Public debate about cultural education, citizenship education and the potential they offer
Cultural education is currently the topic of a broad public debate in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Europe for a number of different reasons and from a number of different perspectives. These discussions have been fuelled mainly by the widespread need to find an adequate response to the social changes that are taking place all around us and that tend to be identified as a problem or, at the very least, a major challenge:
the changed structure of European societies as a result of migration,
the drifting apart of social milieus in the context of socio-economic change,
the transformation of gender relationships which, in turn, are closely associated with the areas of labour and privacy in society,
the growing difficulty of dialogue and the transfer of values between the generations that are proving to be a "problem of succession" for cultural education institutions,
the impetus multimedia has given society and last but by no means least
the ubiquitous dwindling of the legitimacy of the political order resulting from the decline in political participation and growing lack of interest.
What do persons involved in citizenship education hope to achieve with the discussion in this field? Why have the arts, culture and cultural education gained so much attention recently from other players who deal with education or citizenship education? And what did Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier mean exactly when he argued in 2015 "that a cultural policy needs to be shaped which extends beyond representing, portraying our country, that facilitates cooperation and that focuses on working together on world reason (...) thereby helping to overcome the distinction between internal and external aspects" ? (Speech held at the Goethe Institute Conference "Dialogue and the experience of others" on 23 February 2015). What conclusions can be drawn from this dialogue for the further development of cultural and citizenship education?
In the quest for suitable concepts, methods and tools for dealing with the above-mentioned challenges, it is generally thought that cultural education and the citizenship education it inspires offer significant untapped potential.
First of all, these education strategies adopt a unilinear education approach in favour of a multidimensional model of reciprocal and discursive conveyance and appropriation of knowledge by all players involved in the education process.
Secondly, the concept of cultural education which is based on holistic personal development corresponds to the ideal of "le citoyen" who thinks of society and its political system in cognitive, emotional and evaluative terms.
Thirdly, cultural education implies "ultimately the ability to successfully take part in cultural communication which has positive implications for participation in society as a whole", according to a widespread theory in the cultural education scene.
Fourthly, the functional principles governing "lifestyle capitalism" seem to provide excellent starting points for tapping the creative and aesthetic potential of cultural education.
The cultural education and citizenship education strategy adopted by the bpb The Federal Agency for Civil Education's analysis of the theme cultural education is derived from its mandate, its target groups, the role it plays as the addressee for civil society impetus and its specific competence as an educational institution at federal level, offering the advantage of vast experience and diverse resources. In addition, like other players in the world of politics and society, it inevitably responds to contemporary problems.
The starting point is that democracies need more than democratic institutions and structures, they also need democratically-minded citizens in order to be sustainable in the long term. In the years after the Second World War when citizenship education was founded in Germany, U.S. academics launched international research programmes in the tradition of the Chicago School in order to find out what people knew about their respective political systems, how they felt about these systems and how they rated them. Their theory was that democracies need more than democratic institutions and structures, they also need democratically-minded citizens in order to be sustainable in the long term.
There is no need for me to tell you that following the years of the German Empire and the Nationalist Socialist state when education treated pupils like obedient subjects all was not well at the time. Although the German people knew a lot about their political system comparatively speaking, they felt no real emotional connection with it. The young Federal Republic created advantages above all with its economic success and continues to do so to the present day.
Earlier citizenship education in Germany did little to change this. Just like the former authoritarian regimes, both German states believed in the power of education, however, the Federal Republic did not focus on the emotional aspects of education because the Nationalist Socialist state and the leaders of the GDR did so excessively. Citizenship education within the meaning of democratisation should work by rationalistic understanding, i.e. by way of explanation, argumentation and discussion. Those involved in citizenship education were prohibited from engaging in emotional stimulation and indoctrination. The view that modernisation, technological and scientific advancement go hand in hand with growing rationalisation of all spheres of life reaffirmed this view. The world became disenchanted, an observation documented by the German sociologist Max Weber as far back as 1917 and those involved in citizenship education saw it as their task to support the disenchantment process.
And although citizenship education was certainly successful in Germany, it did have several shortcomings. On the one hand, the content, strategies and methods of citizenship education focused very much on providing information about how the institutions of the political systems worked yet they tended to ignore the civil society aspect of politics. However, the more people ceased perceiving politics as something higher that is imposed on them, the more the deficit came to light that political subjects were not being treated as sovereign people in education concepts. A second deficit resulted from the fact that extracurricular citizenship education only targeted those who were interested in traditional political education. And they were for the most part male academics or men who were politically active, or merely sub-groups of the latter.
