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Educating for Liberty

Educating students for liberty

In last week’s edition of the Hoover Institution’s Defining IdeasMark Blitz, a professor of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, looks at the challenge of encouraging a liberal education that aims for excellence in a land that is devoted to equality and liberty. Does conserving liberty in a democratic regime necessarily mean an overall decline to an equality of mediocrity? What is the role of primary and secondary schools in educating students for liberty?

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The Tocquevillean moment

In the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Wilfred McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, has an essay about “the Tocquevillean moment…and ours.” This moment, McClay writes, is “when social change arrives at a crossroads, and awaits further direction. [… It] involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.”

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Is liberal education civic education?

Over at his “Rightly Understood” blog at Big Think, Peter Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College, takes a look at what a liberal education means for citizenship. Though his focus is on education in colleges and universities, his points  are equally applicable in understanding the civic aim of primary and secondary schools.

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AEI Report: Educating for Liberty? The Shortcomings of Contemporary Civic Education Theories

Education for Liberty?
The Shortcomings of Contemporary Civic Education Theories
By Rita Koganzon
(August 6, 2012) 

It is widely accepted that some form of civic education is necessary to sustain America’s liberal-democratic regime and the freedoms Americans enjoy. However, when we get to specifics about what a civic education should entail, this easy consensus falls away. As civic theorist and Brookings Institution scholar William Galston has observed, “Public education . . . is close to the heart of Americans’ understanding of democracy, and debates about education are bound to reflect competing and evolving conceptions of what democracy requires.”

Yet, it was not until the late 1980s that academic political theorists truly entered into the dispute over civic education. When they did—beginning with Amy Gutmann’s 1987 book Democratic Education—it was in light of two important developments in American political life: the precipitous decline in political participation after the 1960s and the simultaneous rise of ‘culture war’ politics. These developments alarmed political scientists in general, but some political theorists found the increasingly visible and vocal social conservatism of the Right during the Reagan Administration particularly threatening to the Rawlsian vision of a just—redistributive, publically secular, and pluralistic—society. In response, they turned to public schools in the hope that they could produce politically engaged citizens committed to liberal democracy.

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AEI