1. Background Information/Brief History
The history of citizenship education in Germany is closely linked to the experience of totalitarian rule in the early days of its democracy. The development of democratic attitudes within Germany was understood to be an indispensable ingredient in building a stable democracy in the Federal Republic after 1945 and in reunited Germany again in 1989. The failure of the Weimar democratic experiment and the ease with which Hitler took over Germany in 1933 was seen as due in part to the educational systems, which were themselves anti-democratic and authoritarian, and unable to bring the idea of democratic values across.
Although the strategies of the four occupying powers differed considerably in terms of purpose, content and method, all agreed that the development of a stable democracy would require more than citizens who paid lip-service to democratic principles and reluctantly tolerated a democratic order imposed on them by the occupation authorities.
By the 1960s, new left-wing approaches took the argument further, demanding a more emancipatory take on citizenship education, encouraging people to question authority and if necessary, to resist it. Opposed to this were approaches that took a more ‘rationalist’, less politicalized stand, emphasizing the value of information and reflection rather than political activism. One believed that the goal of citizenship education was to help citizens make rational judgements; the other believed it was to teach citizens how to emancipate themselves from those who might seek to seize power. Because of the socio-political demands made by citizenship education, the debate was at times bitterly contested. At its root, it reproduced the controversy on scientific theory taking place between critical rationalism and critical theory.
After German reunification in 1989, ‘re-education’ was seen as a necessary antidote to years of intensive indoctrination under the totalitarian regime. Again, it was reiterated that the internalisation of democratic values and practices would be the most effective in eradicating anti-democratic ideas among the population. Citizenship education in Germany is non-partisan but not impartial; it is grounded in the values and interpretation of democracy found in the Constitution, Germany’s most basic laws. In its initial phase of emergence, citizenship education was derived from the closely related fields of education and political science, and it was not until the 1960s that the programme developed into an independent academic discipline. Ever since, it has demanded the right to deliberate over questions concerned with planning, actualizing, and assessing citizenship education processes; this role involves empirical research, (normative) reflection, and designing and implementing learning processes.
The precise definition of citizenship education has long been contested. The debate centres on what knowledge should be applied, what academic disciplines are most worth considering regarding the topics of citizenship education content and which conceptual frameworks are most promising in regard to an efficient and meaningful teaching and learning.
Different positions have coalesced throughout the ongoing academic debate.
What the first three approaches have in common is that they place the centre of citizenship education firmly in academics, whether in political science, the social sciences or the study of democracy. The fourth has disengaged from the demands made by institutional academia, and instead favours individuals´ perceptions as a point of departure, in order to develop subject-centred approaches.
Each different framework translates into different learning goals and objectives pursued in the classroom, speaking in varying degrees to theoretical models of citizenship such as the Liberal, the Citizenship Republican and the Critical Model.
Despite competing ideas of citizenship education, widespread agreement exists in three basic principles known as the ‘Beutelsbacher Consensus’. In 1976, a conference of educationalists formed different didactic schools addressing the need to avoid indoctrination. Education as propaganda and as a means of brainwashing citizens has been an especially sensitive issue in the Federal Republic because of former Nazi and communist indoctrination policies.
3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education
The system of non-formal citizenship education in Germany is characterised by a diversity of 16 federal states, known as Länder, each defining their own priorities and goals regarding education, which therefore allows for a decentralised system for non-formal education. There are, however, some general, overarching policies and some federal funds. The ‘Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes’ is the main federal subsidiary fund that allows for diversity in non-formal citizenship education. It finances a variety of non-governmental organizations and regional centres, ensuring diversified and impartial approaches to citizenship education. The situation of non-formal citizenship education is characterized by a range of provision from agencies outside the direct responsibility of the federal or regional governments, placing special emphasis on diversity of education. Since 2019 and 2020, when a group of civil society organizations engaged in adult education lost their non-profit status, non-formal education providers in Germany have feared that authorities are curtailing political discourse in civil society. In a decision published in 2019, Germany’s supreme court for tax and customs matters held that the activist group ATTAC was no longer eligible for non-profit status due to its general political activity and its calls for concrete actions and demands.
4. Educational Offers in Terms of Content, Purpose, Method and Philosophical Affiliation.
Non-formal citizenship education is carried out through a variety of governmental and non-governmental agencies. These include schools, colleges, publicly-funded adult education institutions, trade unions and churches. Germany's history accounts for the important role taken by institutions which are, in some cases, necessarily unique to Germany; this is true especially for the variety of political and religious foundations and the Federal Agency for Citizenship Education (BpB). The latter is amongst the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s executive agencies, and is involved in both formal and non-formal citizenship education. It has regional branch offices in 15 states. The foundations are affiliated with established political parties or religious communities in terms of their political, intellectual, philosophical or religious orientation, but they are independent of the parties and churches and they offer a variety of educational services.
5. Legal Environment of Formal Citizenship Education
Citizenship education in schools is categorized under the cultural authority of the respective German states, which means its importance as a subject varies from federal state to federal state. With regard to its place in the curriculum, citizenship education is structured as its own subject. While situated within a normative framework of democratic values and human rights, the subject is non-partisan as it does not educate citizens exclusively in their relation to the state. It does not simply aim at maintaining the democratic status quo but rather, seeks to develop citizens’ ability to judge and act, which thus enables them to rethink and reframe citizenship principles and structures, especially those involving critical thinking and political participation.
Alongside school-related activities, another important aspect of citizenship education is the engagement of both younger and older students outside the classroom, in a variety of non-formal learning opportunities sponsored by state and social authorities. Extracurricular citizenship education activities are supported or have been financed by political parties, unions, trade associations, foundations, religious and spiritual communities, the media, academies, independent institutions, and initiatives that pursue citizenship education due to their commitment to political ideals. Recently, however, public institutions have been withdrawing financial support within the field, thus causing private funding for citizenship education to increase, often implicitly or explicitly advocating partial norms and values.
Non-formal citizenship education increasingly competes with educational offerings that are tied more closely to the issue of employability and economic needs, which prompts the need for a discussion to ensure that employability and its educational programmes do not displace critical citizenship.
Concerning research needs, the major challenge for citizenship education in Germany at present is to further build upon the international discourse and international research base that already does exist, so as to further develop into an independent academic discipline. Regarding empirical research, attention should be given to what is known as citizenship awareness
In recent years, German public discourse has become increasingly xenophobic. Also, hate speech has become more common.
Another current area singled out for advancement is the central role of participatory citizenship in dealing with climate change and the transformation to a sustainable economic (de-)growth model. Thirdly, a focus is on digital citizenship education. Digitalisation plays a crucial role in shaping political, economic and social life and needs to be critically reflected upon across all its social, ecological, economic and political dimensions. Core aspects include the mechanism, possibilities and limits of online platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and Google and its impact on democratic culture, sustainable global economy and individual autonomy.