Basic Course 2
Up Basic Course 2 Basic Course 3 Basic Course 4 Basic Course 5





Basic Course 2: The Didactic Principles of Teaching Politics

Didactic principles help in preparing and giving politics lessons. They act as guide to the selection process by way of individual topics for the lesson or seminars being selected from the complex mass of political circumstances and structured in a targetted and reasoned manner.

As a consequence they play central role in all four steps for preparing the lesson (see box on the right). They are of particular importance of course in the didactically decisive second step, the selection of the didactic perspective.

Preparing the Lesson:

Step 1: Adjustment to the Topic


Step 2: Selection of the didactic perspective


Step 3: Formulation of the topic


Step 4: Planning the course of the lesson

[More information on this can be found in the Main Subject Group "Teaching Politics"]

Definition: Wolfgang Sander defines didactic principles as "theoretical tools, with the help of which the complex diversity of political topics for objects of learning can be constructed and didactically structured. Didactic principles are meant to make politics learnable. They bundle didactic knowledge for the purpose of planning courses".

[Source: Wolfgang Sander, "Theorie der politischen Bildung: Geschichte - didaktische Konzeptionen - aktuelle Tendenzen und Probleme" (Theory of Political Education - Didactic Conceptions - Current Tendencies and Problems); in: the latest issue of. (Ed.), "Handbuch politische Bildung" (Manual of Political Education), series of publications from the "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" (Federal Centre for Political Education), Volume 476, Bonn 2005,pp. 29]

The didactic principles, in the manner in which they have developed out of the didactic discussion on politics in the last decade, form the heart of political didactics. They operationalise the general aims of political education, which is often summarised under the heading of "responsible citizens" (refer to the Main Subject Group "Teaching Politics" for the task and aims of political education).

The Central Didactic Principles of Teaching Politics

 Personal Development of Opinions:  In the very intense political-didactic discussion in Germany this principle is characterised as "prohibition of subjugation". This goes back to a meeting of the most important representatives of the discipline in 1976, and since then has formed the basis of political education in Germany and beyond. The wording of the agreement, known as the "Beutelsbach Consensus", is as follows:

"1. Prohibition of Subjugation. It is not permitted to trump pupils in the sense of unwished for opinions and in doing so hinder their 'gaining an independent judgement'. For this is where the line is drawn between political education and indoctrination. Indoctrination however is incompatible with the role of the teacher in a democratic society and the - all-round accepted - objective of responsibility of the pupil.

 Controversiality forms the second didactic principle. The formulation of the Beutelsbach Consensus goes as follows:

"2. That which is controversial in science and politics must also appear controversial in the lesson. This requirement is very closely linked to the first, since, if different points of view are swept under the carpet, options ignored and alternatives remain unexpressed, the path towards indoctrination is entered upon.

With the principles of "subjugation prohibition" and "controversy" two indispensable didactic principles are named which are still capable of claiming unlimited validity. They mark the border between democratic political education and indoctrination. Several solutions to a political problem need to stand at the end of the teaching unit. The selection of the "best" path can and should not be accepted by the pupil or seminar participant, but must be left up to his or her own judgment.

 Interest-Orientation  as the third principle of the Beutelsbach Consensus was always an object of the discussion in contrast to the first two - less in the sense of it being struck, but in the sense it being complementary, for instance in the dimension of orientation towards general social well-being:

"3. The pupil must be placed in the position to analyse a political situation and his own position of interest, and to search for ways and means of influencing the position identified in terms of his own interests..."

[All quotations from: Hans-Georg Wehling, "Konsens à la Beutelsbach?" (Consensus à la Beutelsbach?); in: Siegfried Schiele/Herbert Schneider (Ed.), "Das Konsensproblem in der politischen Bildung" (The Problem of Consensus in Political Education), Stuttgart 1977, pp. 179-180]

Further Didactic Principles of Teaching Politics

Generally it needs to be observed that the different didactic principles discussed above and in the following overlap and complement each other and are very closely linked. Other principles stand in the foreground depending on the choice of topic and those being addressed and no teaching unit can do justice to everyone.

The first two fundamental principles of the Beutelsbach Consensus stand out, because they always have to be considered irrespective of the topic. Political education that fails to comply with subjugation prohibition and the principle of controversy is not professional. Further important principles are:

 Pupil Orientation:  Political education is linked to the experiences and interests of those being addressed (in adult education this principle is termed participant orientation). In the ideal case the question of what is being dealt with and the manner in which it is dealt with are mainly answered on equal terms by the teacher and pupils. This principle attempts to consistently implement the approach of not considering those who are learning to be objects of teaching.

 Problem Orientation:  Political education should be rooted in real problems and in the foreground communicate the knowledge and skills required for dealing with a problem. The ability to solve problems has priority over gathering knowledge. Dealing with a topic should always move from the specific to the general, i.e. give preference to induction before deduction.

 Quality by Example:  Political education can never exhaust a topic and needs to limit itself to individual aspects. Learning by example forms a representative strategy for reducing material and complexity. The selection of the topic to be dealt with must relate to the pupil and the problem, on the one hand, and be exemplary for the topic on the other. In specific terms, this means that the "political heart" is placed at the centre of the topic. Successful exemplary learning and teaching allows structures and legitimacy to be identified in the selected problem and is closely linked into the principle of problem-orientation as a result. Exemplary learning is more important than attempting to achieve completeness.

 Orientation towards Science:  Political education needs to be closely linked to related sciences, and in particular to political science as the primary related science.

 Currency/Clarity:  Political education should pick up on current problems and suggestions for solutions. The teaching content should be as practical as possible, and be communicated in a clear and marked manner. Together with the selection criteria such as affectedness and importance, this can lead to an increase in motivation on the part of the pupils and participants.

 Orientation towards Action:  Political education, on the one hand, should allow and promote independent learning as a sustainable method of communicating knowledge (for instance, by way of appropriate methods such as project work). On the other it also has to do with practicing fundamental skills in democracy, i.e. a personal repertoire for action for the political confrontation and formation of opinions (i.e. by practicing key qualifications such as debating or presenting). These skills are practiced using action-oriented methods such as business games, debates or role-play.

... continue to Basic Course 3: Fundamental Methods for Lessons in Politics

[Author: Ragnar Müller]

[Top of Page]


SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Examples  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods


This online service on the subject of political education was developed by agora-wissen, the Stuttgart-based Gesellschaft für Wissensvermittlung über neue Medien und politische Bildung (GbR) (Partnership for the Exchange of Information Using New Media and Political Education). Please contact us with your questions or comments. Translation from German into English by twigg's Übersetzung deutsch-englisch.