Political Competencies or Democracy Competence and Competencies of Historical Thinking? Some Current Trends in Civic Education in Germany

Social Stud­ies, Polit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, Com­pe­ten­cies, Poli­tis­che Bil­dung, Demokratiepäd­a­gogik, Geschichts­di­dak­tik, Politikdidaktik

[the fol­low­ing arti­cle has been pub­lished in Span­ish as:

Kör­ber, Andreas (2010): “¿Com­pe­ten­cias políti­cas o com­pe­ten­cia democráti­ca y com­pe­ten­cia de pen­sar históri­ca­mente? Ten­den­cias actuales de la edu­cación cívi­ca en Ale­ma­nia.” In: Iber: Didác­ti­ca de las cien­cias sociales, geografía e his­to­ria. 66, pp.92–104.



This arti­cle aims at giv­ing a short overview over devel­op­ments in Ger­man civic edu­ca­tion, i.e. the aca­d­e­m­ic debate and prag­mat­ic pro­grams. An in-depth-account over all strands of inquiry, debate and reform, can­not be aimed at for main­ly two rea­sons: First­ly, “civic edu­ca­tion” is a rather wide and unstruc­tured field, which com­bines dif­fer­ent aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­plines and their didac­ti­cal coun­ter­parts resp. branch­es, name­ly polit­i­cal sci­ences, eco­nom­i­cal stud­ies, soci­ol­o­gy resp. social sci­ences, the lat­ter of which is some­times under­stood as an inte­grat­ed dis­ci­pline also embrac­ing legal stud­ies” for non-spe­cial­ists. Sec­ond­ly, edu­ca­tion­al admin­is­tra­tion is the domain of the fed­er­al states in Ger­many, result­ing in schools sub­jects and cur­ric­u­la as well as forms of exam­i­na­tion vary­ing. Third­ly, con­cepts and mod­els are not mere­ly “hand­ed down” from aca­d­e­mics to admin­is­tra­tion and prac­ti­tion­ers, but the lat­ter are con­sti­tu­tive actors in the debates and the devel­op­ment. The divid­ing lines between insti­tu­tions and school sub­jects in this field run along some­what dif­fer­ent lines than in oth­er coun­tries and edu­ca­tion­al cul­tures.

Both main trends select­ed for this short overview1 can be seen as being focussed on a com­pa­ra­ble con­cern: the pro­mo­tion of stu­dents’ abil­i­ties in the mod­ern, plu­ral­ist soci­ety. Their start­ing-points, the­o­ret­i­cal back­grounds, rela­tions to devel­op­ments in oth­er fields and dis­ci­plines and thus their under­stand­ings of the main com­mon term, “com­pe­tence” is quite different.

Orientation on “Outcome”: “Competencies” and “Standards”

One of the devel­op­ments to be con­sid­ered and there­fore to be sketched here is linked to the con­cepts of “edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards” and domain-spe­cif­ic “com­pe­ten­cies”. Even though polit­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies have not been sub­ject of large-scale-assess­ments both before and with­in the PISA pro­gram2 (as e.g. has been the case with com­pe­ten­cies in math­e­mat­ics, mod­ern lan­guages and sci­ence), the gen­er­al notions and con­cepts of these pro­grams – name­ly the ori­en­ta­tion to edu­ca­tion­al “out­come” – have also influ­ences civic education.

When in 2000 the Ger­man sam­ple achieved dis­ap­point­ing results in the inter­na­tion­al PISA-pro­gram (at least com­pared to the self-image of the Ger­man edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem), the stand­ing con­fer­ence of the fed­er­al sec­re­taries of edu­ca­tion (KMK) decid­ed to draw con­se­quences in form of a gen­er­al re-ori­en­ta­tion of the steer­ing-mod­el of edu­ca­tion. Instead of pre­scrib­ing the con­tents of lessons in gen­er­al schools in cur­ric­u­la (“input-ori­en­ta­tion”), schools were to be giv­en more auton­o­my to decide on the con­tents, where­as the results of these lessons were to be de- and pre­scribed in a stricter way than before (“outcome”-orientation and stan­dard­i­s­a­tion). The idea was that iden­ti­cal (or at least com­pa­ra­ble) “com­pe­ten­cies” could and should be devel­oped in lessons and cours­es work­ing on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. This called for a much stricter con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of what the com­pa­ra­ble “out­comes” should be. These need­ed to be both applic­a­ble to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, i.e. trans­fer­able abil­i­ties and skills, and verifiable.

