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Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities

reviewed by Dale T. Snauwaert - May 26, 2006

coverTitle: Citizenship and Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies: Teaching for Cosmopolitan Values and Collective Identities
Author(s): Kevin McDonough and Walter Feinberg (Eds.)
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford
ISBN: 0199283990, Pages: 444, Year: 2005
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The chapters in this volume, edited by Kevin McDonough and Walter Feinberg, were originally presented at a symposium on “Collective Identities and Cosmopolitan Values:  Group Rights and Public Education in Liberal-Democratic Societies,” held in Montreal in 2000. The volume includes an introduction and 15 chapters by a prominent group of political and educational philosophers, including Anthony Appiah, David Blacker, Harry Brighouse, Shelly Burtt, Joseph Dunne, Walter Feinberg, Mark Halstead, Stephen Macedo, Kevin McDonough, Terence H. McLaughlin, Susan Moller Okin, Rob Reich, Kenneth A. Strike, Jeremy Waldron, and Melissa S. Williams.  

The central purpose of the book is to explore the aims of citizenship education in liberal-democratic societies.  Each contributing author provides a philosophically rigorous exploration of the complexities of educational theory and policy in the context of pluralistic, multicultural societies politically structured by the principles and values of liberalism.  Liberalism is a historically dynamic political and moral world-view. In the late 20th and early 21st century, important philosophical shifts have emerged in the theory and practice of liberalism, moving toward what McDonough and Feinberg refer to in their introduction as “affiliation” liberalism (transcending, but including the basic principles of classical and contemporary liberalism).  The volume constitutes a sophisticated philosophical examination of affiliation liberalism and its educational policy implications.

The book explores numerous tensions within liberalism in general and within affiliation liberalism in particular. The architectural principle of “tensegrity,” employed here as a metaphor, may be useful in understanding the overarching implications of affiliation liberalism.  Tensegrity is an organizational structure that integrates tension between elements to increase the overall strength of the structure (e.g., a geodesic dome).  Overall, the book explores the question of whether the introduction of liberalism to the considerations and conflicts of affiliation tears at the fabric of liberal societies, or instead, whether the tensions inherent in affiliation liberalism constitute a kind of social and political tensegrity.   

The emergence of affiliation liberalism takes place within the framework constituted by classical and contemporary liberalism.  Classical liberal political philosophy is founded upon the twin pillars of moral equality and negative liberty, an understanding that each person possesses an equal, intrinsic dignity and value as well as the basic right to define and pursue one’s own conception of the good life consistent with the equal right of others to define and pursue their own good.  From a philosophical and political perspective these basic precepts are understood to mandate autonomy as both self-rule and self-protection, in the sense that individual dignity requires freedom from the coercive interference of the State (including State neutrality toward conceptions of the good life) and government by consent.  This freedom in turn entails a right to freedom of association, which allows for and generates a pluralistic, multicultural civil society.

Contemporary liberalism transcends (but also includes) the right to negative liberty (self-rule and self-protection) by articulating a concern for mutual well-being and human flourishing.  Contemporary liberals argue that abstract rights vis a vis negative liberty and government by consent are insufficient to ensure autonomy and human flourishing; they argue that rights are only realized if they are affirmed by the provision of the material and social resources necessary for their actual enjoyment.  Thus, contemporary liberalism asserts a right to positive liberty, entailing a State obligation to provide substantive goods to its citizens. This duty expands the role of government beyond that of the minimal state envisioned by classical liberalism.

While both classical and contemporary liberalism, in principle, allow for and encourage the existence of a pluralistic civil society, communitarian critics have asserted the unrealistic nature of liberalism’s conception of the individual as ontologically independent of culture and community.  They assert a dialogical understanding of identity as formed in the context of the particularities of comprehensive conceptions of the good life implicit in the culturally thick traditions of various kinds of communities.  Liberals have embraced this notion of dialogical identity while preserving their commitment to autonomy. Based upon the premise that cultural recognition is a requirement of respect for human dignity (moral equality), there is now a general acceptance of the legitimacy of group rights to cultural recognition among liberals.  This acceptance has stimulated the aforementioned conception of affiliation liberalism.  A basic tension in liberalism, significantly energized by the considerations of affiliation and explored in depth in this collection, is its need to sustain its own principles of freedom and autonomy, while being tolerant of the existence of illiberal groups and practices.  

It is not possible in this short review to summarize the complexity of the arguments articulated in this volume concerning the nature, scope, and tensions of affiliation liberalism and its educational implications; however, the depth and range of the following sampling of questions addressed by the authors alludes to the richness of their contribution:  

What should be the aim of citizenship education in a multicultural, cosmopolitan, multinational, liberal-democratic society?

What constitutes the parameters of the political community, and in turn, citizenship (local, national, and/or cosmopolitan)? Have cultural groups developed independently of each other or have they developed through complex forms of interaction motivated by trade, curiosity and migration?  Do we live in a world of “actually existing cosmopolitanism,” or one of local cultural purity?

Is the moral community best conceived as a community of identity, a political and moral congregation, or a community of shared fate?  

What is the proper balance between the educational development of individual autonomy (including the enlargement of the mind and capacity for critical reflection) and the preservation and enhancement of particular cultural and religious conceptions of the good life?

Can cultural and religious groups who espouse comprehensive conceptions of the good life be rich sites for the educational development of individual autonomy?  

Can public education be organized so it can foster the development of individual autonomy in the face of the homogenizing and alienating influences of global economic forces and state demands for national unity?  

Is a right to exit the cultural or religious group of one’s origin a sufficient guarantor of individual autonomy? Should intra-group openness and diversity also be criteria in determining consistency with the requirement of liberal autonomy?  

What burdens can be legitimately imposed upon schools and parents in liberal-democratic societies, and what dilemmas do those burdens invoke?  

Is the teaching of patriotism in schools legitimate in a liberal society?  Is history a legitimate means for such teaching or should the exclusive aim of history be the truth, including the historical injustices committed by government?  

What civic virtues are necessary for the sustainability of liberal democracy?

To what extent should the liberal state allow or endorse the illiberal practices of cultural and religious groups (including the treatment of women)?  What constraints can the liberal state impose on cultural and national groups?

Should the liberal state support religious schools, and if so, what degree of control is implicit in such support?  

The book explores these questions in a manner that models the kind of intellectually rigorous and honest critical reflection that the liberal tradition espouses. It constitutes a work characterized by philosophical depth and sophistication, intellectual honesty, comparative and international perspective, and the integration of theory and policy.  Each author makes a significant contribution to our understanding of liberalism and liberal education in addition to the complex tensions inherent in contemporary liberal educational policy.  This collection is a must read for any student of liberal democracy and educational policy.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 26, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12513, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 11:22:52 PM

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About the Author
  • Dale Snauwaert
    University of Toledo
    E-mail Author
    DALE T. SNAUWAERT, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Educational Theory and Social Foundations of Education and Chair of the Department of Foundations of Education at the University of Toledo. He is the author of Democracy, Education, and Governance: A Developmental Conception (State University of New York Press, 1993), which received an American Educational Studies Association Critics' Choice Award in 1995. He has published in such academic journals as Educational Theory, Journal of Educational Thought, Peabody Journal of Education, Holistic Education Review, Current Issues in Comparative Education, and Encounter on such topics as democratic education, moral education, and cosmopolitan ethics. He is currently working on a book on the ethics of war and peace and human rights education. His current research focuses on moral and political philosophy as they pertain to educational theory, especially the ethics of war and peace, democracy, and human rights. He teaches courses in the philosophy and social foundations of education.
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