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Citizenship under Fire:
Democratic Education in Times of Conflict
Sigal R. Ben-Porath

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IN THE SUMMER OF 2002, Israeli high school students took their final exams for their high school diplomas. At age seventeen or eighteen, just before gaining their voting rights and beginning their mandatory military service, these students were confronted with the following question on their civic studies exam: "Explain why conscientious objection is subversive." With a stroke of a pen, the exam writers had abandoned decades of democratic deliberation on the balance between conscience and compliance, between majority rule and minority dissent. The students were presented with the conclusion, veiling a demand to refrain from joining the ranks of soldiers who, in the preceding months, had refused to serve in the occupied territories. At a culminating point of their civic education, the students were expected to be able to explain why opposing the decisions of a democratically elected government is, in the context of war, treacherous.


Civic education, democratic principles, peace and war are entangled in many ways. When a liberal democracy lives peacefully for a long period of time--as the United States did until September 11, 2001--the circumstances of peace become neutral. They move to the background, to be taken for granted, and they fail to draw the attention of citizens or to generate philosophical and political discussion. This failure is based on a misperception; as Susan Sontag pointedly maintains, "[T]hroughout history [w]ar has been the norm and peace the exception."1 When such a democracy enters a period of war, many of the basic assumptions upon which its social order is constructed are distorted. Civic freedoms, long held as guaranteed, are suddenly limited. Social practices and personal priorities are revised. The education system cannot evade this fate. As public institutions responsible for preparing future generations to become part of society, schools are inclined to undergo change. This book explores some of these changes and offers a normative direction they should take, herein dubbed "expansive education."


Since September 2001, the American political and academic spheres have become absorbed in discussions of terrorism and war. With the one field trying to combat global terrorism and the other field struggling to understand it, little room is left for talk about democratic principles or visions of peace. Civic society and the public education system can reinforce this trend or contest it.

Having been raised through the seemingly endless IsraeliPal-estinian conflict, I began thinking about civic education in wartime in the context of the Israeli political sphere and local public education system. I was challenged to generalize the concepts I was developing by some striking similarities in the post-9/11 American public sphere. Those analogous social processes generated by the sense of vulnerability that conflict produces are termed here "belligerent citizenship." The main examples used here are the Israeli and the contemporary American ones, but the conceptual framework is wider than these two examples. The conceptualization of belligerent citizenship offered in the first chapter is relevant to some extent, with necessary local modifications, to other democracies at war. Similarly, the need to respond educationally to the changing conceptions of citizenship is evident in countries beyond those used here to illustrate the theoretical suggestions. In addition, the relevance of the project goes beyond wartime alone. Expansive education, focusing on attitudes relevant for preserving democratic inclinations in wartime as well as for containing the social discord that peace and the road toward it are bound to bring, is an important part of the political education of future citizens in any contemporary democracy. Examining education in the context of war and the quest for peace, beyond its immediate relevance to countries at war, can help educators and political theorists focus their attention on crucial and often neglected components of civic education. The significance of teaching civic values lies in their contribution to achieving peace, but not in it alone. These civic values are one and the same as those required for political participation, for tolerant deliberation of the public agenda, as well as for facilitating civic equality. The values and attitudes endorsed by expansive education can support a democratic response to circumstances of social conflict and tensions, not only to those of international conflict (in many cases those two conditions can hardly be told apart). Therefore, the education system's responsibility is to introduce these values to children in order to give them an opportunity to become equal citizens in a democratic peaceful society, which they can help bring about.


I call the approach developed in this book "expansive education" because it is designed to respond to common, restrictive social tendencies of wartime. These tendencies are incongruous with the democratic ideal in that they work, illustratively, in opposing directions. Democracy aims at widening the circles of participation, extending the scope of public debate, and diversifying the questions asked and the opinions voiced. Common social responses to wartime--or belligerent citizenship--does the opposite. It narrows down the public agenda, the list of relevant questions and issues to be debated publicly, and the acceptable opinions that should be tolerated. The role of expansive education is to protect the democratic ideal against this social tide.