Build­ing on devel­op­ments under way in oth­er coun­tries for sev­er­al years before, name­ly the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion-trends in the USA, the devel­op­ment of “rubrics” for self-assess­ment, new pos­si­bil­i­ties of quan­ti­ta­tive edu­ca­tion­al research using prob­a­bilis­tic mod­els (main­ly RASCH), and the debates around “key com­pe­ten­cies” and “qual­i­ty man­age­ment” in edu­ca­tion, a pro­gram was set up to define “mod­els of com­pe­ten­cies” for some of the main school sub­jects, name­ly Ger­man lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, math­e­mat­ics, biol­o­gy and mod­ern for­eign lan­guages (cf. KMK 2004). Espe­cial­ly for the lat­ter, this pro­gram could also build upon the results of the long process of inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment of the Com­mon Euro­pean Frame­work of Ref­er­ence for Lan­guages (CEFR).

One of the results of this course pushed by the KMK was that rep­re­sen­ta­tives of school sub­jects not includ­ed in this list feared that their sub­jects might lose rank com­pared to oth­ers, being “sec­ond class sub­jects” no longer being eli­gi­ble for major exams (cf. Sachse 2005). For many such sub­jects (amongst them geog­ra­phy, his­to­ry – and polit­i­cal stud­ies), there­fore school admin­is­tra­tors, didac­tics and teach­ers joined in efforts to estab­lish the main instru­ments of this new steer­ing mod­el of school admin­is­tra­tion: mod­els of competencies.

The role mod­el for these had been sketched by a KMK-com­mit­tee (Klieme et al. 2003), refer­ring to a def­i­n­i­tion of com­pe­ten­cies by F. E. Wein­ert, since then quot­ed in almost every relat­ed pub­li­ca­tion. The com­mis­sion had pro­mot­ed it as a struc­tured set of def­i­n­i­tions of the main “areas” of skills and abil­i­ties as well as “moti­va­tion­al and voli­tion­al fac­tors” which can be dis­tin­guished as being nec­es­sary for peo­ple to act in the respec­tive field of knowl­edge and action (“domain”). With the lat­ter term, tak­en from cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy, the com­mit­tee damp­ened the ori­en­ta­tion to estab­lished school sub­jects still dom­i­nant in the school admin­is­tra­tion dis­course. Fur­ther­more, it thus encour­aged def­i­n­i­tions of “com­pe­ten­cies” focus­ing not main­ly on the tasks and require­ments in the schools them­selves (“what abil­i­ties do stu­dents need to pass the next exams and suc­ceed in high­er grades?”) but rather on the require­ments met by cit­i­zens and “job­hold­ers” in mod­ern soci­eties. This, how­ev­er, has only had lit­tle effect – espe­cial­ly more so, since the whole pro­gram aimed not only at the def­i­n­i­tion of com­pe­ten­cies, but also to their stan­dard­iza­tion for dif­fer­ent lev­els (or “niveaus”)3 with a main regard to an “inter­me­di­ate” exam. While the Klieme-exper­tise out­lined a pro­gram of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion via prob­a­bilis­tic meth­ods and thus of arriv­ing at con­crete stan­dards only after exten­sive empir­i­cal research, espe­cial­ly cre­at­ing, test­ing, dif­fe­ren­tia­ting /”nor­malizing” sets of items for each com­pe­ten­cy, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of many sub­jects aimed at for­mulating “stan­dards” in a rather quick way.

As for the area of study in ques­tion here, one of the sev­er­al pro­fes­sion­al asso­ci­a­tions focus­ing on polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion for youths and adults (GPJE) took a head start and pre­sent­ed a com­pe­tence mod­el of the said kind with­in rather short time (Det­jen et al. 2004). Direct­ly build­ing on the said def­i­n­i­tion of “com­pe­ten­cies” by Wein­ert and the out­line by the Klieme-com­mit­tee, it pre­sent­ed a struc­tured set of abil­i­ties to be devel­oped by polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion in schools, up to the “inter­me­di­ate exam”. As with most mod­els pre­sent­ed in the fol­low­ing years, it described the areas of skills and abil­i­ties but refrained from express­ly defin­ing “niveaus” of the sketched com­pe­ten­cies.4

For our con­cern in this arti­cle, it is not nec­es­sary to sketch the whole mod­el of com­pe­ten­cies. A short overview is giv­en in Graph 1. For the com­par­i­son of this trend to “ori­en­ta­tion on com­pe­ten­cies” to the oth­er devel­op­ment to be sketched below (ch. 3), it is nec­es­sary to char­ac­terise the under­stand­ing of “abil­i­ties” and “com­pe­ten­cies”:

