of civic commitment (Torney-Purta et al., 2011). To be sure, distrust and hesitancy could be expected, but it creates an especially daunting challenge for civic educators who want to impart principles of democratic freedoms – including the right to speak freely and question governmental policies.
At this point, there are essentially two strands of civic education pedagogy occurring in Russia – three if we include efforts by external actors. The first is an approach directed by the government of the Russian Federation, overseen by its Ministry of Education. The other is a more autonomous movement, developed by local schools and teachers based upon the needs of their communities. While both approaches have their relative strengths and weaknesses, it is important to note that the existence of any form of civic education is exciting, given that many countries around the world lack any meaningful form of civic education and given Russia’s own history. Additionally, there are programs being implemented from non-Russian, global actors, such as the the "Tolerance" program by the Open Society Institute (Froumin, 2014a), Civitas International Programs which are directed by the Center for Civic Education (Mason, 2009), and the Youth Act! Program, Deliberating in a Democracy program, and Public Legal Education Programs, which are directed by Street Law (Mason, 2009).
The Russian government’s program, entitled the "Education Modernization Program," seeks to implement, among other things, civic education throughout the Federation. The concept of "education modernization" is not simply to achieve "progress" in schooling, but rather it is an effort toward further democratizing the nation as a whole. This "[d]emocratization of the educational system in Russia was related to perestroika
in the late 1980s" (Froumin, 2014a: 281). As a result, most schools have some sort of civics class and, perhaps, have civics integrated into other areas of the curriculum. However, due to lack of funding, the Ministry of Education is unable to oversee all of its Program mandates, and it has not conducted any assessment of the civic education efforts in particular (Froumin, 2014a). Furthermore, despite the democratic impetus behind the Program, the Russian Federation’s initiative in this area has received some criticism for essentially replacing a Soviet-style system of civic education with a more modern, patriotic form of civics geared to reinforce the ideals of the Russian federal government (Froumin, 2014a; Janmaat & Piattoeva, 2007; Piattoeva, 2015; Piattoeva, 2009; Piattoeva, 2010). This type of civic pedagogy closely aligns itself with the already commonly held perspective among most Russians that their political identity is virtually synonymous with "national" identity (Kolocharova, 2011). Additionally, the Council of Europe, in its report on the education for democratic citizenship, notes that Russia does not really support democratically-based civic education. In other words, whatever civic education program that is supported by the Ministry does not emphasize democratic principles, especially since governmental efforts "are more compatible with the traditional culture of an authoritarian society" (Janmaat & Piattoeva, 2007: 546) than education for democratic citizenship, primarily due to "patriotic forces, which criticise democratic citizenship education for promoting simplistic universal values" (Froumin, 2014b: 104). Finally, even though the Ministry has adopted civic education as part of its "modernization" program, critics claim that vital skills – particularly democracy and civic engagement skills – are simply not taught as part of the program (Froumin, 2014a).
A more organic approach to civic education in Russia exists, however. Led by local schools, school systems, and civic organizations, non-governmental approaches to civic education seem to be increasing (Salmenniemi, 2010). Called the "experiential approach" by Isak Froumin (Froumin, 2014a), these initiatives tend to focus on the needs of the local communities, while simultaneously instilling a sense of citizen pride and civic awareness that transcends resident perspectives. In part, the "experiential approach entails the existence of aspects of civic education in the life of school and society. School becomes a model of adult civic life (school self-government). Key elements of school life (teaching style, school policy) are based on democratic values. According to this approach civic education is not confined with school walls" (Froumin, 2014a: 283). While the governmental, "disciplinary" approach is the model that dominates in Russia, the experiential approach has avid proponents and appears to be gaining in popularity (Froumin, 2014a). Nevertheless, major challenges exist. In order for a more democratic civic education program to succeed in Russia, Froumin (Froumin, 2014a: 288) argues that there needs to be more teacher training, more involvement and vested interested for school managers, and a more concerted effort at developing teaching and learning materials in the area of democratic civic education.