Relying on education to overcome war is a disputable choice. First, education is a long-term process; educating for peace might hint that peace as a political reality is far beyond the immediate future. Second, the education system is dependent upon the political system and is typically governed by elected officials; consequently, it is prone to reflecting the status quo rather than forming a revolutionary response to it. Finally, peace--like war--is by and large regarded as the business of politicians, to negotiate through diplomatic channels. War is not waged by pedagogues; it may seem that they have little power to overcome it. All these arguments stand in the background of prevalent policies regarding peace. In regions where conflict and war are an ongoing reality, individuals tend to develop perspectives that accommodate conflict as a normal aspect of social life; societies grow to accept conflict as given and often fail to envision alternatives.

It is indeed political leaders who take the decision to go to war, to avoid it, or to declare its end. But the culture of war or the commitment to peace can be cultivated only on the social rather than the political realm. The acceptance or rejection of war is the responsibility of individuals and communities. Opposing the tide on issues of war and peace can be arduous, even in a democracy. Although opponents to a democratic government are not readily executed or expatriated, they can still face a hostile response, fueled by a perceived necessity to unite in times of danger. Expansive education is constructed as a way for the education system to contribute to the construction of a democratic society committed to peace and prepared for the obstacles in the path leading to its achievement. It is based on a concept of citizenship that takes into account the challenges created by a state of conflict, and incorporates them into existing forms of democratic and civic education. Working toward a stronger commitment to the values underlying democracy and peace, in the context of countries engaged in conflicts and faced with security threats, can serve as a long-term investment in the future of democracy.

For a country and a society to endure a protracted conflict and possibly the road for peace, all the while maintaining democratic commitments and structures, it must respond educationally (that is, patiently and expansively) to the tensions and challenges they create. In times of conflict, leaders might relinquish democratic principles and practices in order to respond immediately and effectively to security needs. Expansive education can provide a framework for a civic response to such challenges to the democratic order in constructive ways. When striving for peace, leaders work to overcome mutual distrust and to dispel the concerns of groups within their respective constituencies; the attitudinal and perceptual preparation by educators committed to expansive education can support this political endeavor.


This book begins with an exploration of changes in the conceptions of citizenship in the context of war. The attitudes, perspectives, and capacities required to respond to security threats and promote peace are deeply embedded in society's conception of citizenship. Understanding the ways in which these conceptual changes and reproductions function, and differentiating their constructive from their potentially destructive components, are the first steps in developing an approach to civic education focused on a commitment to democracy and peace. Just War theory is the main political attempt to confront issues of justice in war. It is important to realize that social dimensions need to be added to the moral-political debate on Just War, to make it responsive to the differing needs of a democratic society involved in a protracted conflict. Expansive education is an attempt at outlining the educational dimension of the expanded Just War theory. In chapter 1 I demonstrate, borrowing mainly from the American and the Israeli experiences, how the background of conflict and fear creates shifts in common conceptions of citizenship. I consider the changes wartime generates in central aspects of democratic citizenship, namely, participation, deliberation, and social unity (or patriotism). The varying characteristics of citizenship in times of war and peace add up to a distinction between belligerent citizenship, which is typical of democracies in wartime, and the liberal-democratic citizenship that is characteristic of more peaceful democracies. I discuss how these changes make the conceptualization of citizenship as shared fate more plausible both descriptively and normatively than its conceptualization as identity.


The ways in which the education system responds to these changes generates the attitudes of the next generation of citizens, therefore replicating, or even accentuating, these conceptions into the future. In chapter 2 I consider how some educational practices might perpetuate belligerent conceptions. The contemporary debate on the teaching of patriotism in schools is considered in this context. I maintain that contemporary authors on this topic tend to disregard the consequences of their constructive theoretical approaches for peace and war. They thereby render the discussion of patriotic education less relevant during times when politicians, educators, and society in general are preoccupied with these matters and the educational system is hardpressed to respond. Most crucially, many theories tend to work against a presumed background of moral pluralism. In times of war, and particularly during a protracted conflict, societies tend to unite around common values such as (a narrow form of) patriotism and suppress ideological and other differences. They thus create circumstances that require a responsive consideration from democratic educational theories. Expansive education aims to offer tools for defending basic democratic values not only in the face of moral conflicts but also in the face of defensive unification and belligerent citizenship.


The conceptual and political exploration of the first two chapters, combined with my contention that the education system's moral role is to serve as an anchor for change, informs the next step. The next three chapters place expansive education within more specific theoretical contexts, responding to discussions in the subfields of peace education, feminist pedagogy, and multi-cultural education.