Since the last decade of the 20th century, the world, not just Germany, has changed so rapidly and at such an ever-growing pace that citizenship education called for a response to globalisation alongside global crises, acceleration, migration and wars with global migration movements, compounded by growing social diversity, heterogeneity and uncertain social identity. Against this backdrop, political subjects are looking for guidance, a new identity and answers to key questions about the future.
Nowadays, citizenship education is focusing, inter alia, on strengthening subjects as political personalities and on the specific potential they offer which the German philosopher Hannah Arendt defined as the "ability to begin again" in the middle of the 20th century. She recognised creativity as a fundamental condition of human existence. This is one of the reasons why citizenship education has been focusing more on the area of cultural education and the phenomenon of art over the past fifteen years.
I have already alluded to another reason in the foregoing. Citizenship education in Germany has ceased offering education solely to persons who are interested in or are active in politics, shifting its focus more and more to persons who have no affinity for or no interest in politics. This explains why it also became necessary to add new political education strategies to orthodox approaches.
Problem: up to now there has been no adequate, theoretical debate about this matter, but rather a host of assumptions, educational experiences and "gut feelings". I will endeavour in the following to highlight the areas and phenomena that enable us to make relevant statements from the perspective of citizenship education.
Citizenship education adopts its approach from the competence of political subjects to steer this negotiation process democratically. Persons who advocate democracy are not just familiar with the conditions and rules of the game, they are able to deal with conflict and are willing to cooperate even when they run into cultural "translation difficulties" or incompatibilities.
The theory of Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier can certainly be transferred to the internal aspects of democratic, political systems. In order to be able to get along with one another in today's society, we need social "reason" just as much as "cultural intelligence". In plain language, this means we need to be willing to learn from others, to endeavour to understand others and that we institutionalise forms of debate offering us fairness, recognition and a common, good life – even if we disagree on the general cultural conditions of our existence.
The statement made by the Federal Foreign Minister also implies that we need to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to citizenship education. The approach via cultural education and the arts represents one approach that focuses on creativity and the ability to start again. Furthermore, cultural education that focuses on the whole person is able to convey a deeper understanding than citizenship education which uses cognitive methods.
Let me give you an example. When you talk to children and young people about children's rights, teach them about these rights and then ask them questions in a test, you will find that many of them will have familiarised themselves with the issue. If you let them watch a film about children's rights, the concept becomes slightly more vivid. However, if you give children the opportunity to produce their own film about children's rights with the help of professional film-makers over a two-week period, allowing them to write the stories themselves, to translate the images into a film, to act in the film and to do the actual filming themselves, giving them the opportunity to learn something about the language of film and film as an artistic medium, these children will certainly be able to gain hands-on experience and develop a deeper understanding of children's rights. It also becomes apparent that they develop their own perspectives and new interpretations of children's rights. The film will not just portray the children's life experience but also their expectations for the future, their hopes, sentiments and fears. As a rule, citizenship educators are not cultural mediators. They cannot make films or design fashion collections. Yet it has become evident over the years that cooperation between citizenship educators and cultural mediators has the potential to produce very good results.
It is slightly more difficult with the arts. Citizenship education which imparts the controversial viewpoints in academia and society in the education process, can also impart controversial positions in the arts when we are dealing with art that is striving to have a socio-political impact. Art also encourages people to participate in cultural education processes and creative discourse.
Anne Bamford makes a distinction between two different approaches to arts education, namely "education in art" and "education through art" in the role the arts play in education in her book entitled "The Wow Factor": As such, "education in art" comprises the practices of traditional arts education with a view to ensuring people can participate in cultural life in an informed and critical way. By contrast, "education through art" means "art is seen as a vehicle for learning other subject content". This implies that art education is intended to teach people how to deal with the "world" through the medium of the arts and that the "world" therefore needs to be incorporated into art education. The former Director of the Federal Academy for Cultural Education Wolfenbuettel, Karl Ermert, pinpointed the crucial factor from the perspective of citizenship education, namely that art education must be perceived as education in art and education through art. Irrespective of the view that artistic and cultural products are appreciated for their aestheticism on their own merit or deserve respect at the very least, citizenship education goes one step further and floats the hypothesis that dealing with artistic and cultural products is not an act of pure aestheticism. Rather, both the cognitive and sensuous approach to artistic and cultural products implies participation in a cultural debate in society and therefore cultural participation as a social activity. This explicitly involves cultural education that has social relevance and is based on the perception of culture as a socio-cultural phenomenon rather than high brow culture.
This also implies that the focus is shifting from reception to participation even though it goes without saying that strengthening reception competencies is an important issue. Furthermore, the focus is moving gradually away from the education experience of the individual and towards the process of (self)-education taught by society, with stakeholders having a major impact on the content and process.
