Teaching Politics in a
European Integration and Globalization as
Cross-cutting Issues in the Classroom
DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008
Publisher: DARE (Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe)
Graphs: Agora (www.gesellschaft-agora.de)
© 2008 Ragnar Müller (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
About the author: Ragnar Müller is a political scientist and web designer and has been work-
ing in the field of civic education for two decades. He is author of most online textbooks on
D@dalos (www.dadalos.org), managing director of Agora (www.gesellschaft-agora.de) and
board member of Pharos Stuttgart/Sarajevo (www.pharos-online.org).
This publication has been funded with support from the Euro-
pean Commission (134263-LLP-1-DE-GRUNDTVIG-GNW).
It reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission
cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made
of the information contained therein.
Teaching Politics in a Globalized World
European Integration and Globalization as
Cross-cutting Issues in the Classroom
Introduction in schools and adult education. Basic
knowledge about politics is (still) part of
The world has changed. The way poli- the core curriculum in all European
tics is taught at school and in adult edu- countries. It belongs to the things edu-
cation hasn't. Starting from this basic cated people (should) know and it is a
problem the following chapters will out- precondition for some more ambitious
line a new approach to teaching politics. goals of civic education.
This approach tries to introduce multi- Focusing on teaching politics as part of
level governance to classrooms by tak- the cognitive dimension of civic educa-
ing policies (and not polities) as starting tion nevertheless does not mean that
points. this is considered to be more important
If globalization is about dismantling of than other topics, objectives or dimen-
borders, the “Policy Approach” - as it sions.
might be labelled - tries to find a way to The limited scope of the new approach
teach politics in a globalized world. also means that nothing will be said
Its aim is to bridge the gap between po- about tasks and objectives of civic or
litical science and politics in the class- democracy education such as social
room. While the world has changed rap- skills, media or intercultural competen-
idly since the end of the Cold War and cies - to name but a few.
political science did its best to adjust to
the new situation, politics in the class- Basic problem
room wasn't able to keep pace.
Democracy education developed (once
Scope of the approach upon a time in the West) in and for na-
tion-states, when nation-states were the
Civic education and democracy educa- unrivalled centres of politics.
tion and EDC (Education for Democratic Since then the world of politics has
Citizenship) and ESD (Education for changed: other actors (international or-
Sustainable Development) and HRE ganizations, NGOs, transnational cor-
(Human Rights Education) and numer- porations) and levels (European, trans-
ous other approaches in this field all atlantic, global) have become more and
share crucial elements (that is why the more important.
differences between them are not al-
ways easy to tell). But democracy education is still largely
bound to nation-states and their political
And all these approaches deal with a systems. Teaching is still based on the
great variety of important topics ranging national model of democracy, although
from community-oriented social learning political scientists point out that - at
to national political participation. least for European countries - a national
The Policy Approach to be introduced political system cannot be understood
here focuses on a relatively small part or analyzed without taking the EU into
of civic education: on teaching politics account.
Ragnar Müller: Teaching Politics in a Globalized World, DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008 3
More than two thirds of “national” deci- Functional differentiation in the EU
sion-making is shaped by Brussels. multi-level system means for example
This doesn't mean that all these laws that institutions and levels of the system
are made by Brussels exclusively but it work together completely differently de-
means that they are made by the multi- pending on the issue at stake.
level system of the EU.
Multi-level system of the European Union
= supranational level (Commission, Council of the EU, EP, European Council, ECJ etc.)
= national level (government, parliament, interest groups, parties etc. in 27 member states)
= subnational level (regions, Bundesländer, local authorities, départements etc.)
And it is the EU bargaining at the WTO So the European Parliament by now
meetings where regulations for interna- plays a major role in a lot of EU policies
tional trade are issued - to give only one but its influence in the Common Foreign
example for politics on the global level. and Security Policy is limited. And there
So what is the use of telling students are more examples to illustrate the
that democracy means that we elect a point that there is no single and simple
parliament which elects a government model for EU decisions.1
which makes binding decisions for us Dealing with globalization in the class-
all without telling them that there is room leads to similar problems. There is
much more to the picture than meets no single “globalization” but functional
the (national) eye? differentiation with regard to dimensions
And what is the use of having separate or areas of society, culture, politics,
teaching units for the political system of economy etc.
one's own country, for God's own coun- So how can we deal with complex top-
try, for the European Union and the ics like EU or globalization in the class-
United Nations when in fact they work room in a more appropriate way? It is
together in decision-making. This leads exactly this question the Policy Ap-
to polity-centred teaching informing stu- proach tries to answer.2
dents and adult learners about the
(single) institutional system of the EU Basic idea of the approach
which is misleading in the best case
Taking policies instead of polities as
and simply wrong in most others.
starting points for teaching politics is the
Two of the most important features of basic idea of the Policy Approach. Up to
politics in the 21st century are complex- now, typical curricula throughout
ity and functional differentiation. And Europe look like the one shown in the
both are striking features of the EU be- graph. Different polities are treated
ing considered as a laboratory and separately.
model for politics in the 21st century.
