Values And Responsibilities Of An Active Citizen

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Nelson and Kerr (2006) explains active citizenship as being “fundamentally about engagement and participation”. This type of engagement can be either “citizens engaging with the state” (electoral) or “citizens engaging with and among themselves” (civic) (GGLN, 2013, p.12; Annette, 2008). Active citizenship has become one of the key phrases used in political circles during the past decade. Debates on the responsibility of citizenship and democracy have been taking place in political discourse since the time of the Ancient Greeks. The Athenians founded the system of Direct Democracy where all citizens were invited to participate in public affairs. Anyone who was a citizen of Athens had the right to go the Assembly (the highest institution) and speak. However, the system was discriminated against women and the younger population who were not allowed to vote. Plato disregarded this by referring it as the rule of amateurs, where citizens were expected to carry out multiple tasks and engage in multiple roles (Plato, 1955). But Aristotle recognised that the success and fate of democracy depended upon the quality of its citizens. Aristotle believes that citizens have an obligation to cultivate their powers of reason and participate in the life of the community, whilst making significant contributions towards the common good. In doing so they develop and exercise their civic virtues (Aristotle, 1912). Participation established the sovereignty of the citizen as well as a sense of belonging, and by participating they could learn, giving it an educational aspect. Democracy in Athens depended heavily on one’s ability to speak, and therefore created a system where persuasion was superlative to force making democracy depended on an educated citizen. So back then, the demos (people) of Athens held the responsibility of exercising the kratos (power) over who oversaw governance.

Direct democracy saw a decline due to the rise of nationalism and the establishment of nation states instead of city states. There were many significant changes that took place in modern democracies such as; free and regular elections, the right to vote in political elections, executive responsibilities and political liberties in the form of freedom of association and expression. Nowadays, direct democracy has been replaced with the idea of Representative Democracy, where instead of having each citizen representing their country, now the people govern through their representatives. Therefore, a representative democracy system is having representative to legislate on the behalf of the citizens. Sovereignty nowadays still exists on an individual level, however, differs in the way that periodic free elections are held in order to elect representatives. People have felt that they are being alienated from politics and its processes, and often feel powerless that it creates “… a chasm opening between government and citizens” (Civil Renewal Unit, 2005). Frazer referred this as ‘political disengagement’ and understands that if people “… emphasise and underscore their difference from those who typically have political power, that can reinforce any disinclination to participate politically” (Frazer, 2000, p. 208). There has been a shift in active citizenship as seen in this political context. When people become more disengaged, the harder it gets for the government to increase compliance and cooperation for its policy agenda. Talcott Parsons (1951) proposed four dimensions of citizenship; the Political, the Social, the Cultural and the Economic. The Political citizenship is when citizens have an important role in decision-making systems on scarce goods and the right to vote. It deals with the political rights and duties, and the process of government bureaucracy. The Social citizenship involves the relationships that are created between citizens which helps them contribute to the society as a whole. This dimension focuses on how the individual functions in his/her surrounding environment, and in situations of care and leisure. The cultural dimension of citizenship explains how citizens are born in a society which functions on shared norms and values. By doing this the individual develops own identity and ways of functioning in a multicultural society.

Lastly, the Economic citizenship identifies that citizens are also workers and consumers and explains the individual relations to labour. Education on citizenship is the first, essential part of securing the future of a country’s democracy. Therefore, it is important that these four dimensions are addressed within educational institutions. Teaching students on the ways they can contribute to society is not enough. It is important to use education to promote the virtues and skills of citizenship which helps people prepare for adult life. Crick (1998) believes that citizenships education can help young people become “… active informed, critical and responsible citizens”.

Democracy isn’t only extending voting right but is also equipping citizens with the responsibility to make intelligent and informed decisions leading to public good. In his classic Democracy and Education (1916), John Dewey argues that “democracy is itself an educational principle, an educational measure and policy”. Dewey describes that there are two types of correlation between education and democracy. The first correlation which is seen as more important is; democratic society needs citizens with a certain type of knowledge and capacity, and a certain level of moral and personal maturity. Therefore, a proper education among citizens is needed for a genuine democratic society. The second correlation is the education imposes its concerns on the application on democratic principles; schools should be organised as democratic society is organised. For Dewey, “the growth of democracy” is the result of how civilisation progresses over time due to developments in sciences, evolutionary ideas and industrial reorganisation.

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But all this cannot be fully recognised unless it is followed by the continuous concurrent developments in education. Dewey’s conception of education, and the idea of democracy, has multiple implications. Teaching primary students on participation gives them the space to form their psychology and moral characters. If students share their personal experiences, they progress in social competencies such as openness to others, willingness to help, altruism, empathy, unity, a sense of social justice, and responsibility. Therefore, the goals of both democracy and education is to produce a good society and a good life for people. Schools have the responsibility to equip students to live a fulfilled life, become life-long leaners, fulfil their potentials, and eventually become a contributing member of society. Dewey was alarmed when schools failed at this regard, teaching students how to be compliant and passive instead of teaching them how to be reflective independent decision makers. This gives education a critical importance of developing the intellectual, motivation and wisdom of young people so that they can transform into mature and effective citizens with the ability of transmitting culture from one generation to the next and transform it in the face of change.

