The conservatism objection to educating for the virtues of citizenship

Benjamin A. Sachs-Cobbe*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Since the 1990s, education for the virtues of citizenship has become widespread in the United States and United Kingdom. It is intended to inculcate virtues such as courtesy, respect and truthfulness in school children. This essay defends education for the virtues of citizenship against two criticisms. According to the first, which might be called the ‘status quo bias’ criticism, inculcating such virtues is a recipe for stasis. According to the second, which might be called the ‘individualism’ criticism, EVC sends the message that the citizen herself is primarily responsible for her fate. The authors who raise these two criticisms tend to link EVC with ‘conservatism’ or one of its cognate terms. If education for the virtues of citizenship really is conservative, this raises the worry that education for the virtues of citizenship is partisan, which would surely render it morally objectionable. In this paper, I distinguish big-C Conservatism from small-c conservatism, and interpret the education for the virtues of citizenship critics as contending that education for the virtues of citizenship is Conservative (i.e. aligned with the political philosophies of right-leaning parties) in virtue of being individualistic, and conservative in virtue of being status quo biased. Against the individualism criticism, I point out that the strand of conservatism of which economists like Hayek and Friedman are the standard-bearers is anti-individualistic in virtue of holding that we need good economic policy to make up for the fact that we cannot count on individual economic actors to exercise sound moral judgement, and that the strand of conservatism inspired by commentators like Burke, Nisbet and Scruton is anti-individualistic in virtue of its emphasis on community. Hence, the inference from individualism to Conservatism doesn’t go through. Against the status quo bias criticism, I contend that it is unpredictable who will benefit from citizens being resistant to change. Hence, while it may be right to label such resistance ‘conservative’, such conservatism is not partisan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-154
Number of pages20
JournalTheory and Research in Education
Volume21
Issue number2
Early online date21 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023

Keywords

  • Civic education
  • Conservatism
  • Individualism
  • Moral education
  • Political liberalism
  • Virtue education

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