4 Ragnar Müller: Teaching Politics in a Globalized World, DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008
Typical curriculum for teaching politics
system of system of etc.
[own country] USA
This traditional approach makes it diffi- 3 Dimensions: Polity - Politics - Policy
cult to get an appropriate picture of poli- “A distinction is drawn between the three
tics in the globalized world where for- following political dimensions: Polity, politics
eign and domestic policy are intermin- and policy. Polity is taken to mean the for-
gled, traditionally important categories mal dimension of politics, that is, the struc-
won't fit any more and borders are dis- ture of norms, the way in which procedures
mantled.3 are regulated and the institutions in which
It's next to impossible to teach the EU politics takes place.
system as a whole given the fact that Politics means the procedural dimension,
decision-making varies greatly between or rather the decision-making processes,
different policy areas. And there is sim- the settling of conflicts and the enforcing of
ply no way to teach the “Political system goals and interests. This dimension encom-
of [Germany]” successfully without re- passes several of the classic issues associ-
ferring to the European level in every ated with political science (who is able to
other sentence. So why teach them enforce their interests?; what mechanisms
separately? Why not forget about poli- are in place for regulating conflict?; etc.).
ties and systems for a while and think of And finally policy is the substance-based
policies first? dimension of politics and refers to solving
While the guiding question of traditional problems and fulfilling tasks by the adminis-
approaches is: how does the EU sys- trative system drawing on decisions that are
tem work?, the Policy Approach asks: binding for all.”
how does policy-making in a policy area [Ragnar Müller/Wolfgang Schumann (2003), Teach-
look like? ing Politics, D@dalos Online Textbook: www.dadalos.
Policy Approach curriculum for teaching politics
e.g. “How can Policy Policy
we save the
local / regional
Ragnar Müller: Teaching Politics in a Globalized World, DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008 5
Implementing the approach Firstly, on your way to find a didactical
perspective you will have to choose an
Let us take environmental policy as a example because it is impossible to
starting point and look for a didactical deal with as broad a field as environ-
perspective to deal with environmental mental policy. You may decide to bring
policy which meets your crucial learning climate change to the centre of the
target: understanding politics in the 21st stage. There are a lot of good reasons
century. Therefore, for this, as climate change
• you want learners to see that differ- • is something the learners might be
ent levels are involved; interested in,
• you want learners to get an impres- • is very important,
sion of exemplary political processes
• is in the news,
on each of the different levels;
• is dealt with on all levels,
• you want learners to get a glimpse of
the interaction and interdependence • is a major playground for NGOs,
of these levels in the political proc- • etc.
ess, which also includes networks
Having chosen climate change as ex-
consisting of actors on different lev-
ample there are still many possibilities
for a didactical perspective.
• you want learners to get acquainted
You might, for example, want to focus
with new actors like NGOs, transna-
on the particularities of global problems
tional corporations or foundations.
and global governance. Your guiding
question might be to challenge the in-
congruity of high pressure to cope with
Climate change / global warming the problem and insufficient solutions.
“Global warming is the increase in the aver- Characteristics of international politics,
age temperature of the Earth's near-surface crucial conflicts (North-South, economy-
air and oceans since the mid-twentieth cen- ecology) and common pathologies
tury and its projected continuation. The av- (tragedy of the commons, prisoners’ di-
erage global air temperature near the lemma) would play a prominent role. In
Earth's surface increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C this case a possible title for your unit
during the hundred years ending in 2005. would be: “Why is climate change not
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate stopped?”
