Functions Of Civic Education

Civic competence in the areas of labor, work and action: “Labor is life, absence of labor is death,” says Astavakra.

March 8, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -17 Mar. 07- 2014 (Falgun 23, 2070)

Civic education aims to bring forth the historical and cultural awareness of the nation, enables citizens to share mutual concerns and provides knowledge for safe adaptation of the society. The Greek concept of citizen as city-dweller has now been extended to villages, property-owners to dispossessed, men to women and state-bound population to even diasporas, migrants and outsiders with the changing moral norms. The heritage of ethical and moral spirits is older than the modern constitutional provisions defined in coercive legal terms. The role of national educational guidelines is important to protect constitutional and human rights, outlaw discrimination based on caste, class and gender distinctions and ensure that policies promote public interests. In this sense, civic education enables trust on people, like sages Astavakra and Buddha did, and creates a humanely possible world like Janak did by disciplining state power to the interests of citizens for emancipation and open-ended communication across social divides. It provides practical learning about the changing conflicts of rule, rights and duties of citizens and leaders, helping democratic principles of popular sovereignty, principle of affected, social inclusion and subsidiarity evolve.

Key Functions

Awareness about ecological, social, gender and inter-generational justice in political, economic and social life:  Martin Heidegger rightly says that the sap of human life flows through plant and animal. This means, it is the duty of human beings to protect them for their own survival and find harmony of freedom and reason with nature. The nature cannot be reduced to mere matter. A civically and morally imbued person considers himself or herself a part of larger organic concept of “species being” to use the Vedas and Feuerbach, pass reasonable judgment, take responsibility to solve their problems of ecocide and prevent the exhaustion of the sources of life-supporting system. Heidegger further says, “Science does not think. Therefore, life-world practices cannot be reduced to natural-scientific explanation.”  The disciplinary science and social science, however, do not think outside their knowledge boundaries and, therefore, cannot grasp the solution of systemic challenges. Social and gender justice is important to make weaker sections of society stakeholders of democracy and provide them equal opportunity for participation in coercive, communicative and productive institutions and equal outcome to reestablish its not-so-old aphorism: “Go to Gorkha if justice is denied” and overcome the recent saying “Law for the poor, immunity for the rich.” Justice is important to overcome Nepali youths’ fatal attraction to unconventional politics--consumerism, frustration, migration, apathy, militant social movements and conflict. Civic ability and competence in Nepal requires enabling youths to enter into peace education and civil peace work and revive the capacity of society to learn from social dynamics, sedimentation of social knowledge and habituation of collective action.

Transformation of unequal people into equal and active citizen:Only “active citizenship” can make the political leadership accountable, strengthen the state, abolish hereditary privileges in public life and public policy and engage in civic renewal. Depersonalization of the state power is essential to make it stand above particular interests and enable people to engage in dialogues to articulate what is relevant for them. Active citizenship implies the notion that citizens should work towards the betterment of their family, community and the state through productive economic participation, public volunteer work and other such efforts to improve life of all inhabitants. Civic education aims to transformthe primordial identities of unequal people into equal sovereign citizens through socialization, mobilization, communication, territorialization, politicization and moralization. Nepal’s three civic traditions of enlightenment, the Vedic, Vedehic and Buddhist, sought to remove the inherent dualism in human thinking and action, bring the harmony of human life and activities with nature and liberate citizens from false consciousness by inculcating civic virtues--education in democratic process, management of practical affairs and according primacy of public good over self-interest. Indoctrination incubates parochial political culture as it reduces them into a culture of massification and silence. The role of civil society as connective tissues for the removal of irrationality of society makes citizens mindful of both nature and culture and orient to niskam karma (serving others without any expectation of profit in return). It also requires robustness of the domain of rights (state), domain of basic needs fulfillment (economy) as per shuva lav (ethical business practice) and domain of civilization niskam karma (civil society) and emancipate them from excessive materialist intoxication. Arthur Sopenheur rightly says that human beings are “metaphysical animals,” not only political as Aristotle says or economic as Adam Smith says. They are not earth-bound animals governed by instinct but have the capacity to imagine other spheres. 

