From Diane Luc (James Allen's Girls' School East Dulwich)
Question: Do you think the goal of the state is to produce the perfect citizen through its programme of education?
As with many subjective topics, there are various viewpoints given on what is required to obtaining good citizenship. Often, definitions appear to coincide with what constitutes to being a generally well-intentioned individual: one is helpful, considerate and pleasant to those around them. They are respectful to their community fellows, property, and environment; they abide the laws of their land and follow the higher authority. Further definitions seek to stray from the former's ambiguity, with sources claiming that to be a good citizen, one must be actively involved in their community, conscious of current affairs, and has a substantial amount of political awareness. Of course, other opinions on what makes a good citizen may diverge from the ones already mentioned, but this seems to be the general consensus. Therefore, logically speaking, it should be assumed that to be a perfect citizen, one must shoulder all of these qualities.
A good programme of education will benefit the intended learner in a significant number of ways. Primarily speaking, education seeks to enhance the individual's knowledge and to broaden their understanding of the world and society in which they live in. However, this is only what it does on the surface - as one progresses in their education, they should find that crucial skills will be developed which will aid them in their later careers, and also daily lives. As we head into higher education in sixth form and university, independence of thought is encouraged, or tantamount to that, the ability to think rationally, logically and critically.
But the question is: what benefit is this to the State? Or, phrased in a slightly different way, how is education used for the purpose of the State? For starters, people are much more useful to society if they are doing something productive. American President Roosevelt said, "The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight." Society has been created in such a way that people are allocated different roles in order to create a stable community. Education empowers the individual with the knowledge and skill to perform one (or some) of these specific roles (curing people: doctors, maintaining justice: lawyers.. etc). In this way, everyone has a specific function they need to perform, thus 'pull[ing] his weight' as a 'good citizen'. This is, in my view, the biggest benefit of education to the State.
As stated previously, education endeavours to unravel the complexity of our world and society. Education is meant to encourage curiosity about the world around us and to take a deeper interest in matters external to our individual priorities. "Personal, Social, Citizenship and Health Education", otherwise known as PSCHE, is a common school programme* which strives to promote awareness of the present issues and affairs of the world. The programme develops informed citizens and imparts the message of social responsibility. The individual is urged to discuss and form opinions of the topics presented. This provides the spark for the individual to be engaged with the politics of his country (a democratic one, at least); the individual will be more likely to participate in the voting as he would be more keen to express how he wants his country to be run. An interest in the welfare of his community and political affairs is, as stated earlier, a trait of a good citizen.
Additionally, clubs and societies within school, college, or university are pivotal in prompting the individual to participate in different activities. Similarly, community action is also encouraged, especially in sixth form. Committing to such pursuits will mean it is more likely for them to get involved and contribute beyond their personal interests in their community.
The programme of education is paramount to shaping the individual’s character, seeing as it is compulsory for all between the ages of 5-17 years old (18 by 2015)*, at a time when personalities and habits are yet to be solidified. Discipline and respect is often instilled during this period through the use of detentions, credit marks, awards, and the prefect system. The individual will come to learn to heed and respect authority. Such a quality is needed in a good citizen to keep a harmonious community. Of course, education is not the only means to mould perfect citizens, but it is one natural way to plant ideas into the individual of what it means to be a good citizen, as proved by Hitler’s indoctrination of German children through the German education system.
To conclude, it would seem that the State is using the education programme to transform the younger generation into 'perfect' citizens. Whether this is a feasible ambition is another question altogether, as perfection is mainly desirable for the reason that it is so hard to attain, but what the State is certainly trying to achieve is to groom citizens who are as good as possible, and are of value to society (the logic being that any other kind would be a detriment to the State). Education is the foundation of a civilised and ordered society and imparts not just knowledge, but the wisdom to understand how our actions can be used to bring a positive effect on the community.