However there are two sides to the dispositif (apparatus) of creativity
Notwithstanding this, the phenomenon creativity which we need in democracies must be handled with care. The system theoretician Andreas Reckwitz established within the framework of several studies that for around the past thirty years, nearly all spheres of life (the working world, education, sport, love, economy etc.) have been reshaped increasingly by creative criteria and imperatives in the industrialised countries of the world. We want to be creative and have to be creative. The increase in the importance of creativity corresponds to the desire for and the obsession with new things - new clothes, new goods, new media, new forums that are able to provide sensuous and affective stimulation albeit briefly.
This principle is also being applied to individuals who are modelled as creative subjects and who are expected to display the features which ideal-typical artists embodied in centuries past. Those who used to be considered non-conformists and outsiders have become anyone's model today. Reckwitz thinks this describes the features of a powerful creativity dispositif that characterises social sectors and social practices ranging from education to consumption, from sport right down to sexuality.
The institutions and structures of modern society are programmed towards permanent self-transformation. The modern world has sought continual innovation both in artistic, political, technical, scientific and economic terms. The New which is characteristic of the dispositif of creativity does not pursue progress but movement itself which, in turn, focuses on the creation of objects and atmospheres.
The dispositif of creativity pursues a radical aestheticisation of the social aspect which other authors such as the Austrian author Robert Misik refer to as "culturalisation". Meaning is injected into every single object, every piece of clothing, every space. Lifestyle capitalism does not sell goods but creates identities and lifestyles. It is about aesthetic objects that are created and used with aesthetic intent, namely works of art, media products, shopping malls, urban districts and even people.
If we consider the functional requirements of this aesthetic capitalism which is fuelled by digitisation, the development of social media and the ‚iconic turn‘ – an increase in iconic representations as opposed to non-iconic representations - it becomes apparent why the perception of educational programmes has changed so fundamentally. These functional requirements shape the lifestyles and cultures of societies and the way in which the individual perceives reality. This helps us to understand why educational programmes should focus more - at least ostensibly - on these changed perception patterns in order to generate acceptance.
It goes without saying, at least in terms of citizenship education, that in doing so the above-mentioned functional principles are intended to educate and to facilitate critical distancing.
By contrast, the dispositif of creativity produces positive emotions and gets the creative juices flowing initially: creativity at work, leisure and lifestyle promise individual emancipation. It seems that aesthetic experience liberates individuals from restrictive orientation to the practical. Creative subjects find social recognition; creative spaces such as culturalised cities or stylish workplaces appeal to people.
Discussing the dark sides of the dispositif of creativity is one of the thankless tasks of citizenship education and cultural education, given that the problems for democracy and social cohesion are obvious. For instance, the view that culture is a location factor which has been spreading across Germany for several years, conceals that fact that the culturalised public space of cities is today an area that is frequented by large numbers of people belonging to the creative class who can afford luxury goods, expensive restaurants and spa treatments.
The dispositif of creativity also creates feelings of dissonance. The imperative "Be creative!" implies pressure to perform and anyone who is unable to perform is at risk of social marginalisation and perhaps even suffering disorders caused by feelings of inadequacy such as burnout syndrome.
And in many cases, promises made are not kept. The reality of the labour market shows, for instance, that employers are more interested in creativity within the meaning of abilities to solve problems than making the world a better place.
The dispositif of creativity has also spread to areas in which aestheticisation has had negative as well as positive effects, for instance, in personal relationships, politics and education. Summary I hope that what I have outlined above demonstrates that focusing on citizenship education and cultural education and the arts implies more than an attempt at illustration and eventisation of educational programmes for new target groups. It is precisely not a matter of making citizenship education more simple, more fun, more entertaining and more diverse but of conveying a deeper understanding of the factors affecting attitudes, emotions and opinions.
When one attempts today - after all great stories have come to an end - to inject new, future-oriented substance into democracy, a different type of creativity is needed than the dispositif of creativity because democracy needs citizens within the meaning of "le citoyen" rather than customers or consumers.
And in view of the transformation of society we are witnessing today, these citizens should consider the potential of "cultural intelligence", which the Federal Foreign Minister has urged them to do. However, cultural intelligence involves more than the elements that have been summed up under the heading of "intercultural competence" so far, because it describes and integrates the awareness that this area is still in its infancy in many respects. This applies to the internal and external aspects of cultural policy which is no longer content to be a funding policy and regulatory policy but is beginning to focus on individual lifestyles.
We need time to adjust in which we further develop the concept of transcultural education and engage in discussions, tackle cultural conflicts and renegotiate much of what we used to take for granted. As such, it is a matter of accepting that incompatibilities and untranslatable spheres which we need to integrate do indeed exist. We continue to need unemotional policies, people who develop utopias and art that inspires these utopias.
- The spoken word takes precedence-
- Es gilt das gesprochene Wort-
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