Schools are responsible to expose students and learners to different ways of doing things. School councils are becoming a common development where most schools having representative body made up of student leaders. Through this, students are given a voice in school governance which will eventually stimulate a sense of leadership and responsibility. It is tempting to believe that teachers can transform students into empowered and active citizens. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for teachers and students to learn and understand. When society expects teachers to take responsibility to teach the students about democracy, they are missing the bigger picture (Camajani & Seyer-Ochi, 2003). Are we offering students opportunities to change issues happening in the world? Society must understand that these opportunities do not exist for all, therefore, it is important for teachers and educators to agree to work collectively on those opportunities. This will allow the students to engage in public dialogue, become more interested in becoming more active citizens and include a massive reorientation of values and priorities. It means teaching in a way such that students are being invited to bring their own identities and equal intelligence into the conversation. They will be encouraged to engage in deliberation and debate with mutual respect. In doing so, the students will be highly invested in the curriculum, be responsible for their own learning which in turn helps them achieve their own goals and any necessary learning outcome. Furthermore, creating an inclusive classroom where diversity in intellectual, physical and behavioural aspects of disabilities are respected, is a move for a school to flourish and achieve the goal of democratic education. Moreover, the main aim of inclusive education is to make every citizen a contributing member of society.

The topic of citizenship and democracy can expose educators to many challenges and difficulties. Crick (1998) argues that in order to achieve an effective way of educating students about citizenship, three themes must be kept in mind; Social and Moral Responsibility, Community Involvement and Political Literacy. Social and moral responsibility allows us (educators) to think how our actions and activities affect others. It refers to the responsibilities that each individual has and how it helps them interact with other members of the society. Crick (1998) promoted the idea that students must learn ‘socially and morally responsible behaviour’ towards others and those in authority. The sense of responsibility will help students understand how to care for others, and how their actions have consequences (Crick, 1998, p.13). Community involvement refers to how every individual can participate in local activities and how institutions such as schools, colleges and universities can create the link between the students and the local context. Educators can encourage the involvement of students in voluntary groups in community and work based learning. Giving access to higher education that expands the participation programmes will engage the students more with the community. The last theme, political literacy, requires everyone to understand how the political system works because becoming politically literal to gain an insight of how decisions are made, how resources are distributed and how to deal with problems and conflicts. It is more than teaching students how to participate politically. So being aware of the current political processes is necessary to engage successfully in political affairs.

Examples of democratic educational schooling is where the system focus more on continuous formative assessment, where students are assessed on how they are progressing through a certain goal e.g. HomeWorks, tests, quizzes, rather than summative assessment, where students are assessed on a topic after instruction, e.g. Benchmark exams. The choice of subjects offered to the students by a democratic school should reflect the economic situation of the country. Typical examples in Malta, subjects are offered in technology, finance and artificial intelligence. In a multicultural country, as in Malta, schools cater for options such as the ‘Humanities’ subjects that reflect the culture of foreign citizens living in such a country. The introduction of the subject ‘Ethics’ (which augments or replaces the subject ‘Religion’) in a high multicultural student population, reflects a democratic process in which other cultures, ideologies and religions have been respected. If educational institutions can protect leaners from hate speech, at the same time teaching them about this, it will help students become better democratic citizens. The curriculum of importance to the Maltese context and to my area of study is the curriculum of the PSCD lessons. For schools to produce law-abiding citizens, attention should be given on topics such as immigration, racism and hate speech. If not properly taught, the school would portray an undemocratic outlook. The school cannot deny the social problems and fail to address issues happening in society. A case in point in Malta, is illegal immigrants or refugees. A PSCD class is the ideal place for the teacher to gauge the views and values of the students and their families on such issues. During this type of lesson, the students are given the voice to discuss these issues by using stories that are relatable and realistic, whilst other exercise the act of listening and empathising with them.

To conclude, Dewey explains how to educate citizens to make intelligent contributions in the public local communities and participating in creating the common good. The service of a school institution is to prepare students to be active citizens by providing knowledge, and a sense of responsibility. Democracy won’t operate and run on autopilot. Dewey (1973) argues that democracy is much broader and important than making laws and electing representatives for governance. All educational institutions have the responsibility of forming attitudes, dispositions together with emotional and intellectual moral in students to help them engage in activities in society that lead to a democratic way of life. If these institutions fail in this regard, it will have significant and negative effects on both the students and the whole country. Former youth minister, Louis Galea, describes how education is an investment for the future. Education on citizenship is important for Europe’s democratic future.

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