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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



The Vital Need for Engagement in Active Citizenship

by Brian Caul
Language: EN
Document available also in: SL RO FR DE

/epale/en/file/vital-need-engagement-active-citizenship-part-1jpgThe Vital Need For Engagement In Active Citizenship: Part 1.jpg

The Vital Need For Engagement In Active Citizenship: Part 1

This two part blog post will discuss the role of citizens and the challenges faced by adult educators in encouraging active citizenship.

Citizens world-wide are living through an age of global conflict and tension, in which it is difficult to distinguish truth from myth.  In these circumstances, understandably, people can be seduced by the promises of politicians who play on fears and anxieties about threats to personal and family security, loss of jobs, breakdown of social and health care. Blame is projected onto incoming ethnic minority groups and, welfare “scroungers”.  National freedom is deemed to be at risk constantly from attack by outsiders of different religion, ideology or skin colour. There is much rhetoric about taking back control and regaining independence. Fears and confusion are exacerbated by the sensationalizing tendencies of some of the print press and the vulnerability of the widely used online social media to abuse by conveyors of "fake news".

Citizenship and false consciousness

Our modern world abounds with aggressive certainties, irrefutable wisdom and unqualified truths. These advocates and their followers claim to know the root causes and cures of all social ills and expect the rest of the world to absorb their insights appreciatively. How do these enticing models manifest themselves?  It is asserted for instance that the lack of reasonably paid jobs in many Western countries is caused by the inflow of newcomers, economic migrants set on enhancing their quality of life at the expense of the indigenous population. Collectively, if in various shapes and forms, these perceptions are regarded as the causes of citizens’ down-trodden existence.

Why does this apparently modern populist phenomenon resonate so loudly and alarmingly? These are the poisonous seeds of fascism and totaliarianism that have mesmerized people across the world through the centuries. National socialism escalated into its monstrous manifestations in Germany on the basis of eerily similar pledges. Brownshirts took to the English streets during the Depression years of the 1930s. Under the guise of a social and economic revolution in post-nationalist China during the 1960s, the Red Guards ruthlessly carried out Mao’s re-education purges, dismantling all manifestations of bourgeois contamination; and their successors laid waste to the demonstrating students in 1989 who petitioned for greater democratic rights. In the era of Stalin, artists, including Shostakovich, were declared non-persons or persecuted because their work did not conform to the cultural ideology promulgated by the state.  

The leaders of these movements and doctrines all offered millenarian visions of great future nations founded on equality, purist national identity, and restoration of dignity and pride through useful work. Their vows were declared as absolute truths; their identification of mortal, traitorous enemies provided an energizing focus for hatred. In practice, these populist propagandists influenced and encouraged actions of merciless inhumanity among and between peoples.

It is arguable therefore that the attractiveness of the mantra of modern populist politicians resonates bleakly with some of the darkest phases of world history.  False consciousness, with its inherent confusion and fear, has also been reinforced by the readiness of some of the tabloid print press to publish lurid, stereotypical stories, both international and domestic, without any due regard for balance and verifiable evidence. Notably, too, the widely used online social media have recently proven to be highly vulnerable to abuse by contributors' intent of spreading their "fake news" as widely as possible. The ordinary citizen, as a result, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from distortion. 

In part 2, the challenge for adult educators will be explored. How important is it for citizens to understand the institutions and structures which govern their lives? In what ways can citizens be helped to believe that, individually and collectively, they can challenge myths and misleading rhetoric, put forward their own progressive ideas and contribute tangibly to positive social change for the betterment of all.

Part 2 of 'The Vital Need for Engagement in Active Citizenship' is now available to view on EPALE, click the link here.


/epale/en/file/brian-cauljpgBrian Caul.jpg

Brian Caul

Brain Caul has spent 27 years in Higher Education, as an academic and then Director of Student Services. He has been a Board Chair of F&HE Colleges and the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss), for whom he still acts as a volunteer. Since November 2015, he has been Chair of the Board of Directors of CRAICNI, a vibrant training organization, the aims of which are summed up in its acronym - cultivate respect, appreciate inclusion on communities in Northern Ireland. Brian is an ambassador for EPALE UK and has a keen interest in music and cultural awareness.
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  • Brian Caul's picture

    Many thanks, Sinead. I admired Havel greatly. Your comments on part 2 would also be appreciated. I think this month's EPALE topic is vitally important for adult education. 

    Best Wishes,


  • Sinead Whitty's picture


    I really enjoyed your blog! It reminded me of many of the themes the late Vaclav Havel rasied in his speeches

    Looking forward to Part 2. Thanks Eleni for sharing the link.


  • Brian Caul's picture

    Thank you for your helpful comments, Eleni.

  • Elena Galifianaki's picture

    Dear Brian,

    Thank you for posting this extremely interesting blog on the importance of all of us actively engaging and personally reflecting in this era of abundant information in order to be considered active citizens.

    I found Part 2 of the blog equally thought-provoking (available here

    Thank you, once again.