Usefulness Of Civic Education
Dev Raj Dahal
The idea of civic education embraces liberation of people from their infantile thinking, belief and behaviour. It transforms them from biological origin to social and then to cosmological spheres awakening them to the fact that different people are not too dissimilar to learn from each other’s experience. Civic consciousness, like glow of light, razes all fallacies revealing citizen’s life beyond the needs of body and mind. Practically, it publicises them with democratic theories, laws, institutions and rights to match the variation of material condition and duties holding each other accountable for their action. A national curriculum and praxis of education can enable Nepalis to acquire high quality of knowledge, virtues and skill to perform their tasks and build character which is crucial to peacefully engage in the nation’s life. Nepalis live in a plurality of life-world who share the common state with the natives, core values of shared humanity with other humans and a common Earth with other living species that define their duties beyond self and attain universal emancipation. Innovated by sages, its past tradition of enlightenment was not elitist in nature. It sought the perfection of good life unblinked by the siren call of fundamentalism, fatalism, unsocialised animal spirit and populism of today.
Enlightenment values, shaped by the knowledge of light, were based on punya karma (good action), not only human reason and will for self-promotion. They enabled Nepalis to engage in improving life, acquire a worldview and gain ability for self-decision. Those devoid of them are dictated by others and cannot be said free citizens able to solve their personal and social problems and contribute to democracy consolidation in Nepal. Astavakra Gita reveals the nature of Atma Gyan (internal vigilance measured as a precondition to liberty) which has the drive to transcend unsocial human nature. Social virtue is essential to bridge the gap between knowledge and wisdom and order and free will and build human affinity enriching good character. For Gautam Buddha, the path to dharma is a way to the bliss of nirvana, a way that frees humans from the karmaic cycle of suffering, impermanence of life and impersonality of phenomenon and link inner self to a single universe. It helped to detribalise Nepali society. Production of good citizens is the core of civic education affirmed by Socrates in the West and Buddha in the East as a source of polity fit for peace. Nepal’s Constitution and policy document too stress on civic education for every citizen though the modern path to it is lost in the din of contesting ideologies, strategies and manoeuvres. As a result, Nepali families prefer successful children, no matter good or bad. The ironies of too much rights, few duties and poor material resources have kept Nepali politics into a combustible gear. This shows that modern Nepali leaders need to confront the nation’s future with the ideals of the past defined in the spirit of middle path. Science has linked diverse citizens but did not cultivate the civility to achieve common good.
Immanuel Kant says, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” He says that this inability arises from the lack of courage to exercise freedom. He speaks of three-fold tutelage or immaturity: domestic socialisation where children are dependent on the advice of parents and elders every time and follow their judgments in every aspect of life rather than becoming capable of using their intellect and creativity; civil tutelage of law, leaders and teachers whereby adults uncritically imbibe and faithfully obey their orders and authority without questioning their rationality; and life-long stage of pious tutelage of religious scripts and priests that dominate their belief and behaviour. Each sort of tutelage depoliticises citizens, fosters conformist political culture and kills their sovereign power to uphold inquiring mind to solve their problems created by political stasis and inexorable tides of globalisation. Nepalis cannot exercise their sovereignty so long as they are divorced from the native tradition of enlightenment which looks timelessly modern but now vulnerable to the glitter of modernity’s materialism which has reduced media, schools, culture, health, nature, security and law into consumer goods undermining the civic health of the nation. The enchantment with the instrumental nature of reason has undermined the emancipatory potential of enlightenment and punished the weaker part of Nepali society.
The praxis of civic education evokes practical ends of human sensibilities. Its reflective awareness on lived experience of citizens enable them to self-legislate, build personal integrity and national character and become stakeholders of democracy. Inability of Nepali leaders to spread civic virtues has converted citizens into an unreflective mass who impulsively jubilate every regime change, democratic or not as they judge it from existential possibility. The critique of this praxis is vital to transform Nepalis of diverse social, economic and geographic origins into equal citizens and hone their talent of judgment. Praxis cannot be governed by only scientific or rationalistic knowledge claims which is deterministic in nature but by choice-based normative, ethical and moral belief. Nepalis have wisdom of ‘common sense’ judgment of every day practices. On the basis of this, they participate in community, local assemblies, organise public action, engage in the production, circulation and exchange of vital goods and fulfil their needs and rights. A society that displays ample civic virtues can make their milieu clean and do not look down to cleaners as socially inferior in caste, gender or status. It breaks the barriers to work together in pursuit of the nation’s overall progress.
