1. A History of Danish Citizenship Education
As the formal Danish school system
‘The primary school prepares pupils for life and co-determination with others in a democratic society, and to take responsibility for the solution of communal concerns. Therefore, the teaching and entire daily life of the school must be grounded in freedom of thought and democracy.’
This concern for democratic participation became incorporated into curriculum guidelines of individual school subjects and was progressively established as a central normative reference of the educational system as a whole. However, this process took place without using the actual term ‘Citizenship Education’, or indeed ‘citizenship’, a concept not widely used in public discourse before 2000.
The later 2006 preamble, in addition to similar language about democratic participation, added a passage about preparation for ‘rights and duties’ and re-placed ‘co-determination’ (medbestemmelse) with the vaguer ‘participation’, indicating a subtle shift of emphasis relative to the emancipatory language of the seventies. The onus on democracy as a practice and general ethos which should permeate the entire school, including informal, open classroom interactions, and prepare children to be responsible and active democrats in the wider society, nevertheless remains across the educational system and among teachers.
While this broad notion of Citizenship Education avant la lettre is widely accepted and reflects wider societal conceptions of Danish democracy as a participatory way of life and of consensual decision-making (folkestyre or ‘people’s rule’),
This tripartite division of Citizenship Education remains in the comprehensive reform of the primary school, implemented during 2014, in the overall legal framework, and within curriculum guidelines
While Citizenship Education as elsewhere in Europe is thus increasingly discussed in relation to immigration-induced diversity, the particular political equations noted are by no means uncontested in educational circles, let alone classroom practices. Some educators (and many politicians) consider Citizenship Education as an identity- and national values based bulwark against multicultural disruptions of cultural cohesion and treat the democratic element primarily as an established national creed to impose unilaterally on newcomers. However, others, for whom the democratic element is primarily a didactic practice category, regard Citizenship Education as a means towards more inclusive processes of intercultural dialogue and understanding, which involve minority and majority pupils alike, and which thematise the very category of citizenship.
These tensions must be appreciated in the perspective of Citizenship Education’s uncertain place within primary and lower secondary subject and curriculum structure. Whereas democratic Citizenship Education (or ‘democratic formation’), in the general law preamble, must structure ‘the entire daily life’ of schools, it has no designated subject, or even place within a subject of its own. In teacher-training bachelors, however, ‘citizenship’ is part of a three-part subject, which also contains elements of (non-confessional) Christianity and philosophy/ethics, and which is dominated by teachers with a background in history/science of religion. This subject, ‘Christianity, Life-education, and Citizenship’ (see next section), while meant to inform primary education in general, is more closely aligned with the ‘identity-formation’ subjects – in particular Christianity – than the social science subject. The latter retains a more traditional relationship to social and political science, as well as optional practical elements such as participation in nation-wide ‘school election’ projects (coinciding with and mimicking national parliamentary elections). However, while Christianity is a quite substantial compulsory subject from 1st-7th grade, pupils do not encounter Social Science until the 8th and 9th grade. In comparison with French, British or American Citizenship Education
2. Definition of Citizenship Education
Within the field of formal education, the notion ‘citizenship´ (= medborgerskab) is used explicitly only within the official curricular guidelines of bachelor of education, bachelor of social education, within specific branches of formal vocational education, and within so-called language centres. The latter are specialized schools that provide teaching in Danish as a foreign language, aimed at various immigrant groups. In none of these instances is ‘citizenship’ defined. Consequently, no officially approved and applied notion of ‘Citizenship Education’ exists within legal frameworks, curricula guidelines, syllabuses, nor through other official policy documents concerning formal education.
In the formal educational sector, overall official guidelines provide a framework for more detailed syllabuses, the specific content of which is the responsibility of local authorities, schools and to some extent teachers themselves. The Danish state has sought to modify this quite decentralized system – which reflects a historical onus among educationalists on curricular school and teacher autonomy – e.g. by implementing obligatory canons for the primary school subjects History and Danish. Curriculum guidelines for all school subjects, so-called ‘Common Goals’ now specify, for each subject and grade, a range of intermediate and end-learning and competence objectives.
While no formal conceptualization of Citizenship Education or citizenship exists, dominant understandings may be located. One of these revolves around the conceptual constellations ‘active citizenship’ and ‘democratic citizenship’, often used interchangeably. The trope is sometimes linked to volunteering and local engagement and the worry that young people are less active, or active in a less institutional, continuous, and non-instrumental manner, in the country’s historically rich associational life – although numbers here are actually on the rise.
While there are indicators of political alienation – the idea that ‘democracy is not for us’ – among the second generation, this seems to be a result of perceived discrimination and hostile national boundary-drawing of politicians
3. An Ambiguity in the Very Concept of Citizenship
In a number of books and teaching materials, a crucial conceptual distinction is made between two different aspects of citizenship. In most European languages and in social sciences academic usage, citizenship (citoyenité, citadinanza) refers to aspects of (a) membership of a polity, (b) the (equal) rights and duties of citizens, (c) participation - as either political claims-making or system-supporting ‘good citizenship’ – and possibly (d) identity or psychological aspects relating to each of the above. However, the Danish ‘medborgerskab’ (unlike the Swedish ‘medborgarskap’), in its contemporary usage (unlike its use in the early nineteenth century) does not really connote either the aspect of membership (nationality) or civil rights, which, much like in the German language, are covered by other concepts (‘statsborgerskab’ and ‘borgerrettigheder’ respectively).
