Citizenship and education

A citizen is a person who belongs to a political community governed by a state. The person is a citizen because they have been born there or, if not born into that nation, they have been granted citizenship to live as a full member of that nation. The citizen obeys the laws of the nation, and enjoys the rights it offers – to vote, to work and to be supported with welfare when they need it.

There are two parties to the pact of citizenship: the state and the members of civil society. The state makes laws and can legitimately force its citizens to act and live in the ways it legislates. Civil society consists of ordinary people going about their everyday lives and associating voluntarily. In a democracy, the state is designed to be a creature of civil society. The members of civil society vote for a legislature and the state executive (the president, or prime minister and ministers). For a defined term they take charge of the civil service, which administers the affairs of state.

Things have not always been this way, and are not always this way today. Sometimes the relationship between state and civil society is not fully democratic. In the democracy of ancient Athens, women and slaves could not be citizens. In many modern states it was not until the 20th century that women and workers without property were allowed to vote. Even today, democratic principles are distorted when moneyed interests and lobby groups exert disproportionate influence on the political system.

The state has an army to fend off external aggression, a police force to ensure law and order in local communities, a legal system to deal with law-breaking and disputes, and a legislature to make laws. The modern state also has an elaborate administrative infrastructure, which provides services, such as unemployment benefits, roads and hospitals. It creates and sponsors public institutions, including schools, colleges and universities. All these services can be, and sometimes are, provided by private organisations. The state, however, is the only institution that can be expected to make them available to all. Even when such services are made available privately, the state frequently takes an interest by legislating practices and regulating standards.

With the rise of mass, institutionalised education, for the first time in human history the state, through the compulsory schooling system, takes on major responsibility for the socialisation of children. Children used to learn what they needed to know for adult life from the members of their extended family in the clan or village. Now they learn a lot of what they need to know for adult life from the formal institutions of education. Modern people entrust to the state a large part of the socialisation of their children. Even if parents want to school their children at home, they have to be able to demonstrate that they will be teaching the same things that the school would.

This is roughly how the state has evolved to relate to civil society over the past century or two of modern times. The details of the story, however, are more complicated. Just as we saw large changes in the nature of modern work (that we have characterised as a shift from Fordism to post-Fordism and to emerging forms of work organisation that we have named productive diversity), so too have there been enormous changes in the form of the modern state and, with that, changes in the kinds of education that are appropriate to the needs of the state. These different forms we will call ‘nationalism’, ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘civic pluralism’. This last concept we have developed as a part of our academic work and our work in government, developing ‘multicultural’ policies (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 1998; Kalantzis 2000).

The changing forms of the state are explored in this chapter according to the following dimensions of the relationship of the state to society and education:

  • dimension 1: state power – the way the state exerts power
  • dimension 2: public services – the way government services are provided
  • dimension 3: belonging and citizenship – belonging or the dynamics of citizenship
  • dimension 4: learning civility – character building or learning civility.