Indeed, many proponents of a democratically-inspired civic education program point to the need for more teacher trainings (Froumin 2014a; Hahn, 2008; Howard, 2012; Mason, 2009; Niemi & Junn, 2008; Torney-Purta et al., 2011). While non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other external actors are playing a part in the development of civic education in Russia (Froumin, 2014a; Mason, 2009), more work needs to be done. Indeed, many scholars (Bauman, 2012; Petukhov, 2007; Pietrzyk-Reeves, 2008; Rimskii, 2008) point to the distrust of electoral politics, disparagement of democratic processes and widespread feelings of apathy in what Petukhov (Petukhov, 2016: 15) calls the Russian "crisis of participation". In short, "Russia has inherited a serious divorce between citizenship and nationality, as well as the state and the nation, which hinders the process of post-Soviet reconstruction" (Piattoeva, 2010: 97). Although indigenous Russian advocates for democratic civic education and civic engagement must do much of the work on their own, help from foreign experts and organizations trained in this area undoubtedly can, and need to, help. Improving Civic education: Using Debate, Dialogue & Discussion
Despite the challenges and criticisms concerning civic education, many studies do report that students can make substantial gains in civic knowledge as a result of civic instruction that is more student-centered and active (Denver & Hands, 2009; Morduchowicz et al, 2006; Niemi & Junn, 2008; Westholm et al., 2009). But what would such a model look like? In general, an engaging and effective civic education program should include the following:
- A comprehensive teacher training program that focuses on content knowledge as well as activity exercises to help teachers implement effective civic education;
- A student-centered curriculum which centers on the needs of local communities;
- A curriculum based on debate, dialogue and discussion;
- A curriculum premised on knowledge, skills and efficacy, rather than on inculcation of affirmation of state-based policies.
These elements are not intended to provide a universal panacea for all countries and societies. Instead, this model is geared toward flexibility and student/community needs. Embracing an approach that prioritizes the issues important for students and communities should allow the latitude necessary for an effective civic education approach. Teacher Training
In order for effective educational pursuits to occur, teachers need to be as prepared as possible. This includes adequate training in content areas, but is also means supplying them with appropriate resources and materials. Organizations and individual experts exist from all over the world to aid in the implementation of proper civic education programs. Manuals, activities, exercises and other materials also exist. The problem typically is obtaining the resources to conduct adequate training and supplying the necessary materials. Bringing in an outside trainer, hosting sufficient trainings, and providing the requisite materials costs money. Particularly in so-called "emerging democracies" and cash-strapped societies, the cost of civic education may not seem as important as other concerns. For administrators and teachers, this may be difficult to justify. However, the argument that civic education is an investment for the future of the society may be compelling to some. Additionally, many grants exist to help fund these sorts of efforts.
Another important component to teacher preparation is adequate training for handling controversial issues in, and outside, the classroom. In conjunction with the recommendation for debate, discussion and dialogue, an environment where students can explore controversial issues is a crucial element to any civic education program (Hess, 2009; Hess, 2011). But, encouraging students to discuss controversial matters and moderating disputes can be very challenging even for well-trained educators. In fact, in the context of civic education, Torney-Purta (Torney-Purta, 2011-2012: 49) remarks that a "challenging future task is preparing teachers to conduct [controversial issues] discussions while maintaining a strong content focus in classrooms with students of diverse backgrounds and opinions". Yet, examining controversial problems is the very nature of democracy. Discussing them provides a "firm understanding of democratic debate" so that students can "confront differences" by formulating and refuting important arguments on the issues (Youniss, 2011: 100). As such, teachers need adequate training on how to conduct discussions on controversial issues, monitor them, and mediate disputes before they escalate. Student-Centered Curriculum
One of the challenges to any sort of educational initiative is generating student interest and motivation. Part of the problem is that many students do not feel that some content area is relevant to their lives. When this is coupled with the amount of distrust that post-Communist students have on institutions of authority, civic education advocates have a particularly daunting challenge. In addition to providing reasons for why civic education can (and should) be important for students, educators can adopt a more student-centered approach. Based loosely on the concepts proposed by Paulo Freire (Freire, 2006), a student-centered approach encourages student interaction, prompts the students to generate topics for consideration, and focuses on experiential learning rather than rote memorization and stale top-down approaches. It also includes the responsibility of the student to participate actively in the learning process, rather than be a receptacle for knowledge imparted by the teacher. Teachers are generally seen as facilitators of knowledge (Lea et al., 2013). The active nature of this approach also works well with providing students opportunities for the knowledge and skills learned. Debate, Dialogue & Discussion
Much has been written using debate and discussion as valuable pedagogical tools, but relatively little has been written concerning the use of these tools for teaching civic education (Williams & Zompetti, 2010; Zompetti, 2006; Zompetti & Williams, 2007; Zompetti & Williams, 2008). What we do know is that when debate and discussion have been used with civic education, civic knowledge, skills and a sense of efficacy have been improved (Youniss, 2011). We know that debate and dialogue help foster a student-centered form of education. We also know that debate, dialogue and discussion enable students to see multiple perspectives, while learning skills of advocacy.
