What is political education and its neutrality? Learning from German experiences




Image from Down Under Photography

  When teachers tell their pupils about politics, “political neutrality” is one of the biggest problems. At Japanese schools, teachers tend to distance themselves from differing points of view and avoid dealing with controversial political issues. However, they may need to encourage an active discussion and help create a society where diversified opinions are respected rather than keeping away from discussion or addressing issues in a perfunctory manner. In Germany, too, people generally tended to regard political education as a taboo immediately after their defeat in World War . Now, however, Germans are willing to discuss political issues. Evident from German cases is that the “hurdle” to political discussion is much lower in the country than in Japan.



Political neutrality in Germany


In Germany, there had long been a heated debate on treatment of political issues at schools since World War II. Conservatives and reformists had remained wide apart from each other. But in 1976, educational experts from all over the country held a conference and adopted the "Beutelsbacher Consensus", a guideline for political education which is basically adhered to even today. The consensus, made up of three principles, prohibits teachers from overwhelming their pupils and interfering in their independent judgment. It advises the teachers to treat controversial issues as controversial by picking up both pros and cons. But teachers are allowed to express their own opinions unless they are unconstitutional. Rather, it is considered good in Germany for teachers to speak out their opinion as it may help pupils form their own opinion.



The “Beutelsbacher Consensus” puts greater priority on pupils' political maturity, not accomplishment of the aims of particular political parties. Strict political neutrality is not necessarily required as long as due consideration is given to differing points of view. There seems to be a reason why the rules are kept flexible: the presence of a third-party organization.


 「ボイテルスバッハコンセンサス」は、政治教育の重点特定政党目標達成するのでなく、生徒政治的成熟促進目指すことに置いている。厳密中立性ずしも要求されず、なる立場への配慮がなされれば問題ないとされる。また、このような規定背景には、「第三者機関存在」がえられる。*Image from Howard Jefferson

BPB and its role


  The German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung=BPB) was established in 1952. It is one of the governmental agencies which plays a unique role of supervising political education in Germany. A separate third-party committee, made up of the representatives of all political parties, constantly checks the BPB's neutrality. BPB's activities are not limited to publishing teaching materials. It enlightens the public on political education, issues brochures, releases information on the Internet and organizes training sessions. Its targets are broad, ranging from young people whose political awareness is low to professional journalists.



  What kind of information does BPB send out? It not only covers explanation of the political system but also processes to find problems, ways to conduct discussions and media literacy education aimed for appropriate information release. Also important is “learning from the past”. BPB gets involved in historical education in order to teach young people the importance of peace by reviewing the tragic past brought by Nazism. It also warns against the danger of extremism, which can be seen even today.


  Its activities are surely supported by its aim to spread correct information to the whole nation. More than that, however, they are inspired by one significant philosophy: to encourage the people's political participation, uphold sound democracy and hand it down.



On political neutrality, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology (MEXT) allows teachers to deal with controversial issues on conditions: (1) they equally treat differing points of view and (2) they teach from a neutral and fair standpoint. It acknowledges that discussion of those issues is significant. But it leaves individual teachers to judge what to discuss and how. This can make teachers feel nervous and hesitant about political discussions. To improve the situation, MEXT may be able to learn much from Germany's experiences.

 日本文部科学省教育現場における政治的中立について、①異なる見解平等げること、②教員中立かつ公正立場指導することを条件に、対立する見解がある現実のテマをうことをめている。また、そうした内容議論することは意義があるとしている。しかし、をどのように議論するかの判断現場教員ねられており、現場萎縮こりやすいとえる。この現状改善するにあたり、ドイツの経験から側面いのではないだろうか。(Written by: Takafumi Sakurai)

*Image from College Degrees360