When in 2003 one of the Ger­man asso­ci­a­tions for civic edu­ca­tion, the GPJE, pre­sent­ed their edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards for polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion, it was one of the first col­lec­tions of such stan­dards to appear after the cen­tral Klieme-Exper­tise5 – a speed specif­i­cal­ly remark­able because of the fact that civic (or its vari­a­tions) edu­ca­tion as a school sub­ject was not intend­ed to devel­op such stan­dards in the first place. Oth­er sub­jects fol­lowed with some delay – espe­cial­ly geog­ra­phy, reli­gious edu­ca­tion and also his­to­ry; in most of them, not one mod­el was pre­sent­ed, but dif­fer­ent com­pet­ing ones.

The GPJE-stan­dards pre­sent­ed descrip­tions of abil­i­ties and skills of stu­dents after grade 4, ca. 9/10 (inter­me­di­ate sec­ondary degree) and 12/13 (Abitur) resp. the end of voca­tion­al train­ing. These abil­i­ties were sort­ed into three dimen­sions of com­pe­ten­cies. This struc­ture is giv­en in Graph 1.

Graph 1: Dimen­sions of polit­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies after Det­jen et al 2004, p. 13 (Transl. A.K.)


With­in these three dimen­sions, all of which are found­ed on a basis of con­cep­tu­al knowl­edge nec­es­sary for analy­sis and inter­pre­ta­tion, spe­cif­ic out­comes (stan­dards) are defined for dif­fer­ent grades, e.g. for the end of grade 4 (selec­tion): the stu­dents can (Det­jen et al. 2004, p. 19):

  • “explain func­tion of select­ed pub­lic insti­tu­tions on dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal levels”

  • “for­mu­late ques­tions and opin­ions with regard to polit­i­cal events and con­flicts which meet their per­son­al inter­est” (polit­i­cal pow­er of judgement);

  • “for­mu­late and reason/justify polit­i­cal judge­ments to mat­ters of politics/polity/policy and tol­er­ate oth­er positions”;

  • “prac­tice the rule of major­i­ty as a demo­c­ra­t­ic means of decid­ing, e.g. when­ev­er con­sen­sus is not to be found with­in learn­ers’ groups” (polit­i­cal abil­i­ty to act);

  • “sim­u­late a polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant sit­u­a­tion by means of play”

  • “use books and elec­tron­ic offers of infor­ma­tion, espe­cial­ly those for chil­dren on the inter­net for class sub­jects” (method­i­cal abilities).

and addi­tion­al­ly for the “inter­me­di­ate school exam” (grade 9/10):

  • “the stu­dents have com­mand over a reflect­ed insight into the polit­i­cal sys­tem of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many, its eco­nom­ic and soci­etal order and their interdependences”;

  • they have “con­cep­tu­al knowl­edge about the com­mit­ment to fun­da­men­tal rights and per­son­al free­dom as core con­cepts of states with demo­c­ra­t­ic constitutions”;

  • they can “reflect and judge polit­i­cal mat­ters (events, prob­lems) tak­ing into account the per­spec­tives and expec­ta­tions of peo­ple con­cerned and of politi­cians” [] (polit­i­cal pow­er of judgement);

  • “form own polit­i­cal judge­ments and sup­port them in con­fronta­tions with oth­er posi­tions in a fact-ori­en­tat­ed, argu­men­ta­tive way” (polit­i­cal abil­i­ty to act);

  • they are “able to recon­struct the role of media com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the polit­i­cal pub­lic refer­ring to an ade­quate exam­ple” (method­i­cal abilities).

“Democratic Education”

The sec­ond devel­op­ment in civic edu­ca­tion to be cov­ered here is based on a dif­fer­ent con­cept of “com­pe­tence”. While the con­tri­bu­tions dis­cussed in the chap­ter before all are focus­ing on both the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the gen­er­al aim of enabling stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in soci­ety into dif­fer­ent com­pe­ten­cies and lev­els, the focus of this oth­er project is on a more gen­er­al “demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pe­tence”. In addi­tion, while the for­mer com­plex uses a more dis­tinct con­cept of “polit­i­cal”, focus­ing on the soci­etal tasks of deriv­ing and legit­imiz­ing manda­to­ry and oblig­a­tory deci­sions, resp. reflect­ing on the mod­els of pro­ce­dures and legit­i­ma­tions in demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties, this sec­ond com­plex of ini­tia­tives employs a broad­er con­cept of “demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pe­tence” which embraces abil­i­ties and skills not only in the nar­row­er field of “pol­i­tics” and “poli­ty”, but in demo­c­ra­t­ic and civic soci­eties as a whole. In a cer­tain sense, the ini­tia­tive to be short­ly sketched in the fol­low­ing para­graphs is more of a civic edu­ca­tion, while the for­mer is more “polit­i­cal” – a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion which has led to both debate and sec­ond reflec­tions about the aims of both projects.

