Youth citizenship: balancing the equation

I refer to this letter that appeared in today’s Straits Times:

In it, the writer argues, among other things, that we need the one-party system because otherwise the government is reduced to pandering to populist sentiments. I will leave aside for now the counter arguments drawn from anti-fascist literature, because I have a different focus for now. I will also leave unquestioned for now the assumptions that seem to be embedded in the writer’s position.

What I do want to focus on is my belief that the argument takes into account only one side of a very complex equation. So far we have not had to prepare citizens for multiple political positions. We did not even need to prepare them to understand the nuances of governance. We only needed to prepare them to be economically useful and politically untroublesome. But if we look at the citizen side of the equation, and think about how we can develop within the young the ability to discern political views, to think about the role of humanity, and to be able to imagine alternatives, then why not two parties? Or more parties?

I am not saying that citizens do not need a more varied political scene as is. But the concerns some express about variety for variety’s sake are worth considering. Another aspect to consider of course is that it is not just an abstract issue- if there is the perception that policies don’t work, that a previously existing connection with the citizenry has been lost, that the ability to be self critical rather than to blame the citizenry for not appreciating policies has not been demonstrated, then more political options may be needed. But even here it is possible to see the relevance of thinking about the education of the young as citizens. Maybe we have been more successful than we realize in all our years of citizenship education: we have been trained to recognize good governance.

My point is that it is high time we looked at how to prepare young people not just to be economically useful, but politically inventive as well. This does require a shift from thinking about education through an instrumental lens, to using a more teleological approach. But I think it is well worth the effort. Our only hope for a peaceful and enlightened future is the intellectual nurturing of our young citizens.

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