In my last post, Understanding Political Identities. And Other Questions, I shared some insight into my own political identity and history and asked quite a few questions. Hopefully, it spurred some helpful reflection and dialogue.
This post will focus on one question in particular which I hope you, dear reader, consider in earnest.
What has contributed to your political education and political identity?
The research for my current book project has led me to explore more texts on political pedagogical theory, texts that attempt to cover how people should be taught or teach others about politics. I followed my own educational background, unintentionally at first, and uncovered more philosophical texts, as well as some texts within the field of political science. And, unfortunately, I am quite underwhelmed with what I have uncovered so far.
Most of the texts I have encountered recently (which isn’t even close to comprehensive yet, I must admit) seem to essentially be espousing institutional indoctrination of sorts. In other words, they promote the idea that the only way one can truly learn about how politics exist or work in the real world is via “The Great Works” or “The Great Books” of political philosophy or theory, established institutional canons, and what established professors or intellectual elites determine as being worthy or profound.
**Cue eye-rolling and a heavy sigh.**
Since my collegiate education has influenced how I understand politics to a great extent, this discovery is certainly disheartening, but not very surprising.
College students are typically instructed to read texts about political theory from “The Great Works” of the Greco-Roman period, the revolutionary era of the 18th century, and or from the Marxist era (especially for the newly engaged neoliberal). But they aren’t usually encouraged to critically engage with “The Great Works” they encounter, to question the political theories they encounter within those texts.
They are simply supposed to understand the texts as they are, just as the authors and creators intended, and then apply their understanding of such theories in their papers in one fashion or another. [Side note: Whether texts can and should be understood as their authors or creators intended is certainly an issue to cover more in-depth another day.]
And students certainly aren’t encouraged to question how they should apply such political theories to their own political identities and engagement in the real world, right now. I wasn’t. At least, not in any of my traditional college courses.
This is kind of understandable, however, seeing as how these courses (and most college courses, for that matter) are designed to simply disseminate knowledge about “The Great Works.” This is probably why such courses aren’t very effective (perhaps, ironically) when it comes to teaching students about political engagement, and how politics and political identities exist in the real world. [The pros and cons of current educational institutions can and should be tackled another day too.]
This revelation got me wondering what else, aside from educational institutions, contributes to one’s entire political education and identity.
While it seems pretty clear that educational institutions have their place (for better and worse) in shaping one’s political education and political identity, they aren’t the only institutions that wield influence.
In fact, other institutions seem to have a more profound impact on the average person’s political education and identity, such as religious institutions, social institutions and organizations (e.g., sororities, nonprofit organizations, professional organizations, prestigious awards programs), government institutions, medical institutions, prisons, familial institutions, marriage, corporate and public institutions where people work, and the list goes on and on.
My education in school regarding politics wasn’t very influential and didn’t seem to have much meaning in the real world until I started voting and actively doing things with others from other institutions that I was a part of —until I started keeping up with current events and talking with others in my family and circle of friends and community about politics and political affairs. And not until I joined anti-corruption efforts and started reminding others to go out and vote while volunteering with nonpartisan nonprofit organizations.
Most people probably don’t learn extensively about political theories while they’re in school. And even if they do, such theories seem to fall flat of teaching them how to reflect on and form their own political identities, and how to be politically engaged in the real world, after graduation.
But everyone still has a political education of some sort, in one way or another, because everyone has a political viewpoint and engages in politics in one way or another.
Even if someone is simply repudiating a political candidate because the candidate isn’t religious enough, or claims that they don’t vote at all because they “aren’t political,” they are still engaging in politics in one way or another.
[I would argue that not actively engaging in politics via voting or via discussing political issues is still a political stance influenced by one’s political education or education of politics, and their overall political identity. Perhaps this is a subject for a subsequent post…]
And what influences one’s political identity–essentially, one’s political education via the institutions they engage with or are a member of–needs to be reflected on and considered in earnest.
What institutions or groups have influenced your political education and identity? Your school? Your family? Your religious organization? The nonprofit you volunteer at on the weekends?
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