As has been hint­ed before, this sec­ond trend in civic edu­ca­tion employs a broad­er con­cept of “democ­ra­cy” as the basic struc­ture of soci­ety, not only of the polit­i­cal sys­tem as such. The trend has been set by a pro­gram of the joint federal/federal coun­tries’ com­mis­sion (BLK) ini­ti­at­ed by Wolf­gang Edel­stein and Peter Fauser, the back­ground of which was a neg­a­tive assess­ment of the both psy­cho­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­di­tion of youths in Ger­many, which can only be hint­ed at here by nam­ing cen­tral prob­lems: right winged extrem­ism, racism and xeno­pho­bia (espe­cial­ly in spe­cif­ic milieus of under­priv­i­leged youths and with a rec­og­niz­able east-west gra­di­ent), (most­ly male) vio­lence in schools con­nect­ed with school cli­mate and learn­ing qual­i­ty, wide­spread annoy­ance with and dis­in­ter­est in pol­i­tics.6 The pro­gram aimed at an edu­ca­tion­al answer to these prob­lems. There­fore “Liv­ing and Learn­ing Democ­ra­cy” was meant rather a pro­gram for school devel­op­ment in gen­er­al, address­ing democ­ra­cy as a goal of all edu­ca­tion and learn­ing democ­ra­cy as a gen­er­al task, than as a pro­gram for civic edu­ca­tion in spe­cial. Youths’ dis­tance towards pol­i­tics and the result­ing inabil­i­ty to rely on inter­est in clas­si­cal polit­i­cal prob­lems com­bined with a recog­ni­tion of an increased abstract­ness and com­plex­i­ty of pol­i­tics led to an ori­en­ta­tion towards a demo­c­ra­t­ic renew­al of school in itself, focus­ing on indi­vid­u­alised and coop­er­a­tive meth­ods of learn­ing, on enabling pos­i­tive learn­ing and self-expe­ri­ences, as well as expe­ri­ences with “ele­men­tary demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es” such as “nego­ti­at­ing, coop­er­at­ing, plan­ning, vot­ing, decid­ing etc.”; Edelstein/Fauser 2004, p. 12f). The fact that the iden­ti­fied ten­den­cies stood in alarm­ing con­trast to the aims of the estab­lished civic edu­ca­tion, which (as shown above) was and is ori­en­tat­ed towards a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry mod­el of cit­i­zen, and in a way proved it unsuc­cess­ful (p. 17), has led to influ­ences of the program’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion onto the civic edu­ca­tion frame­work, espe­cial­ly with regard to the con­cepts used in it. “Democ­ra­cy” in this con­text is much more than a form of gov­ern­ment and a set of prin­ci­ples used in it – it is a qual­i­ty of every­day life and of soci­etal and pub­lic order, a “life-form” and a con­sti­tu­tion with humane con­di­tions and the refrain from vio­lence as cri­te­ri­on of imple­men­ta­tions (p. 18). based on this ori­en­ta­tion towards enabling pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with basic demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es which can be trans­ferred to the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion and recog­ni­tion of “high” pol­i­tics and can fos­ter inter­est in and dis­po­si­tion for par­tic­i­pa­tion, “democ­ra­cy” becomes as much a ped­a­gog­i­cal as a polit­i­cal con­cept, the two realms being thor­ough­ly interwoven.

This has proved both valu­able for bridg­ing the gap between stu­dents’ “life world” and every­day expe­ri­ences (and chal­lenges) on the one and “pol­i­tics” on the oth­er hand, but also has led to an infla­tion­ary usage of “polit­i­cal” con­cepts and thus the per­il of blur­ring con­cep­tion­al under­stand­ing. For exam­ple, ini­tia­tives and pro­grams aim­ing at strength­en­ing “human rights”, i.e. the under­stand­ing of their neces­si­ty and impor­tance as well as enabling stu­dents to respect them (i.e. their fel­low-cit­i­zens’) in their every­day life are on the one hand nec­es­sary. On the oth­er hand they might blur the under­stand­ing that “human rights” in the nar­row (not: prop­er) sense pro­tect the indi­vid­ual against the collective’s (main­ly the state’s) trans­gres­sions. In Ger­man polit­i­cal the­o­ry, there is, how­ev­er, no recog­ni­tion of a direct “hor­i­zon­tal effect” of basic and human rights.

