# 217: Alas, Political Education!


Nohlen, Dieter, ed. (2003). Kleines Lexikon der Politik, 32.

Story behind the Passage

It must have been in 2000 when I chose my majors in high school. It was 2005 when I chose my subjects in university. In both cases, I chose Political Science or “Politics and Economy,” as it was called in high school. Little did I know how important this knowledge would become in the long run. And “in the long run” is now, basically. We seem to have reached a point when the level of general education in the population has dropped to a point where the term “citizen” does not even have meaning anymore; given the fact that many Germans have no idea about the background of democracy, the political institutions, the role of the media in the state. Reports document this again and again. And “knowledge” here should not be confused with interest or participation, e.g., the Black Friday mission. Yes, calling out for more participation is a start. Still, if you have no idea of how politics works — how do you want to manage beyond protesting? How do you even want to develop a basic understanding of why politics exist in the first place and how this emerged historically?

I come to write about this today because I saw quite a shocking interview during lunch break. It was not about the lack of political education specifically. It was worse. It was about what happens if the lack of political education has immediate consequences for individual lives. And the consequences I am talking about here is the state of women and domestic violence right now. The interview and the preceding report was about the women’s shelters in Germany and the fact that there is such a huge dark figure. This dark figure means that only a very small number of the women who are beaten at home actually end up seeking shelter. In addition, probably only a one digit-percentage of women actually become part of official statistics, not even mentioning the tiny number of cases that actually end up in court.

The representative of the respective group in the German Parliament mentioned what they are doing about it and I was quite happy about her pragmatic approach. She repeatedly stressed that there is an emergency hotline for women. And then, she said something remarkable which was very sad at the same time:

“We know that only 1/3 of the women know that such a hotline exists and we also learned that women do not know about their rights.”

Are you getting it now why I am linking civic/political education with the issue of domestic violence? The women DO NOT KNOW about their RIGHTS! In other words, they might not even know, literally be aware of the fact, that the state is there to protect them and that they, as women, have the right to be physically unharmed. In other words, that there are laws protecting them and that those beating and raping them on a daily basis deserve punishment. And how could they know? If someone does not know what democracy is beyond a nice word and which basic rights every human being has — how could they get the idea of even running away? I wonder how many of them have ever read the German basic law. Here are the first three articles:

German Basic Law

My Learnings

“… 5) “moreover in the practice of loyalty and criticism, adaptation and -> resistance, individuality and solidarity of -> freedom and -> equality, of private and public Tugenden, of acceptance and distance, etc.” Of course, the entire passage above is about education at large, not just about political education. But I wanted to approach the topic broadly because the issue of education is moving me very much these days. Still, for me, it largely boils down to political education and this sentence above makes this very clear. The fact that political education is not about aligning citizens as ideological puppets but mature citizens who have the capacity to agree and disagree, to adapt and to move away from whatever the government and/or those in power are demanding.

This aspect of disagreement, by the way, is very interesting. There seems to be some consensus that it is quite helpful and that it signals interest if young people are opposing and disagreeing, e.g., by marching in the streets and protesting online/offline. But simply protesting does not get you that far. It does not necessarily show that you are capable of political debate. This is because, debate has a very clear definition and philosophy behind it. It does not just mean talking (as many in the young generation do by Tweeting and posting). It means that you have the rhetorical capacity to actually challenge and reflect arguments. And that is where the education gap kicks in.

What bothers me most is that, again, money makes such a differerence. Yes, the rich and confident and (privately) educated teenagers on TV look so knowledgeable and smart. But the others who really suffer from the fact that the level of political education seems to be dropping are not that visible. They do not have all the insignia of the “rising political generation” with “renewed political interest.” You might expect it already, this is where the humanities are of value. But we have abolished them already…

So, dignity comes first and this is something that many might never have experienced in their lives. Yes, I know that we are a diverse society and there are many practical obstacles to making sure that everyone living here — citizens and not-yet-citizens — know these laws. Still, I am not only talking about those living in social hotspots. If you just take a ride on your local bus and listen to some conversations by teenagers, you will be able to come to some kind of insight. I am sorry to say this but you will get a picure of how little many seem to know about anything (except for Instagram, TikTok, and ClubHouse), including political education.

I know, I am sounding like a grandma here but it is worrying me. I cannot say that I keep track of every single legal procedure. I hardly know the names of all the ministers by heart anymore (they keep changing quite quickly, right? As soon as a new Ph.D. thesis plagiarism case comes up, they are out). But I guess, what I consider ‘little knowledge’ would already mean the world to those who have no clue. And, again, let me emphasize that I am not ridiculing this. I simply want to point out how dangerous this is, as you can see in the case of women who do not know about their rights…

It is also dangerous because we are on our way to throwing the last bit of cultural capital into the trash. We are willingly allowing the uneducated and unknowledgeable to rule the country. We let them change our political culture and our norms and values. We let them believe and demonstrate at every occasion that brain is useless and uninformed “practice” is everything. Thinking and debating — crucial essentials of democracy — are being abolished. Let me be clear, I value acting and pragmatism. But without education and a sense of what one’s action does to the entire system, action is dangerous or at least questionable. And we desperately need people who can ask questions, as the passage shows. In order to ask questions, you need to think. Above all, this is what I have also learned in current project:

If the universities do not teach thinking anymore — which institution will?

Reflection Questions

1) How do you think about the state of political education these days?

2) Which pragmatic suggestions do you have for improving the situation of women who are suffering from domestic violence?

3) Do you think that democracy is really being threatened by the decline of (political) education?