How to teach the importance of democratic values ​​in school


Living in a country with a democratic political regime, in which laws are approved in parliament after debate and discussion about their contents by the representatives freely chosen by the people, may have become something so obvious and everyday that we have ceased to be aware of the importance of this fact. It seems as if democracy has been here forever and ever, and that there is no possibility of going back.

But unfortunately, we have enough historical examples of democratic countries that ended up in dictatorships – Spain, Germany, Italy, Chile, Venezuela, among others – that show how real this possibility is. The stability of democratic systems requires civic citizens, aware of the value of their institutions and who participate in them actively and responsibly .

Democracies recede in the world

Recent reports such as that of the V-Dem Institut point to the weakening of democracies in the world over the last decade. Currently, some 5.4 billion people on the planet (70% of the total) live under dictatorial political regimes. This represents a significant setback compared to the previous decade, in which 50% of the population lived under democratic political regimes.

Countries from our cultural environment such as the US or Brazil have suffered democratic setbacks under the mandates of Trump or Bolsonaro , who have resisted or refused to recognize the electoral victory of their opponents and promoted, by action or omission, the assault on their respective parliaments.

Fortunately, democratic institutions have withstood the challenge, but we have been on the brink of a setback in countries with consolidated democracies, especially in the US, which is the cradle of modern democracy.

The term Iliberal Democracy has been coined to designate those countries in which, even with regular elections, they lack fundamental freedoms such as those of expression, assembly, association, etc.

The social-moral evolution of Habermas

As the philosopher Jürgen Habermas puts it , in what is known as the theory of social-moral evolution, societies advance technologically and also ethically throughout history.

But, just as technological advances are irreversible, ethical or moral advances can be reversed.

It is understandable that nobody wants to go back to a mobile or a car from the nineties for utilitarian reasons, except collectors or nostalgic. But we cannot say the same of ethical or moral advances.

Educational tension

For this reason, Habermas argues that it is necessary to maintain the educational “tension” on democratic values ​​on a day-to-day basis, if we do not want setbacks in this area that is so fundamental to our lives. Having strong and consolidated democratic institutions is important, but we cannot trust everything to them.

We have to make a strong commitment to education, because it is the democratic conscience of a people that keeps democracy alive, above the institutions.

It is the social agents, the media and, above all, the educational system that have to educate in democratic values: freedom, respect, tolerance, justice, critical sense, solidarity, peaceful alternation in power, etc.

How to carry out education in values?

The education of the person is a matter that is more practical than theoretical, and this maxim can be perfectly applied to the field of education in values, which cannot be limited to learning theoretical concepts about what values ​​are or to a simple reflection on specific situations. or abstract.

It is important that schools and institutes study the value and ethical and practical superiority of democratic political systems, but students must also practice democratic models in the classroom .

You can hold debates on controversial issues, discussions of ethical dilemmas, classroom assemblies where fundamental issues are discussed and voted on, where they learn that reasoning and argumentation is the only valid “weapon” to convince and expand our ideas and proposals.

For this, there must be subjects such as Education for citizenship, Ethics education, Education in civic-social values, or whatever we want to call it, in which fundamental values, rights and duties of citizens, democracy, the constitution, are taught. alternation in power as a fundamental value of democracy.

In most European and Latin American countries, education in values ​​is part of the school curriculum, attending to two of the four pillars of education that Jacques Delors already formulated in the eighties: learning to live together and learning to be.

In Latin America, more emphasis is placed on human rights, the environment, care education, diversity and pluralism, while in the European context we focus more on education for active and responsible citizenship.

Teacher training

But it is also important to have well-trained teachers who know how to teach these values ​​in any subject or when the opportunity to do so presents itself, be it as a cross-curricular theme, in the context of a specific subject, or as integrated themes in other subjects.

Teachers must know the techniques that have proven effective for learning values, such as values ​​clarification, moral judgment development, character education, service-learning , etc.

And, above all, they must be willing to plan educational actions with the set of teachers who educate a group of students, since education in values ​​is not resolved individually, but in the community.

Author Bio: Cruz Perez Perez is a Professor of the Department of Educational Theory at the University of Valencia