If doing so in projects leads to reflec­tions on the neces­si­ty to a) indi­rect­ly secur­ing humans rights also in the “hor­i­zon­tal” (cit­i­zen-to-cit­i­zen) rela­tion­ship or b) changes in the said polit­i­cal the­o­ry, these pro­grams pro­mote the con­cep­tu­al under­stand­ing of stu­dents. If, how­ev­er, they restrict them­selves to social learn­ing, fos­ter­ing stu­dents’ ideas to behave “civic” (in the sense of ‘tol­er­ant’ and ‘active­ly com­mu­nica­tive’) to each oth­er (and espe­cial­ly oth­er groups), they are valu­able, but tend to under­mine the polit­i­cal under­stand­ing of the spe­cial nature of “human rights”.

“Democ­ra­cy com­pe­tence” in the under­stand­ing of this sec­ond project-com­plex is much more as a com­bi­na­tion of “polit­i­cal com­pe­ten­cies” in that it stress­es the nec­es­sary , not sole­ly cog­ni­tive, insight of stu­dents that democ­ra­cy is not a giv­en struc­ture for gov­ern­ing only to be act­ed with­in, but also con­sti­tutes a way for organ­is­ing a soci­ety and a way of liv­ing,7 which needs to be upheld and strength­ened in every­day life. In this sence, the sin­gu­lar of “demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pe­tence” is sig­nif­i­cant against the plur­al of “com­pe­ten­cies” in the for­mer com­plex. The speci­fici­ty of polit­i­cal vs. soci­etal competenc(i)e(s) is, how­ev­er, sub­ject of reflec­tion and debate.

One more point should be con­sid­ered. While the for­mer, PISA-dri­ven, com­plex uses a con­cept of “com­pe­ten­cies” which has been informed and influ­enced by a debate around “key qual­i­fi­ca­tions”, it car­ries along a con­no­ta­tion of the term as qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be triggered/called upon by oth­ers. This notion part­ly stems from the use of this con­cept of “com­pe­ten­cies” in advanced train­ing in eco­nom­i­cal set­tings. There, some­times at least, “com­pe­ten­cies” are con­ceived of as part of “human resources” to be devel­oped, but to be called upon by the employ­er. The oth­er root of this con­no­ta­tion has already been men­tioned: it is the under­stand­ing that “com­pe­ten­cies” describe abil­i­ties and skills need­ed in school. Both fac­tors con­tribute to an under­stand­ing of “com­pe­ten­cies” as abil­i­ties and skills, but with­out the aspect of respon­si­bil­i­ty for their being called upon. “com­pe­tence” in the full sense, how­ev­er, does also embrace the notion that the hold­er of a spe­cif­ic skill needs to be the one final­ly decid­ing on whether to use it or not – com­pe­ten­cy as respon­si­bil­i­ty. In oth­er words: Fos­ter­ing and enhanc­ing “com­pe­ten­cies” must also embrace the idea of strength­en­ing the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the learn­er, his (or her) indi­vid­u­al­i­ty in act­ing and reflect­ing upon actions and results. In this view, ori­en­ta­tion towards com­pe­ten­cies can be seen as anoth­er step of a sub­ject- or learn­er-ori­en­tat­ed pedagogy.

This notion of respon­si­bil­i­ty for one’s own actions (and omis­sions), for lever­ag­ing abil­i­ties and skills, is stronger con­no­tat­ed in the sec­ond project of “democ­ra­cy com­pe­tence”, along with the already men­tioned respon­si­bil­i­ty for pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy as a form of liv­ing together.

Andreas Petrik to some extent bridges the dif­fer­ences between the two sketched posi­tions. Mak­ing use of con­cepts of teach­ing devel­oped in the 1950s and 1960s in Ger­man, he devel­oped a con­cept of civic edu­ca­tion which is both far from being focused on insti­tu­tion­al and for­mal demo­c­ra­t­ic knowl­edge in stress­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pe­tence and respon­si­bil­i­ty, and from being unpo­lit­i­cal, avoid­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the realm of “Poli­tik” into mere social behav­iour. Based on the tra­di­tion of exem­plar­ic sit­u­a­tion­al tasks as well as on sce­nario tech­niques, he devel­oped a com­plex “Lehrkun­st­stück”8 address­ing both demo­c­ra­t­ic com­pe­tence insights into polit­i­cal con­cepts and polit­i­cal atti­tudes called the “vil­lage found­ing” (Petrik 2007).

