Make teachers good politicians

How political can a teacher be? - Education for democracy as a school mandate

From Monika Oberle

Education for democracy is not just a task for political subjects, but a state mandate for the entire school. This applies to all types of schools, from elementary schools to vocational schools. The state constitutions stipulate that young people are to be educated in a spirit of freedom and democracy and a willingness to take on political responsibility. The mandate of democracy education is also anchored in the school law of the federal states.

According to the recommendation of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK), three approaches to school democracy education complement each other: firstly, democracy education in political subjects, secondly, democracy education as an interdisciplinary teaching principle for all school subjects, and thirdly, democracy education as a school principle. Politics classes deal specifically with politics in its dimensions polity (form), politics (process) and policy (content) as well as with democracy as a form of rule and society. The second approach calls for a democratic classroom climate that is open to discussion, the imparting of social values ​​such as tolerance and a willingness to take responsibility as well as the elaboration of politically relevant subject matter in all school subjects. The third approach involves the participation of pupils in internal school decisions as well as the implementation of models such as "schools without racism". The focus here is on social learning processes and the experience of "democracy as a way of life".

The Beutelsbach Consensus - with controversy against indoctrination

In its recommendation on democracy education, the KMK underlines the validity of the principles of the "Beutelsbach Consensus". It is based on the minutes of a conference to which the State Center for Civic Education Baden-Württemberg invited political didactics from different political and academic backgrounds in 1976 in order to explore the possibility of a minimum consensus for civic education.

The background to this was the party-political polarization of the 1970s, which was also reflected in a struggle for more conservative or progressive curricula for specialist political classes. The Beutelsbach Consensus formulates three basic normative principles of political education: the prohibition of overcoming or indoctrination (learners must not be "taken by surprise" in the sense of a desired opinion and prevented from forming an independent judgment), the requirement of controversy (which is controversial in science and politics, must also appear controversial in class) as well as the aim of enabling students to participate in politics in the interests of their own interests.

Against a misunderstood "principle of neutrality" by teachers

In teacher education and school practice, it appears that (prospective) teachers sometimes interpret these principles in such a way that they have to hide their own political position from the learners. However, this is a misunderstanding. The Beutelsbach Consensus underscores the demand that lessons should be designed with multiple perspectives and that positions should be given a voice regardless of the teacher's political color, but in no way prohibits a transparent political positioning of the teacher. To what extent this is appropriate in the respective teaching-learning situation, teachers have to decide for themselves.

There are good reasons for and against revealing one's own political views in the classroom. The central counter-argument is that the learners could be influenced in their political judgment, regardless of the content of the arguments. However, withholding the teacher's attitude could lead to a much more subtle overwhelm if it unintentionally influences one's own teaching. Expressing a political opinion and one's own political commitment also contributes to the authenticity of the teacher, who can also serve the learners as a role model for a political person.

Furthermore, the question arises again and again whether the principle of controversy means that extremist positions must also be accepted in the classroom or introduced on an equal footing. This can be countered by the fact that the Beutelsbach consensus has an intrinsic reference to values ​​- its frame of reference is our free-democratic basic order (fdGO), in which, in addition to popular sovereignty, respect for human dignity, the protection of fundamental rights, the principle of pluralism, the separation of powers and the rule of law are anchored.

On the occasion of the "Neutral Schools" reporting platform campaign by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which called for teachers critical of the AfD to be denounced (anonymously), the question of the value relation of school education was recently clarified with high publicity. Among other things, the Society for Political Didactics and Political Youth and Adult Education (GPJE), the KMK and the German Institute for Human Rights have made it clear that anti-democratic, inhuman and anti-constitutional positions in schools and teaching should not be tolerated and presented as equal, but rather Rather, they must be resolutely opposed. It was also emphasized here again that teachers are allowed to show their own political opinion to the learners - it is crucial that alternative positions are shown in the classroom, as long as they are within the framework of the fdGO.

Conclusions for teacher training

Teachers of every type of school and of all school subjects should be aware that they have a clear mandate to educate democracy. The requirement of non-partisanship should not be confused with political neutrality or value neutrality. School administrators and teachers are expected to clearly adhere to the Basic Law and to actively advocate our free democracy in everyday teaching and school life. Prospective and practicing teachers must acquire the necessary skills, including basic political knowledge. A reform of university teacher training as well as targeted measures of further and advanced training is required in order to professionalize teachers and school administrators for democracy education.


Prof. Dr. Monika Oberle is Professor of Political Science / Political Education at the Georg-August University in Göttingen. With her working group, she researches teaching-learning processes in political education, their effects and conditions.