There are different formats for debating, but any of them can yield positive results when coupled with civic education. Debate essentially takes a topic of controversy, requires students to research the topic, and then asks the students to give speeches either proposing or opposing a position regarding the topic. After supporting or opposing the position, students then need to "flip sides" and become advocates from the opposite perspective. This encourages critical thinking and allows students to see issues from a diversity of viewpoints. During the process, students also improve their civic knowledge through research. They also improve their civic advocacy skills by presenting arguments either for or against a certain side. As Ryan (Ryan, 2016: 387) reports, "Designing introductory civics courses that allow for student participation in debate activities on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly) exposes students to new ideas and helps them develop positive critical thinking habits. Students are exposed to new—and often hotly contested—propositions, and they learn the habit of evaluating numerous competing claims or sides to arguments". Additionally, Briscoe (Briscoe, 2009) provides reasons for why civic education debates can lead to greater civic engagement.
Dialogue, like debate, encourages a student-centered as well as a student-driven form of education. Instead of asking students to give speeches on a particular side of a topic and to flip sides, dialogue pairs students together or separates the class into two or more groups, has the students research sides of a topic, then they present arguments over critical questions posed by each other and the teacher. Dialogue fosters critical thinking by allowing the students to witness the different sides of a topic get discussed. The critical questions posed for the groups can help funnel the discussion into avenues of resolution. Since dialogue empowers students to voice their opinions, objections and perspectives, it provides a space which becomes a site for "contesting power" (Gutmann, 2007). These dialogues, then, "ultimately do not stop at meaning making and interpretation, but rather seek to mobilize the meanings created through dialogue in processes of social change," such that the "[d]ialogue serves as a foundation for structural transformation by creating spaces for alternative rationalities, and by narrating alternative stories that bring forth the taken-for-granted assumptions of the status quo" (Gutmann, 2007: 178).
Discussion is much like dialogue, although it benefits (and suffers) from less structure. Discussion enables students to choose what aspects of a topic they want to research, instead of researching all of an issue that occurs with debate and dialogue. Discussion then provides a relative free-for-all for students to literally discuss the issue at-hand. According to Youniss (Youniss, 2011: 100), "Once ideas are exchanged publicly, the mode of argument changes and opportunities for new understanding increase markedly". The benefit, of course, is that this approach is completely student-centered, allowing the students to determine essentially all aspects of the exercise. The drawback to this approach is that focused discussion may be a challenge, and students may not have their discussion culminate in solution-oriented talk. The important point, however, is that discussion, properly conducted, encourages student perspectives, and does not simply regard "talking with the teacher" as a form of discussion (Ehman, 2009; Richardson, 2016).
When considering civic education, we must go beyond merely teaching about the electoral process, a country’s history, and the framing of rights and responsibilities as citizens (Foster & Padgett, 2009). For democracies, controversial issues must be addressed. We ignore them at our peril. In fact, Akar (Akar, 2012: 478) argues, "Avoiding controversial issues limits the opportunities for young people to practice critical thinking, dialogue and active listening. Moreover, it can reinforce attitudes of avoidance and submission". Therefore, Hess (Hess, 2011: 69) proposes, "A democracy without controversial issues is like an ocean without fish or a symphony without sound. Discussing controversies about the nature of the public good and how to achieve it is essential if we are to educate for democracy". Regardless of the approach, any of the ones listed here would greatly improve any civic education program. Urging students to research, develop advocacy skills, and then apply the content knowledge and skills into a practical exercise is bound to accentuate any civics-based initiative. Furthermore, as Zompetti (Zompetti, 2006) argues, developing these skills molds students into effective advocates for civil society – a goal that virtually any civic education program should include. Experiential Learning, Rather than Disciplinary Learning
As Froumin (Froumin, 2014a) notes, Russia has a dual approach to civic education – the disciplinary approach and the experiential approach. The disciplinary approach is a top-down governmental initiative that emphasizes technical content over application and state-based pride as opposed to broad civic awareness. The experiential approach is more organic than the disciplinary approach, and it focuses on community needs as well as civic-based advocacy skills. Given the recommendation for student-centered learning above, it should seem apparent that I support the experiential approach. Not only does the experiential approach stress the important qualities of civic education mentioned in this paper, but it also emphasizes the three important objectives of civic education: knowledge, skills and a sense of efficacy. The most effective learning about civics occurs when students can actively participate in content and service-oriented matters (Finkel, 2013). Additionally, the civic content learned in the experiential approach can include much of the content stressed in the disciplinary approach. This means that the experiential program of civic education yields the maximum amount of benefit by teaching and fostering well-rounded citizens.
