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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Good Pupil, Good Citizen? French Civic Education as Reflection of the Ambiguous Promotion of Active Citizenship in Education Policies

Political Sociology
Thomas Douniès
Université de Picardie
Thomas Douniès
Université de Picardie

For two decades, formal civic education has been considered as a new major concern for political scientists (Galston, 2001), especially because of the reassessment of its effects on the democratic capacity of future citizens (Niemi & Junn 1998 ; Gainous & Martens 2012). These findings show the necessity to better understand the model of « good citizen » (Schudson 1998) which is promoted in civic curriculum. As the latter is the backbone of political socialization in French school (Déloye 1994), we wish to question the place it gives to active citizenship.
More precisely, based on a qualitative research, our analysis aims to shed light on the ambiguous contribution of educational systems to the transmission of the capacity of practising an active citizenship : we will show in this paper that even though active citizenship is the new ideal in French civic curriculum, the context of school creates contradictions and discrepancies between theory and practice.

Officials texts and interviews with the writers of last civic curricula (2015) show that active citizenship is highly promoted because it meets the ideal of the « good pupil », which is now supposed not to be passive. The redefinition of pedagogical goals merge into a deliberative conception of political competence (Blondiaux 2007). Thus, pedagogy has a political foundation : debates and participatory interactions are vividly recommended because they are supposed not only to ease the learning but also to reinforce the communicational ability required in the « public sphere » (Habermas 1989).
More than 40 interviews and about 80 hours of observation in class (high school) put forward that, although teachers might share the same ideal in appearance, they (re)appropriate instructions through professional dispositions and habits that lead them to marginalize real deliberative situations. The classic role of the « good » and passive pupil prevails over the deliberative political ideal. Paradoxically, they reinstate the domination of knowledge over participation in order to shape « good citizens » : they put aside active citizenship in the name of the creation of « highlighted citizens ».

● Blondiaux L. (2007), « Faut-il se débarrasser de la notion de compétence politique ? », Revue française de science politique, 57/6, p.759-774

● Déloye Y. (1994), École et citoyenneté, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 1994.

● Galston W. A (2001), « Political Knowledge, Political Engagement, and Civic Education », Annual Review of Political Science, 4, p. 217-234.

● Gainous J., Martens A. M. (2012), « The Effectiveness of Civic Education : Are « Good » teachers Actually Good for « All » Students ? », American Politics Research, 40/2, p. 232-266.

● Habermas J. (1989),The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

● Niemi R. G., Junn J. (1998), Civic Education. What makes student learn, New Haven, Yale University Press.

● Schudson M. (1998), The Good Citizen, Simon & Schuster.
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