Rationales for a civic education

The article titled ‘A Rationale for Civic Education’ was written by Ralph Ketcham, who is a Professor Emeritus in the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, New York. The major premise of Professor Ketcham’s article is that civic education of the American citizenry or potential citizens of America should be based on the conceptualization of civic education by the founding fathers of American democracy, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Madison.

The desirable civic education in his view should be coterminous with the ideals defined by Thomas Jefferson. ‘Jefferson stated in his first proposal for a national system of education that would equip all citizens “to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self government. ”’ 1 Furthermore, Jefferson’s proposal anticipates that such a national system of education “would raise the mass of the people to a higher ground of moral respectability necessary to their own safety, and to orderly government. 2 To those who criticized his proposals for civic education for the masses, Jefferson said that if the generality of Americans of his time were not enlightened enough to exercise their right of oversight function over the activities of their government; they should be properly trained for the purpose, rather than taking the right from them.

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Moreover, from James Madison’s concept of “Permanent and Aggregate Interests of the Community” 3 as the bedrock of policy formulation in the polity of a self governing America; the process of public policy determination and formulation should start from the people and the final policy should reflect their common interests and cultural identity. Civic Education versus Social Science Professor Ketcham criticized the present trend in social science education and the process of public policy formulation.

The present trend of collecting data, analyzing them and formulation of policy based on scientific data analysis, was according to Ketcham a reversal of the Jeffersonian ideal. Moreover, Ketcham feels that the present day trend of democratically arriving at a mutually acceptable policy through compromise between competing interests was opposed to James Madison’s concept of “permanent and aggregate interests of the community. ” In Ketcham’s view there should be no competing interests, but common interests, since Americans are heirs to the Jeffersonian and Madisonian heritage.

Reactions to Ketcham’s Article Based on the practice of modern democracy, the positions taken by the erudite and highly respected professor of government, Ralph Ketcham, are rather outdated and retrogressive. The teaching of civic education within the framework of social science rather than in isolation, is more scientific in approach. Modern day social science taps into the knowledge base of modern scientific enquiry and utilizes statistics in its research methodology and analysis, to arrive at easily verifiable results which can be replicated anywhere in the world.

Moreover, the American populace of today is more enlightened than that of the era of the founding fathers, Washington, Jefferson and Madison among others. Secondly demographically, America is today more complex than it was at the time of the American Revolution and the early days of American Democracy. At the time of the founding fathers, the populace was more homogenous, and those entitled to vote and be voted for were relatively few and had a common Eurocentric cultural background.

Today, America is a complex society, made up of peoples of varied cultural backgrounds and diverse opinions. The concept of education therefore has to have a multicultural tone. While it is agreed that the populace has to be educated in the rubrics of democratic practice, within the framework of the national educational policy, the process of imparting civic knowledge to the citizenry has to be done bearing in mind the present diversity in composition of the population. Multicultural Approach to Civic Education

From the readings on modern approaches to education, it would appear that a better way to prepare the citizenry for Civic Education lies in the multicultural approach. In the multicultural approach to civic education, the differences of racial, cultural and other individual and group differences are appreciated and respected. Children are given a thorough grounding in the basic tenets of democracy, in order to prepare them for their future roles in society, from a standpoint of the present day realities of cultural diversity of their country and local community.

Individual differences are appreciated, while the contributions of various religious and cultural institutions are highlighted. Concerted efforts are made for individual members of the learning group to contribute meaningfully to discussions drawing from their own rich cultural, linguistic and artistic heritage. In this way, a departure is made from the narrow Eurocentric approach to education, to a more inclusive global approach, which taps into the rich tapestry of the different ethnic, religious and racial groups which make up modern day American society.

The multicultural approach to civic education thus serves to give the different members of society a better sense of belonging to a common cause. The net result of such an open minded approach to civic education is to give other members of society, who are from non European origins, an avenue to share with their fellow citizens the rich and often exotic contents of their own heritage; while at the same time imbibing the basic democratic norms which are available in the American heritage.

By highlighting respect for the diverse cultures making up modern day America, multicultural education will further help to cement relationships, based on mutual respect and acceptance, as opposed to the enforced acceptance of Eurocentric education and culture as being superior to all others. In this age of globalization which stresses a unified world economy and by extension a global culture, multicultural education is the vehicle which will take the modern citizen to his destination of not only gaining knowledge of his community and country, but also having an appreciation of other cultures in his global environment.