Teaching about liberal-democratic values in school confronts a basic paradox. In fact, one of the main tenets of political liberalism is to leave to the individual the free choice among different values. But then, how is it possible to educate about how valuable this freedom of choice is without assuming already a value (the value of liberal freedom) and, therefore, contradicting the liberal ideal of not imposing any of them? We will deal with this subject from a theoretical and a practical perspective. Theories that try to solve this paradox date back to the philosophical-political work of liberal thinkers as John Locke and John Stuart Mill. We will analyze their positions on this issue and evaluate their plausibility.
The main problem that we will find in these authors is that both of them offer several answers to this question and those answers are mutually incompatible. Then, from a practical outlook, we will look with some detail to the polemic that Spanish education lived some years ago when the previous government tried to establish a subject about civic values in school. This polemic portraits in practice the problem that some education actors had with the above cited contradiction. We will conclude by examining how the Spanish Supreme Court solved the issue and assessing to what extent is their solution a real solution to the paradox.
Miguel Ángel Quintana-Paz is a professor of Ethics and Politics at the Universidad Europea Miguel de Cervantes (Valladolid, Spain) and a member of the Euro-Mediterranean University Institute of the Universidad Complutense (Madrid, Spain). He has been Lonergan Fellow at the Boston College and researcher under the direction of Gianni Vattimo at the University of Turin. He has taught as Visiting Professor in universities of Argentina and Colombia. His last book (in Spanish) is “Normativity, Interpretation and Praxis: Wittgenstein in a Hermeneutical-Nihilistic Turn”. His web page is www.quintanapaz.es