Separate or Integrated Subjects?

Back in the 1960s his­to­ry as a school sub­ject was chal­lenged in its sta­tus (Schreiber 2005) and claim to pro­vide the main part of civic edu­ca­tion and the rela­tion espe­cial­ly of his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion has been under debate. Can his­to­ry, polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion and geog­ra­phy be inte­grat­ed as parts of a gen­er­al “civic edu­ca­tion” or are they dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines which need to for dif­fer­ent sub­jects? The result of the fol­low­ing series of reflec­tions on this sub­ject (Hedke/v.Reeken 2004) was a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the two sub­jects (and dis­ci­plines) not by the sub­jects cov­ered, but by the modes of reflec­tion: while his­to­ry address­es events and struc­tures under the aspect of tem­po­ral ori­en­ta­tion, polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion does so under the aspect of pro­ce­dures for find­ing and legit­imiz­ing bind­ing deci­sions (Lange 2004). Through­out the last 40 years, both sep­a­rate and inte­grat­ed school sub­jects have been formed in dif­fer­ent school types and fed­er­al states – with a trend to sep­a­ra­tion in Gym­na­si­um. Recent reforms have, how­ev­er, again installed inte­grat­ed forms and are still doing so.9 In the light of the the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cus­sion (Hedke/v.Reeken 2004, Lange 2004, 2006, Kör­ber 2004, 2006) and of the ori­en­ta­tion to com­pe­ten­cies, this should not lead to a con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of the inte­grat­ed sub­jects to be just parts of a gen­er­al inte­grat­ed sub­jects, but to an under­stand­ing of each pro­vid­ing a spe­cif­ic set of com­pe­ten­cies for stu­dents need­ed by cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in a com­plex soci­ety in which prob­lems are not sep­a­rat­ed but inte­grat­ed. Thus, each sub­ject can and must be under­stood as a spe­cif­ic “domain”, ad the school sub­jects as a form of inte­gra­tion, not con­fla­tion and agglu­ti­na­tion. A con­se­quence of this is that in teacher edu­ca­tion, the dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties of the dis­ci­plines need to be stressed and marked as well as the com­pe­tence of the teach­ers to inte­grate, while any plan to form gen­er­al­ized “civics teach­ers” is to be con­sid­ered prob­lem­at­ic. His­to­ry teach­ing, e.g. can thus be under­stood as the elab­o­ra­tion of stu­dents’ abil­i­ties to do their own his­tor­i­cal think­ing both in terms of syn­the­sis and of analy­sis of nar­ra­tives pre­vail­ing in their society’s deal­ing with his­to­ry. “His­to­ry” as a sub­ject does not only cov­er the past of cur­rent prob­lems to be addressed, but address­es the skills and con­cepts need­ed in order to par­tic­i­pate in a soci­ety where his­tor­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion is under con­stant debate.


As a con­clu­sion, it can be not­ed that both in the broad­er field of social sci­ence edu­ca­tion and in his­to­ry edu­ca­tion the idea of “com­pe­ten­cies” is cen­tral with­in the last years. Even though the under­stand­ing of “com­pe­tence” resp. “com­pe­ten­cies” is dif­fer­ent across approach­es, the notion that teach­ing is nei­ther cen­tered around the “trans­mis­sion” of declar­a­tive resp. propo­si­tion­al “knowledge”to chil­dren nor around a fun­da­men­tal­ly ped­a­gog­i­cal but not dis­ci­pli­nary “edu­ca­tion”, but rather about enabling learn­ers to devel­op their domain-spe­cif­ic skills and abil­i­ties as well as their under­stand­ing of and approach to cur­rent tasks of ori­en­ta­tion, deci­sion-mak­ing and debat­ing, seems to be common.


Berg, H. C. (2004). Lehrkun­st­di­dak­tik — Entwurf und Exem­pel ein­er konkreten Inhalts­did­k­tik..

Det­jen, J., Kuhn, H., Mass­ing, P., Richter, D., Sander, W. & Weißeno, G. (2004). Nationale Bil­dungs­stan­dards für den Fachunter­richt in der Poli­tis­chen Bil­dung an Schulen. Schwal­bach a.Ts.: Wochenschau-Verlag.

