Friday, 16 December 2011

DARE Video 20: Benjamin Barber on Risks of Citizenship Education Becoming Irrelevant

At the 2011 NECE Conference (Nov 17-19, Warsaw), Benjamin Barber´s keynote speech highlighted current challenges for citizenship education. He stated that citizenship education runs the risk to become irrelevant in respect to how the world is governed today.
According to Mr Barber, citizenship education faces three challenges:

1. The democratic deficit: Democratic societies have become less egalitarian, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Politicians have become an instrument of banks, merely executing decisions made by banks, no matter what the citizens have voted for. As a result, citizens don´t believe in democracy any more. The crisis of democracy is not that people don’t vote, but that they vote and think it does not matter anyway.

2. New media: The digital media have changed the field of education - and citizenship education has failed to respond to it. 95 % of websites are commercial, citizens are addressed as consumers. The social media are anti-civic media – it is almost impossible to have a democratic experience on facebook. Facebook is about people like you, things you linke, more people like you and more things like the things you like. You never need to encounter anyone or anything fundamentally different. Amazon will never recommend a book you should read in order to widen your horizon, it will never put you out of the comfort zone. Mr Barber concluded therefore, that social media are teaching the wrong civic lessons. Citizenship education needs to explore the democratic potentials social media might have and create platforms where you can meet people and ideas different from yourself.

3. Interdependence: Nothing really happens in one country only. Disease, crime and climate do not respect national borders, nor can we control the global mobility of people (migration) and of money. If citizens buy into the nation state ideology, cooperation between nations gets harder. Citizenship Education needs to take citizenship out of the nation state box and go global – instead of being a civic faith in one nation only.

Click below for a film clip of the speech:


Mr Barber is a political theorist, Professor of Civil Society at the University of Maryland (US) and director of the Interdependence Movement and the NGO "CivWorld".

The NECE conference: "Closing the empowement gap - how to adress educationally disadvantaged groups" was organised by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, the Polish Center for Citizenship Education, the Austrian Ministry for Education and Culture, ProDemos (NL), the Czech Center for Citizenship Education, the Institute of Public Affairs (PL) and the DARE network. The conference brought together around 200 experts from all over Europe and the world to explore the issue of citizenship education based on the needs of educationally disadvantaged groups.

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