Liberty exists in the gift of critical judgment about ideological blindness, demagogic illusion, irrationality and determinism of class, caste, gender, ethnicity and locality. Education divorced from real life experience of citizens disables them to reflect, engage and influence societies, politics, law and economic planning. In this sense, the rebellious spirit of Nepalis against their subordination to organised power is vital to realize the Constitutional vision of “an egalitarian society.” Civic competence unfolds the choices to Nepalis to confront, not just during election but in every turn of life and influence vital policies that affect their lives. It fosters a sense of social equality, tolerance of opposing voice, builds trusts and gears up the spirit of public action. Frank Bruni says, “It is dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college is not just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and spectrum of civilisation.” Those suffering from historical amnesia are hardly inspired by the example of ancestors, their temper and spirit of national freedom. John Dewey says that human nature is not fixed. Civic education and associated life determine human conduct. They nurture civic virtues of individuals that underpin justice based social order. De-culturation, by contrast, is alienating. In this context, social modernisation in Nepal supposes freedom for all. Civic culture bears three effects: growth of individuality, freedom of choice and personal accountability in the entire cycle of life. The last one enables Nepalis to cultivate social virtues of trust, tolerance and teamwork to fight endless causes of the nation’s marginality.
Nepalis, as public citizens, are members of the state. They are free to take any initiatives not constrained by habit, tradition and arbitrary actions of authorities. Civic learning means not the passive absorption of lifeless facts or passage of text books written in a totally alien context. It is about engaging in active reflection and inquiry on the life-context of Nepalis, their everyday issues, actors and rules to resolve problems. A vibrant democracy requires active citizenship. It brings cognitive and affective attachment to Nepali democracy, nourishes their openness and engages them in the philosophical traditions for the renewal of national order without smothering the capacity of society for reunion and resilience to the changing times. A common citizenship can transcend the primitive differences shaped and institutionalised by political parties, their liberating fronts and the Constitution. It can create a shared condition for judgment about the art and outcome of polity. Rational choice has failed to control egoism entailing the rediscovery of its enlightenment to rebuild the state from the societal muscle.
Enlightened Nepalis have the guts to defy myth and capricious practices and articulate in public sphere. It frees them from inferiority complex denying their human potential and constitutional propensity. The inversion of Nepal’s enlightenment tradition through radical political and social engineering has bred gutless elites. Inorganic intellectuals and leaders are disembodied from the episteme of national culture, history and life-world. They hardly learn from their experience. They are weak to indigenise universal knowledge to fit to local conditions. Ideology-driven education creates ignorant person. Consent manufacturing by unfair media while thought-and-body control of legislators during crucial parliamentary voting denied them from using conscience. Artificial awareness makes it easy to abuse mini identities against the Nepali state and wane social cohesion. Undemocratic leaders fear that civic education fades their superior status and, therefore, seek loyal clients and cadres, not free citizens.
Nepali state has made great strides in the domain of social inclusion and increased women’s rights—reproduction, equal parental property and authority, non-exploitation, non-discrimination, social inclusion in politics and administration and positive discrimination in education, health, income-generation, security and peace-promotion activities marking towards participatory democracy. Equal rights to grant citizenship to their children in their name, gender budgeting, appreciation of their family work and zero tolerance to violence can widen the civic circle of life and remove the remaining impediments. This means learning of universal standards and laws can change attitude, capacitate Nepali women for leadership and close the gender gaps in vital sphere of life. Promotion of cardinal civic virtues such as moderation, patience and wisdom is vital for a plural society like Nepal for reconciliation of various identities through the delight of new lens. The transmission of these virtues to many generations of citizens can give impetus to those native civic values of giving, charity, healing and safeguarding social peace. It renews social ties, engineers democracy from below and gives Nepalis a chance to converse with power elites in equal terms. This is vital to create a common ground for public action and foster normative consensus over democratic values across the political parties of various hues to repair state-citizenship ties.