One other recommendation needs mentioning. Effective civic education programs are the most successful when they are sustained, progressive, and frequent in their iteration. One-shot trainings or single courses are unlikely to have much positive impact. Instead, "when individuals are trained frequently and take an active part in their own learning, they will be substantially more likely to become engaged in politics and harbor attitudes favorable toward democracy" (Finkel, 2013: 148). Furthermore, when teaching occurs, it should build on previously taught material, creating a "progressive" framework. Not all communities or societies can afford to invest in this sort of civic education program, but to maximize success, any civic education initiative should try to implement this type of approach. Conclusion
Ultimately, this paper is a call for better and more civic education. It starts with the premise that citizenship is a vital component for the sustainability of any democracy. In order for citizens to participate meaningfully in their societies, they need appropriate civic education programs. Many methods of civic education exist, and some are more successful than others. Furthermore, the effectiveness of civic education largely depends on context and culture, which is why we looked at the example of Russia.
My motivation to look at Russia, even if briefly, is to provide some global perspective in the civic education debate, especially in the post-Communist context. Of course, as much as looking at Russia as an example can be helpful, we need to be careful when applying examples and models universally, since "[j]ust as we have seen that civic education itself and the methods we employ to enact it seem to matter, it appears that context and culture also matter" (Mason, 2009: 6). As such, I need to disclaim a cautionary note about the use of the Russian example as well as this essay in general. Our collective efforts to promote democratic, civic ideals may be held in common, but we need to remember that not everyone shares our premise that democracy is a value to uphold, nor does everyone agree upon the framework by which to instill democratic ideals (Stevick & Levinson, 2007).
Despite the particularities of the Russian context, we can learn a great deal from its ongoing struggle over civic education. The Russian case highlights the contrast between two separate and competing philosophies regarding civic education – one is a top-down, structured approach, and the other embraces an organic student-centered approach. By viewing the polarities of these two perspectives, we can see the ways civic education can prosper as well as be hindered by certain elements.
If we return to the premise that civic education is important to foster participatory citizens in a democracy, then we should want to develop a pedagogical program of interest and relevance to students, that teaches them important civic content knowledge, enables them to develop vital civic-based skills, and then provides them a sense of efficacy – the feeling that they can make a difference in their communities (Thomas & Hartley, 2010). Louise Fleming (Fleming, 2011: 48) makes this point poignantly:
A curriculum for democracy is a curriculum for civic participation. It is good for students, for schools, for communities, and for the strength of democracy … Inviting students into citizenship empowers them. They discover that they can make authentic contributions and that they are both citizens and rulers. They learn academics while practicing skills of listening, thinking, debating, deliberating, and acting. A curriculum for democracy demonstrates to students and the public a belief in young people’s capacity for citizenship, and it recognizes that they are the future of democracy. Civic participation is critical for creating citizens who contribute toward public goals, and it is critical for preserving a democracy of citizens who are rulers. We need to start today to build a curriculum for democracy.
If this philosophy seems appealing, then there are certain measures we can take to make it a reality. Implementing effective and adequate teacher training; adopting a student-centered approach; incorporating debate, dialogue, and discussion; and emphasizing an experiential approach to learning all can produce a sustainable and productive civic education program. As such, we should remember that "… citizenship is not something we are simply born (or even naturalized) into – but requires a process of reflection on our talents, passions, and expertise, and how we may best use them to serve the needs of a larger community" (Nowacek, 2010: 106).
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