Refocusing on How Best to Teach Democratic Values

Democracy is increasingly under pressure around the world. This is why preserving its foundations through renewed efforts in education concerns everyone.
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Democracy is increasingly under pressure around the world. This is why preserving its foundations through renewed efforts in education concerns everyone. The fragility of democracy lies inside its organic structure based upon individual liberties, such as free thinking and self-expression. Its proper functioning and flourishing depend on ensuring we neutralise our inclination to take it for granted. The fragility of democracy is not a fatality. It can be strengthened through a voluntary and robust education strategy.

In our contemporary high-tech era, comprehending democracy’s real value through a precise “reversed-engineering” process is crucial. Developing cognitive resistance to the increasing pressures of approximate, simplistic, binary, or bluntly inaccurate narratives that continue to circulate freely in a hyper-globalized world is a must.

More on the Forum Network: Why Initiatives to Help Strengthen Democracy Are More Important than Ever in the Run-up to 2024 by Paige Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, Carter Center


On the 16th International Day of Democracy, the Carter Center remains deeply committed to playing its part in this mission and this year’s theme – Empowering the Next Generation.

Ensuring that the merit of democratic values is well understood is key and should be focused on in a pronounced fashion as it has not been given adequate attention in all stages of education including early and life-long learning. Integrating solid and appropriate responses to the proliferation of unverified, misleading content deprived of any quality control is critical notably in all mainstream and vocational schools alike, regardless of their financing models and their geographic locations.

It is important to start this process in childhood and adolescence, as at this stage the brain’s plasticity is malleable, open, and able to absorb a great deal of information and experience as opposed to adulthood where internal structures are well in place. As early as possible, scientific methodologies that teach caution and rigour to find the truth and the nexus between logic and ethics should be emphasised. Concurrently, precise and meticulous factual information on the origin, itinerary and fabric of democratic values should be taught bridging history, sociology, genetics, psychology, and other sciences.

The general conditions of learning should resemble a “micro democratic society” or reduced model of democratic life where students can learn to understand the meaning of democracy and human rights through practical examples and situations.

Immersive learning could also be instrumental for delving deeper into the historical chronology and causality of the conceptual evolution of human rights and judicial and legal principles; making it possible to concretely visualise alternative scenarios to democracy and overcome the potential of “psychic numbness” to more conventional teaching and sensitisation methods.

The importance of the rule of law could be better understood by teaching the complexity and heterogeneity of human nature. As the values system and internal structure of any individual cannot be predicted with certainty, let alone through a partial intuitive assessment, it is clear that the rule of law is the optimal tool to guarantee the universal aspiration to freedom and a decent life. The objective is to nurture logical thinking and decision-making through an anchored grasp of potential human behaviours and foster a better understanding of the rationale and conceptual origin of human rights, due process, and the rule of law.

Conflict resolution skills should be promoted through the emphasis on taming complexity and better understanding of the organically intertwined nature of the concepts of civility, respect, and optimal, durable self-interest.

The elimination of confusing linguistic habits should be given persistent attention to avoid intellectual incoherence that leads to paradoxes and misunderstanding of equality-related issues.

The central significance of deconstructing knee-jerk group identification and fostering intellectual independence cannot be overstated. The notions of independence and freedom are intimately linked. Intellectual emancipation and affirmation only occur when the thought process can withstand noise and pressures of all kinds and can operate with solid focus. Societal forces fostering the proclivity to group identification notably through sports or politics reinforce a pattern of thinking that is based on association and generalisation, where the brain is taught and trained, while receiving societal validation, to embrace a particular thought direction and automatism. That in turn can contribute to more troubling phenomena based on similar thought schemes such as tribalism and sectarianism.  It is of primary importance to encourage critical thinking skills that allow individuals to realise and deconstruct the blinding power of misleading societal validation and symbolism as a precondition to intellectual integrity. That counter-intuitive and effortful process of self-awareness could then install more constructive and sustained societal dialogue as it will disseminate values of patience, rigour, vigilance, and careful reasoning in finding the truth, while preempting behaviour that destructs these key values.

Nurturing ethical and thoughtful leadership will imply reinforcing understanding of the interconnectivity of self and mutual respect, as well as solidarity, freedom through structure and peace embodied in the ideal of democracy.

The seeds of Team Spirit should be planted and cultivated based on an ability to develop emotional resilience largely driven by a mindset where self-esteem and identity are decoupled from interlocutors’ contradictions or obsolescence of personal opinions or beliefs but rather linked to a solid aptitude to continuously evolve and value dialectical thinking and complexity for self-growth, collegiality and the emergence of team-related value.

Encouraging engaged citizenship from early on can be an efficient and positive lifelong tool to channel energy into constructive and virtuous processes. The outcome of these educational efforts would be that more of us will be conscious of the devastating results of dis and mis-information in all its forms, while better equipped to deconstruct any obscure content or untangle more subtle incoherences. Nurturing ethical and thoughtful leadership will imply reinforcing understanding of the interconnectivity of self and mutual respect, as well as solidarity, freedom through structure and peace embodied in the ideal of democracy.

Strong leadership is needed for democracy to remain successful. This leadership must consist of seeing and judging the seriousness of common challenges as early and lucidly as possible and mobilising preemptive action. To prosper, democracy will largely depend on enlightened citizens, aware of the treasure and fragility of democracy but conscious of the real power of responsibility, ownership, and continuous engagement to make it thrive.

To learn more, read the OECD report: Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy


Democracies are at a critical juncture, under growing internal and external pressures. This publication sheds light on the important public governance challenges countries face today in preserving and strengthening their democracies, including fighting mis- and disinformation;improving government openness, citizen participation and inclusiveness; and embracing global responsibilities and building resilience to foreign influence. It also looks at two cross-cutting themes that will be crucial for robust, effective democracies: transforming public governance for digital democracy and gearing up government to deliver on climate and other environmental challenges. These areas lay out the foundations of the new OECD Reinforcing Democracy Initiative, which has also involved the development of action plans to support governments in responding to these challenges.

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