This conceptual constellation is currently loosening. However, one very influential author, historian and educationalist, who has been a main student and influencer of Danish Citizenship Education
The ambiguities of this conceptualization of citizenship come out quite clearly in guidelines and ensuing controversies about the already-mentioned teacher-training subject ‘Christianity, life-education and citizenship’. The constellation – particularly with Christianity as a component – provides a series of easily politicized linkages, e.g. between liberal democracy, ‘good citizenship’, Lutheran secularism, identity and meetings of cultures. In many ways, these encapsulate particular tensions between different understandings of citizenship ‘formation’ as primarily concerned with reflection about individual character, belonging, and social integration within a multicultural and multi-religious society, and less with the substantial preparation of future political citizens and rights-bearers capable of criticizing and influencing the shape of their polity. It is perhaps noteworthy, in light of these very Danish emphases and controversies, that no reference is made to either EU nor Council of Europe guidelines within officially -sanctioned formal education.
4. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education
While ‘Citizenship Education’ is finding its way into formal education only sporadically, the situation is somewhat different within the non-formal education sector. Especially within so-called ‘folk high schools’, Citizenship Education has been a key concept since around the year 2000. These schools offer a wide variety of short and long-term educational activities, within almost every subject – arts, athletics, social sciences, philosophy, and so on – as well as more leisure-oriented activities. Folk high schools are significantly inspired by the educational ideas of the Danish priest-poet N.F.S. Grundtvig, as formulated during the nineteenth century. Originally, Grundtvigian folk high schools served as an alternative to the formal educational system, particularly for the rising social class of free-holding peasants. As such, they had a dual aim – to provide traditional school learning (reading, writing, but also modern farming techniques), and to provide a spiritual – national, religious, but also democratic-political - ‘awakening’, which contrasted with the ‘dead’ academic learning of bourgeois elite education. Also, within civil society NGOs, e.g., in the areas of human rights and third world development, explicit use of ‘Citizenship Education’ is common, and the practice of such education takes place in quite various forms, both inside and outside Denmark, not least with an onus on volunteering and other community work (‘active citizenship’). Such non-formal Citizenship Education predominantly takes place with NGO project-based activities, financed by public as well as private funding.
5. Legal Environment
In legal terms, Citizenship Education, understood as part of a discourse of democratic education, found its way into formal education as part of the 1975 reform of the primary and lower secondary school in 1975. The preamble to this law, cited above, has been a main legal reference for different sectors of the educational system ever since, but – again – almost invariably without any detailed specification of what Citizenship Education really consists of.
Key stakeholders in the field of Citizenship Education in Denmark include, in order of importance:
Academics researching at university level, particularly within educational science, who are engaged in theoretical and conceptual discussions of Citizenship Education, as well as empirical research. The most important actor in the field of research, science and expertise in Citizenship Education in Denmark is the Institute of Education, Aarhus University, but recently sociologists and political scientists, too, have taken an interest in the field.
University College teachers who are involved in the branches of formal education where ‘Citizenship Education’ has begun to figure in the curricula.
Municipal authorities who articulate and implement various forms of politics of integration or inclusion, especially, but not restricted to immigrants.
Actors within the field of non-formal education who conduct projects and trainings, which relate to Citizenship Education in its broadest sense.
NGOs that have shown some interest in Citizenship Education.
The Danish state, in particular the Ministry of Education, but also other ministries (e.g., the Ministry of Integration), and to a lesser extent those municipal authorities which regulate and implement formal education.
(1) The very concept ‘citizenship’ is only rarely used within the legal framework and curricular guidelines of formal education, although themes and issues which are typically associated with Citizenship Education are integrated into history, social science and Christianity. As such, and because the very content of citizenship is quite contested – e.g., in terms of the relationship between education to democratic competence, identity and character development, and social integration of a multicultural society - ‘Citizenship Education’ needs more critical discussion, clearer conceptualizations, didactical clarification, and a more clearly defined position within curricular guidelines.
(2) A concrete challenge relates to issues of immigrant incorporation. As in other European countries, Danish Citizenship Education has been too closely bound up with a very specific, and overly politicized project of fostering loyalty, democratic values, and civic competences of descendants, within a too starkly idealized conceptualization of a culturally homogeneous, indeed Christian nation. Descendants should not be the only or even primary target group of Citizenship Education, and otherwise laudable ambitions of civic integration should rest on a safer foundation of social science research about the actual constraints and challenges of minority incorporation.
(3) An EU/European perspective needs strengthening. Although some movement is visible, education for some kind of European citizenship is largely absent from formal education. While this reflects hostility towards more identitary and symbolic aspects of EU supranationalism in the Danish electorate, the importance of EU policy-making for future Danish citizens, as well as the rights and potential democratic influence at the European level which relate to it, should not be ignored.
(4) The Citizenship Education initiatives of informal education and civil-society organizations should be brought into closer contact with formal educational settings. Improved synergy between these fields could strengthen the relevance of Citizenship Education in Denmark.