Center of Educational Technologies

Political Education: Experience of Germany and Other Countries of the European Union

Moritz von Engelhardt,
Chairman, Board,
Association of German Education Centers,

The Association of German Education Centers incorporates about 200 centers of civil and political education for youth and adults in Germany. For the past few years, the Moscow Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences and the German Educational Center have been at a number of joint programs, and dozens of MAHSS undergraduates have been to Germany on probation.

Instances of aggressive extremism, xenophobia and violence among youth are in evidence all over the world. The surroundings do no doubt, play a part in it, such as the economic situation, professional training and general education level, employment, the country is political culture and level of security.

Here I shall concentrate only on political education, drawing on the experience of Germany and other EU countries. I shall also outline the conclusions to which I have come when sharing my experience with the Russian side.

Aggressive extremism, xenophobia and violence among youth are an important subject of political education. It is much broader than one is acquaintance with a country is institutional customs, ability to interpret political events and social research. “Democratic education” will help young people to gain a more active and bolder position in life.

Given this understanding of youth is political/democratic education, it is possible to gain access to youth 011 a wide scale on a time, and therefore main emphasis should be made on what we call ‘multiplicators’ (which make the core of the program), that is, young individuals who will carry the knowledge, values and readiness to act they have acquired to others on a wider scale.

Given the German experience, our observations in Russia and other European countries, 1 am able to suggest the following thesis. One of the most import^ means of opposing aggressive extremism, xenophobia and violence among у0щ is effective involvement of youth in the democratic process.

The most important functions of youth is democratic education are as follows- it will attract young people to democracy; it will develop in young people a motivation to be dedicated to democracy; it will train young people youth to take an active part in the democratic process.

It is essential that one is head, heart and hands should be equally involved in this process.     

The head. It is essential to make a young person understand that declarations and agreements regulate people is co-existence, that realization of the human rights should be guaranteed and that democracy may meet with snags and attacks.

In times of change, when people may find it hard to see how the land lies, it is vitally important to help youth to go by values for the sake of which it is worth living. It is essential to teach something positive to oppose the negative impact of sects (quasi-religious groups), crime, corruption and drugs and alcohol.

Discourse about values may seem the most urgent, but gender and differences in the cultural and ethnic background must be taken account of in it.

In recent years, one-day-long teach-ins for young people of different nationality (Turks, Arabs, Germans, Russian, Chinese and others) have proved highly useful in Germany. Multimedia tricks (acting, pantomime, video, photography, etc.) are widely used in them to discuss such themes as 'boldness*, ‘civil courage’, ‘pride’, ‘decency14, ‘respect’, 'self-confidence, etc. Among the questions debated there are: What do the six terms for girls/women and boys mean in different cultures? How can today is definitions of sex roles be described and realized (girls roles: equality and self-confidence; boys roles: flexibility, creativeness and communication in addition to strength)? What is the relationship between respect to various cultures and security of the human rights?

The examples make it clear that the head alone is not enough. Emotions, compassion and other feelings, in short, the heart, are also involved.

The heart. The use of the heart in democratic education is vital to avoid sheer theorizing. It is essential to inspire young people with ideals of democracy, respect 0f humans, freedom, equal rights and protection of the weak.

The arts are very important here. One can share feelings of pride and impassion in the theatre. When seeing a work of applied art, one can compare it with one’s own projects. Music and acting can invoke in one a beautiful feeling of teamwork, of something whole and ingenious created by humans who are original and at the same different from each other. In any work of art, one can feel that to be individual does not necessarily mean to be egoistic and that a free association of individuals is not a compulsion imposed by a collective. This will put it across to young people that freedom and responsibility axe brother and sister.

The same applies to sports: if one goes in for a sport with real zest, one will do so in other areas.

The point I want to make is that when people get associated, prejudices die out. What kind of people get associated, I think, is very important, too o whether it will be a balanced set of different sexes; or people from different social strata (levels); or people belonging to different cultures: or people with different backgrounds (teach-ins for drafters, servicemen, or civil servants); or people of different age; or people from different cities and countries; or whether it will be a set of different ethnic origins.

Besides knowledge and values, it is an active and bold position in life, that is the hands, that also counts.

The hands. The hands are to do what the head thinks and the heart feels. Young people must act, and should be given tools to do so. Where youth share the rights of democratic participation and opportunities to make them work, this will contribute much to the future of democracy. Youth people should be well aware of a strategy of democratic participation and real opportunities and lines of action.

Hence my next point: the main target of political/democratic education is teaching young people to participate actively.

Our multiplicators teach-ins proved quite effective for school spokesmen or class speakers, school newspaper editors and dispute-settling mediators. It was demonstrated in Russia, too, that such teach-in might be effective when approached in a proper democratic way.

Class speakers are taught to represent interests of their fellow schoolchild^ boldly and diplomatically and at the same time create a positive and polity atmosphere of relationship at school. School editors are important for promoting transparency and informing schoolchildren of results of discourse. They may also prove useful in developing modern-day definitions of ethnic identity under which one must respect other ethnic groups and cultures. Dispute-settling mediators, provided they were well trained, may be able to contribute much to establishing a culture of nonviolence settlement of conflicts.

What kind of knowledge and training do young people get at such teach-ins? (The question may remind us of the one-time child and youth parliaments.) For a start, they get some vital approaches and attitudes they will need in taking their social position in adult life as well.

The hands can move well when they are fed well. Young people will be unable to fulfill themselves socially if they have neither education nor chances to get a good job, if they are poor and suffer from other difficulties.

This means that we must cooperate more closely with schools and therefore all conscious efforts must be directed to school reform. (This point is beyond my speech.) Moreover, 1 believe we must do the same as regards another important couple: youth is democratic and professional training and youth social work. Here, working models should be drawn up and disseminated to demonstrate how democratic education can add to professional training and social work in a useful way.

Democratic/political education is able to contribute to campaigning against aggressive extremism, xenophobia and violence among youth, but it is important to bear in mind that all these entities have wholly social, economic and educational causes. They involve not young people alone, and often stem from the depths of society and are nurtured by adults.

I think it is worth looking into the new media used in political/democratic youth education. Given Russians vast territory, I think it will be useful to make the most of the Internets capabilities. In Germany, positive experience has been jolted in Germany in coupling real conferences attended by some 90 people of fifth virtual conferences covering a few hundred during the 'German Conference on 2000 Youth. This experience has inspired us to work out a ‘youth participation’ project under which consultants will be attracted, data bases used, approved models tested, and young people and youth agencies involved via the Internet network at local, regional and all-German levels.

Source: Молодежь России перед лицом глобальных вызовов на рубеже веков (Как противостоять агрессивному экстремизму, ксенофобии и насилию среди молодежи) : Материалы Международной конференции, 18–19 ноября 2000 г., Москва, Россия / под научной и общей редакцией И. М. Ильинского. Перевод на англ. яз. М., 2001. С. 57–61. ISBN 5-85085-643-9.