Chapter 3 examines contemporary discussions in peace education literature, pointing out two different trends in this field. On the one hand, peace education theorists subscribing to the "pedagogic trend" tend to portray a narrow conception of conflict and, as a result, focus on offering techniques of "conflict resolution" or "reduction of violence." These techniques represent a simplified conception of peace and of civil society's role in enabling it. These naïve conceptions stem from a tendency to strictly contrast peace with war and violence, and to neglect or overlook the civic components of each of these sociopolitical phenomena. Consequently, although this trend in peace education may offer ad hoc tools for responding to specific local tensions, it falls short of addressing the more general problem of sustaining society's democratic structure and its commitment to peace through times of conflict.

Contrary to this minimalist approach, theorists who subscribe to some version of the "holistic trend" misconceptualize peace education efforts by reconstructing all interpersonal and group relations as power struggles, and generally labeling all social interactions as forms of conflict. Such theorists err by concluding that peace is never an attainable--or even a desirable--option. Relying on Foucauldian and Frankfurt school theories, postmodernist peace education theorists deconstruct universal conceptions of the good, of human rights, and of peace itself, thereby undermining any attempt to improve society or to contribute to a realistic (rather than utopian) better future.

I critically examine these two prevalent trends of peace education and conclude that for peace education to be effective and defensible, it must take into account both the psycho-pedagogical and the political aspects of the quest for peace.


Chapter 4 examines the complex relations of gender and war from a civic education perspective. It begins by identifying some of the unique challenges that conflict poses before women, both practically and in regard to social perceptions. At the background of the discussion is an understanding of the mutual construction of gender and war, and its influence on women's lives during protracted conflicts. The responses of feminist thought to these challenges vary, and this chapter is focused on those that feed the main pedagogical approaches to the gendered challenges of war. Some of the pedagogic tools developed and employed by feminist educators are considered with suggestions for their adaptation into the context of civic education in wartime. The main conclusion of this chapter is that feminist pedagogy's potential inspiration to civic education goes far beyond the realm of gender relations. The strengths of feminist analyses of oppression and of gender-related challenges, and some suggested educational, social, and political responses, are reformulated and extended into the broader context of military conflict and the expansive education response.


Chapter 5 explores some prominent works on multicultural political and educational thought in light of their possible contribution to the objectives of expansive education. The attempt to overcome past wrongs has comparable aspects in intergroup and international conflict contexts. Consequently, some social and educational responses suggested by multicultural theorists can be adapted to the context of expansive education.

The chapter focuses on two key conceptions in multicultural thought, namely, the acknowledgment of past wrongs and forgiveness. Working against a background of oppressive unity rather than unwelcome diversity, these concepts are adapted to fit the educational needs of a democratic society at war.


In the sixth and concluding chapter, threads from the various approaches discussed are pulled to weave a more comprehensive description of expansive education. A robust civic education curriculum must be based on developing proper skills for facing the challenges of wartime as well as of the quest for peace. The commitment to democracy and peace that is generated through expansive education is a primary way to respond to the social challenges that arise in times of a protracted conflict, such as the decrease in social tolerance and the suspension of issues and perspectives from the public agenda. The public deliberation of these issues through matters concerning curricular decisions, pedagogical concerns, and democratic education can encourage the general public as well as the students, as future citizens, to create a broader common agenda. This process offers an opportunity to practice civic skills and strengthen democratic commitments while creating a hospitable atmosphere for peace among subgroups within the democratic society as well as with other nations.


The social circumstances of living with conflict in a democratic society are rarely considered in contemporary educational theories. Consequently, the civil society's conception of peace is vague and hardly carries with it practical and normative implications. Not only the potentiality of reaching peace, but also the democratic nature of society itself, are at stake. The discussion in this book is aimed at a nuanced understanding of the roles that citizenship and civic education play in facilitating peace and preserving democracy in times of conflict. Educational resources devoted to creating a commitment to democracy and peace in each country can support the endurance of democracy through war. Civic and democratic commitments, interpreted according to each country's set of cultural beliefs and traditions, can serve as a counterweight for the culture of war that stems from global tensions, terrorism, and the ensuing military conflicts. In this way, expansive education can be hoped to contribute to creating democratically committed citizens who maintain a realistic appreciation of peace even in times of conflict.

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File created: 8/7/2007

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