Edel­stein, W. & Fauser, P. (2001). ‘Demokratie ler­nen und leben’. Bonn: BLK.

Friedrich, C. J. (1959). Demokratie als Herrschafts- und Lebens­form. Hei­del­berg: Quelle und Meyer.

Hamm-Brüch­er, H. (2001). Öffentlich­er Bil­dungsauf­trag: Lebens­form Demokratie. Das Forum (Bay­erisch­er Volk­s­hochschul-Ver­band) (1), 2–6.

Hed­ke, R. & Reeken, D. v. (2004). Read­er: His­torisch-poli­tis­che Bildung.

Him­mel­mann, G. (2001). Demokratie Ler­nen als Lebens‑, Gesellschafts- und Herrschafts­form ; ein Lehr- und Stu­di­en­buch. Schwalbach/Ts: Wochen­schau-Ver­lag.

Kirch­schläger, R. (1974). Demokratie als Denk- und Lebens­form. Europäis­che Rund­schau, 2 (4), 3–6.

Klieme, E., Ave­nar­ius, H., Blum, W., Döbrich, P., Gru­ber, H., Pren­zel, M., Reiss, K., Riquarts, K., Rost, J., Tenorth, H. & Vollmer, H. J. (2003). Zur Entwick­lung nationaler Bil­dungs­stan­dards. Eine Exper­tise. Bonn: BMBF.

Kör­ber, A. (2004). Der Abgrund im Binde­strich? Über­legun­gen zum Ver­hält­nis von his­torischem und poli­tis­chem Ler­nen. In R. Hed­ke & D. v. Reeken (Ed.), Read­er: His­torisch-poli­tis­che Bil­dung (http://www.sowi-online.de/reader/historisch-politisch/koerber_bindestrich.htm; read 23.8.2005):.

Kör­ber, A. (2006). ‘Poli­tikgeschichtlich­es Ler­nen’. Zur Frage der Zusam­me­nar­beit von Geschichts- und Poli­tikun­ter­richt. Eine weit­er­führende Auseinan­der­set­zung mit dem Konzept von Dirk Lange — mit Beispie­len aus dem The­men­bere­ich ‘West­fälis­ch­er Frieden’. In T. Arand, B. v. Bor­ries, A. Kör­ber, W. Schreiber, A. Wen­zl & B. Ziegler (Ed.), Geschicht­sun­ter­richt im Dia­log: Fächerüber­greifende Zusam­me­nar­beit (Vol.11, pp. 132–162). Mün­ster: Zen­trum für Lehrerbildung.

Kör­ber, A. (2010). Ger­man His­to­ry Didac­tics: From His­tor­i­cal Con­scious­ness to His­tor­i­cal Com­pe­ten­cies – and beyond? In H. Bjerg, C. Lenz & E. Thorstensen (Ed.), His­tori­cis­ing the Uses of the Past — Scan­di­na­vian Per­spec­tives on His­to­ry Cul­ture, His­tor­i­cal Con­scious­ness and Didac­tics of His­to­ry Relat­ed to World War II (pp. xxx-yyy). Biele­feld: transcript.

Kör­ber, A., Schreiber, W. & Schön­er, A. (2007). Kom­pe­ten­zen His­torischen Denkens. Ein Struk­tur­mod­ell als Beitrag zur Kom­pe­ten­zori­en­tierung in der Geschichts­di­dak­tik. Neuried: ars una.

KMK=Kultusministerkonferenz (2004). Bil­dungs­stan­dards der Kul­tus­min­is­terkon­ferenz Erläuterun­gen zur Konzep­tion und Entwick­lung. Frank­furt am Main: Luchterhand.

Lange, D. (2004). Die his­torisch-poli­tis­che Didak­tik: Zur Begrün­dung his­torisch-poli­tis­chen Ler­nens. Schwal­bach am Taunus: Wochenschau-Verlag.

Lange, D. (2006). Poli­tis­che Bil­dung und his­torisches Ler­nen. Kat­e­go­ri­ale Möglichkeit­en der Zusam­me­nar­beit zwis­chen den Fäch­ern Geschichte und Poli­tik. In T. Arand, B. v. Bor­ries, A. Kör­ber, W. Schreiber, A. Wen­zl & B. Ziegler (Ed.), Geschicht­sun­ter­richt im Dia­log: Fächerüber­greifende Zusam­me­nar­beit (Vol.11, pp. 122–131). Mün­ster: Zen­trum für Lehrerbildung.