Change (IPCC) concludes ‘most of the ob- Taking into account that climate change
served increase in globally averaged tem- calls for action on all levels including
peratures since the mid-twentieth century is the individual level you might want to
very likely due to the observed increase in choose a different option and build your
anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentra- teaching unit around the guiding ques-
tions’ via the greenhouse effect. (…) tion: how can we save the climate? This
Over the past several years, increased might also be the title of your unit and
awareness of the scientific findings sur- would call for an interdisciplinary ap-
rounding global warming has resulted in po- proach (politics, economy, geography,
litical and economic debate. Poor regions, biology, physics).
particularly Africa, appear at greatest risk The following graph shows possible
from the suggested effects of global warm- contents for a teaching unit and gives
ing, while their actual emissions have been some examples for inter-level and
small compared to the developed world.” trans-level topics to be dealt with so
[taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ that the crucial learning target can be
Global_warming, 19.04.2008] met: understanding politics in the 21st
6 Ragnar Müller: Teaching Politics in a Globalized World, DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008
Teaching environmental policy / climate change – example:
global polity: UN system, world conferences (Rio 1992 & succeeding conferences,
Linkage and collaboration of the levels (Agenda 21, UN Decade …)
role of NGOs and experts)
politics: typical processes of international policy-making (bargaining, no
hierarchy, North-South cleavage etc.)
policy: i.e. Kyoto Protocol
european polity/politics: collaboration of the EU multi-level system in environmental
policy; development of this policy area due to connections with EU’s
internal market; role of European Commission
policy: 1st Environment Action Programme; EU Emission Trading Scheme
national polity/politics/policy: Sustainability Strategy of the respective national
government (development, implementation, international background,
consultation with NGOs etc.); implementation of EU directives (i.e. Habitat)
local / regional regional and/or local initiatives against climate change, possibly with regard
to their national, European or global (Local Agenda 21) context
individual i.e. consumer behaviour, tourism, energy, traffic, mobility, CO2 footprint;
connection with international processes (Fair Trade, contributing to the
work of NGOs etc.)
understanding politics in the 21st century
century which means coming to terms are not treated as topics but as cross-
with multi-level policy-making, with net- cutting issues. Maybe this is the most
works and new actors. important difference to traditional ap-
Such a teaching unit, of course, will take proaches.
a whole term. So there would be one
policy area per term. Learners would get References
to know multi-level decision-making in 1) See for example SIMON HIX (20052), The Po-
four to six different areas during their litical System of the European Union, Pal-
school life. This would sum up to a pic- grave Macmillan.
ture of, for example, EU policy-making 2) “How to teach complex topics like EU and
globalization” is the (translated) title of the Ph.
which is by no means comprehensive
D. thesis of the author this paper builds upon.
but maybe more adequate than the one It is available in German language on the
learners have after having been told how Internet: www.online-dissertation.de.
the EU institutional system works. 3) Among countless publications making this
In the framework of the Policy Approach, point see ULRICH BECK (2000), What is Glob-
globalization and European integration alization?, Blackwell Publishers.
Ragnar Müller: Teaching Politics in a Globalized World, DARE Discussion Paper, June 2008 7
Teaching environmental policy / climate change – possible structure:
getting in global confrontation of climate scientists’ future scenario with Rio’s
Framework Convention on Climate Change; elaborating the
guiding question of the teaching unit (incongruity of urgent global
problems and insufficient solutions)
section 1 global Rio Earth Summit: preliminary events, way to results, bargaining,
conference process, conflicts, role of NGOs); Agenda 21 as the
most important result of the conference
section 2 local Local Agenda 21 (basic idea, priorities, structure and problems
of an on-site Local Agenda 21 project )
section 3 individual How do I act sustainably? (consumer behaviour, traffic, CO2
footprint etc.); what does sustainability mean?
section 4 national Sustainability Strategy Report of the respective government
(which includes cross-links to the global and European level)
section 5 european EU environmental policy (decision-making, development of this
policy due to interdependence with EU's internal market); CO2
emission trading scheme
conclusion across levels CO2 emission trading in the respective country (origin of the
idea in the Kyoto Protocol, common determining of total volume
on the European level, national agency for emission trade,
consequences for a local company)
The paper outlines a new approach to teaching politics in a globalized world. Instead of
starting with institutions and systems (polity), the Policy Approach starts with decisions
and outcomes (policy). European integration and globalization are not treated as topics
but as cross-cutting issues. As a result, politics in the classroom gets closer to the reality
of multi-level governance. Environmental policy was chosen as an example to show what
this approach might look like in practice. Main learning target is to understand (multi-
level) politics in the 21st century.
Democracy and Human Rights Education in Adult Learning
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