The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sets forth a conceptualization of civic education as a lifelong process that unfolds organically and subconsciously through explicit and implicit social conditioning.
In its broadest definition, “civic education” means all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities. Civic education need not be intentional or deliberate; institutions and communities transmit values and norms without meaning to. It may not be beneficial: sometimes people are civically educated in ways that disempower them or impart harmful values and goals. It is certainly not limited to schooling and the education of children and youth. Families, governments, religions, and mass media are just some of the institutions involved in civic education, understood as a lifelong process. (Crittenden & Levine, 2018)
In this way, civic education can be thought of as civic socialization; a lifelong process of learning that shapes the paradigms through which the individual citizen interacts with society. Within this framework, the philosophical goal of civics education might be thought of as the direction toward meaningful and well-informed participation in society. An approach to civics education that recognizes the situated and dynamic nature of social learning will be most successful in reaching and serving student learners who already experience an organic and unfolding civic education by learning to live in society.
Conceptualizing civics education as a learning process experienced by members of communities broadens the philosophical foundations of such education to include thinkers from diverse social backgrounds. Civic education in its purest philosophical form deals directly with participation in the transformation of the world through participation in democratic society and cannot be approached without pedagogy that acknowledges and incorporates the identities and experiences of marginalized students (Freire, 1970; Love, 2019). Caring for a democracy is an ongoing process of commitment as articulated by Roger Wilkins (1996), who believes students in the U.S should learn that “democracy is precious, democracy is perishable, democracy requires active attention and that democracy requires hard work.” Part of the function of civics education is to impart an understanding of the connection between a healthy democracy and a populace of educated and engaged citizens. The best civics education would enlighten the learner as an engaged participant in a system they understand and seek to improve.
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