6.8.1 Education for Political Awareness

People need education for political awareness if they are to be able to participate in politics and hold politicians to account.

A population which understands its political system can help to ensure that it is better governed.  Informed people can constructively participate as individuals in politics (6.6.1), and it is important to teach critical thinking.  Political education can also be abused, though.  These arguments are developed further below:

Increasing people’s understanding of politics

The need for civics education in America was highlighted in a report by American teachers:

“Civic knowledge and public engagement are at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years. Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. Without an understanding of the structure of government, our rights and responsibilities, and the different methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy.”

Similar concerns have been expressed in Britain, noting that children “feel that they do not know enough about politics, it’s a great big mystery”.  And often they don’t vote: “turnout among the 18-24 age group was just 47% in 2019”.

There are several other advantages of political education:

●  It can provide a pool of talent from which politicians and public servants can be recruited.

●  People should not be allowed to forget the harm caused by wars. Max Hastings criticised the lack of military history teaching in America, pointing out that “Academics seem to have forgotten that the best way to avoid conflict is to study it.”

●  Education can increase social mobility and reduce economic inequality if it is available as an adequate level to everyone.

●  If people lack education for political awareness they need to look to others for guidance, making them more susceptible to being misled. People who lack the education to think for themselves are likely to be uncritical in following the leaders of groups with whom they are associated.

●  Informed voters can make better choices: some understanding is necessary to judge political performance. Economics might be hard to understand (, but people can at least be shown where to find objective analysis.

Teaching critical thinking

Education in critical thinking, such as is taught in the study of history and literature, can help people to detect bias, illogicality, and omissions.  Everybody needs to know that it is helpful to cross-check material from different sources.

Many people now get their news directly on Internet social media, bypassing newspapers and television (  It is important to teach people how to detect ‘fake news’ – and ChildLine, for example, publishes information about How to spot fake news.

It is particularly important to be able to recognise propaganda, which otherwise reaches people at a subconscious level and influences their decisions without them realising it.  People van be taught, in a classroom, to recognise propaganda – raising their awareness of it and making it less likely to be effective.  A teachit english education handout, Propaganda Techniques, offers an example of a possible teaching approach.

Government abuse of political education

Governments can try to indoctrinate children with a particular political viewpoint, as in these examples:

●  A Spectator article in 2020 comments on the subversion of history education in Scotland by the Scottish National Party (SNP): “History in Scotland has become a political tool for the embedding of a particular kind of Scottish identity, an emphatically nationalist one. It is one where virtue is ascribed to Scots, who are portrayed as being morally superior to English people.”

●  It has been pointed out that Education in Putin’s Russia isn’t about history, but scripture: “Russia’s new history is really about today. It is about everything from denigrating the status of Kyiv to shutting down historical debate.”

●  Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, Believes in Free Speech as Long as You Only Speak About the Awesomeness of Straight White People: his “decision to block an AP African studies course is just the latest example of his war on the expression of beliefs—and the teaching of facts!—that he doesn’t agree with.”

The political impact of private education

As previously noted, private education can confer an advantage on children and shape their characters and attitudes:

●  Wealthy parents can afford better education for their children, and this leads to economic inequality (

●  Eton and other private schools have had a disproportionate impact on British politics. A sense of self-confidence and entitlement can lead to arrogance and ‘personality politics’ (

●  Ivy League schools have dominated American politics: Presidential Cabinets Have Been Dominated By College Elites. Resentment against political elites has fuelled populism (

●  It is difficult to strike an appropriate balance between parental rights and the needs of society. This is a particularly sensitive issue in religious education (, and that can influence childen’s political attitudes.

Parents can also indoctrinate children.  For example, the Washington Post commented on Christian home-schooling movement: “led by deeply conservative Christians, [who] saw home schooling as a way of life — a conscious rejection of contemporary ideas about biology, history, gender equality and the role of religion in American government.”


The above examples illustrate how education for political awareness and critical thinking can be beneficial, and how it is vital for a democracy, although political education is not always used for the benefit of society.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/681b.htm.