Compliance, Conservation, and Community: Civic Education and the Limits of Autonomy
Ian MacMullen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Washington University in St. Louis

Primary Discipline

Political Science
How should civic education in a liberal democracy shape children’s values, beliefs, preferences, identities, and dispositions? Civic education has traditionally been understood to include teaching future citizens to be law-abiding, to support their society’s fundamental political arrangements (such as those contained in a constitution), and to love and/or identify with their political community. But each of these traditional goals of civic education can be criticized for compromising future citizens’ capacity for autonomous judgment and choice. How seriously should we take these criticisms of traditional civic education? Under what circumstances, in what senses, and to what extent are adults justified in shaping children’s attitudes to their political community and its laws? These are the central questions of my project. I intend to argue that liberal democratic civic education permits and sometimes requires significant deviations from education for autonomy: civic education rightly aims to cultivate various non-autonomous motives for compliance with the law, to reproduce support for certain status quo political institutions, and to instill patriotism and a sense of civic identity. My book manuscript will be a work of applied normative political theory; its focus will therefore be on the justification of educational goals that require adjudicating between and making trade-offs among conflicting values. My aim is to generate and defend principles to guide public education policy and the actions of civically responsible educators and institutions.
About Ian MacMullen

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