Induction of citizens into a rationalistic-humanistic civic culture:  Civic culture is a participant one. It awakens the citizens from their intellectual and moral slumber and motivates them to become active in public and political life in all matters affecting them. The agencies of socialization and cultural industries have to perform civilizing roles through families, schools, political parties, media and “mediating structures” between individuals in their private life and the larger public institutions of national life by improving the standards of moral consciousness and conscience. It helps acculturate youth into constitutional patriotism, identification with and loyal to the state as its member (citizen)andcosmopolitanism embedded in international laws and human rights as universal human beings enthusing in them duties beyond the border and across all the living species. Mediating institutions, such as civil society, media and civic education help strike a balance of individual, group-based and human rights. Citizens as voters have special responsibility to use facts and information and question the false promises of their leaders as well as breathtaking departure from their ideologies and abdication of national space of politics, law and policy making responsibilities. 

Opportunity for active reflection on human condition: Civic educationhelps citizens to reflect on their condition of existence, the outer world and seek a balance between nature and culture. Civic education is about citizenship-building, not about the passive absorption of information or ghokanti bidya (rote learning of textbooks), that can strangle the critical thinking and creativity of young generation of Nepalese and alienate them from their legendary connection with the homeland. It is about active reflection on the working of democratic values, institutions and processes, rule, rights and duties of citizens at personal, organizational and societal level, power of authorities and agencies of social change. It is also about building moral character of citizens and integrity of leaders without which a good society cannot be created. Pre-national politics is rooted in the re-tribalization of Nepali society while post-modern politics is rooted into turmoil. Both negate everything associated with Nepal, including the National Day, and pose risks to national consolidation. Post-national politics is also stretching solidarities of Nepal’s various actors across the nation-states while international norms and laws are seeking national consistency.

Civic competence in the areas of labor, work and action: “Labor is life, absence of labor is death,” says Astavakra. Expansion of labor market opportunities within the country is a precondition to progress—human and national- as work and action are connected to this. Citizenship implies the membership of political community called state and an ability to become responsible to carry out myriad of societal responsibilities in the area of what Hannah Arendt calls “labor, work and action” as they pertain to the realm of survival, well-being and freedom. This membership of the state stands above individual’s membership of the family, civil society, political parties, market institutions and interest-based associations. Strong civic competence lies not only in early childhood socialization and experience but also in controlling one’s own present and future.  A strong sense of confidence among the citizens that their behavior affects the course of political developments increases their civic participation in the political system.

Modern citizenship involves not just the constitutional and human rights of citizens but also their duties towards the state, including involvement in voting, asserting role in voluntary service and charity work and serving the civic duty of paying taxes. Nepal has tossed huge responsibilities to young citizens without thinking first about how to equip them and their organizations with the tools that make good citizenship. Obviously, good citizenship requires knowledge and feeling about working to achieve the national objectives, transcend the idea of primordial considerations, such as tribal relation, ancestry, ethnicity, caste, etc and develop civic virtues, skills, networks, trusts and maintenance of a culture of affinity to Nepal mandala, the universe of Nepal, and promoting universal peace and reconciliation in many spheres of life. Civic apathy, alienation and widespread electoral cynicism kill the essence of participatory democracy, rooted in reformist, transformational and emancipatory impulses.

Conclusion

The success of Nepali leadership to provide freedom to all citizens requires building the concept of enlightenment and promotion of resources, motivation and cognitive skills.  Citizenship is the product of modernity. It, therefore, tries to liberate people from pre-political, non-political and anti-political identities and enfranchises them to understand about the rules of their life in common and encourages their voluntary participation in the public realm. In this context, relevant political knowledge is necessary. Civic education does not try to make people partisan. It is far from the process of instrumentalization of cultural differences of the nation for the expansion of political constituencies. Rather it aims to transform the youth into citizens and makes them conscious of their civic rights and responsibilities. It broadens their horizons and enables them to exercise meaningful political choices. An empowered citizen requires multiple capacities in several realms such as cognitive (knowledge and life-experience) social (intimate sphere of family, neighborhood, religion, etc), economic (production and exchange) and political (voice, visibility and representation in public political sphere) and a connection with the national territoriality.

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