Petrik, A (2004): The Genet­ic Prin­ci­ple as a Link between Every­day Knowl­edge and Pol­i­tics. The Art-of-Teach­ing Work­shop about the Top­ic ‘Future’. (http://www.educommsy.uni-hamburg.de/commsy.php?cid=1536331&mod=announcement&fct=detail&iid=1909243; read Octo­ber 25th, 2009).

Petrik, A. (2007). Von den Schwierigkeit­en, ein poli­tis­ch­er Men­sch zu wer­den. Opladen [u.a.]: Budrich.

Sachse, M. (2005). Fäch­er ohne Bil­dungs­stan­dards – Fäch­er zweit­er Güte? München.

Schreiber, W. (2005). Schul­re­form in Hes­sen zwis­chen 1967 und 1982. Die cur­ric­u­lare Reform der Sekun­darstufe I. Schw­er­punkt: Geschichte und Gesellschaft­slehre. Neuried: Ars Una Verlag.

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Sym­cox, L. & Wilschut, A. (2009). Intro­duc­tion. In L. Sym­cox & A. Wilschut (Ed.), Nation­al his­to­ry stan­dards — the prob­lem of the canon and the future of teach­ing his­to­ry (pp. 1–11). Char­lotte, NC: Infor­ma­tion Age Publishers.

1There are of course lots of dif­fer­ent ini­tia­tives and areas of research in the field, which can­not be whol­ly cov­ered here. E.g. con­cepts like “ser­vice learn­ing” e.g. have been intro­duced into the Ger­man debate (cf. esp. the con­tri­bu­tions of Anne Sliwka).

2An exemp­tion is the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Ger­many in the IEA 1999 “civic edu­ca­tion” study. Fur­ther­more, some minor-scale projects in this direc­tion to exist, e.g. on com­pe­ten­cy-devel­op­ment on the sub­ject of Euro­pean politics.

3The lat­ter char­ac­ter­is­tic deserves a short by-way of reflec­tion: To refrain from defin­ing spe­cif­ic lev­els of com­pe­ten­cies or at least a para­me­ter by which to dis­tin­guish such lev­els is prob­lem­at­ic with a view to teach­ing, since it leaves open the cru­cial ques­tion of the direc­tion in which com­pe­ten­cies (skills and abil­i­ties) can and need to be devel­oped. A num­ber of con­tri­bu­tions to the debate give no hints what­so­ev­er in their phras­ing of com­pe­ten­cies as to the lev­els aimed at: The same word­ing can be used for describ­ing the abil­i­ties need­ed by a pro­fes­sion­al. On the oth­er hand, dif­fer­en­ci­a­tions of lev­els do have to make sure that they do not mere­ly present addi­tion­al skills and abil­i­ties as high­er lev­els, but elab­o­rat­ed ver­sions of the same com­pe­ten­cies in order to direct cumu­la­tive learn­ing. Fur­ther­more, it should be not­ed that “com­pe­ten­cies” do not embrace “case knowl­edge”, i.e. declar­a­tive resp. propo­si­tion­al forms of knowl­edge per­tain­ing to indi­vid­ual sit­u­a­tions, cas­es etc. They rather need to be abstract in a way allow­ing their hold­er to apply them to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions (trans­fer). There­fore, knowl­edge for­mu­lat­ed with­in mod­els of com­pe­ten­cies needs to be con­cep­tu­al and cat­e­go­r­i­al knowl­edge, such as con­cepts, scripts, prin­ci­ples etc. This, how­ev­er, does not mean that such spe­cif­ic case knowl­edge does not hold a place in the new mod­el of orga­niz­ing learn­ing. It rather should be not­ed that the two kinds of knowl­edge need to be pre­sent­ed in dif­fer­ent instru­ments: com­pe­ten­cy-mod­els and (core-)curricula.

4Need­less to say that lots of the result­ing texts called “edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards” did not meet the “stan­dards” set by the Klieme-exper­tise by far. In some cas­es, as for his­to­ry, the main drafts con­tained lit­tle more than clas­si­cal def­i­n­i­tions of sub­jects to be cov­ered, thus con­serv­ing the “input-ori­en­ta­tion” with­in a frame­work which only used the ter­mi­nol­o­gy, not the con­cepts of the new log­ic. Oth­er efforts, like our own for his­to­ry (Schreiber/Körber et al. 2006; Körber/Schreiber/Schöner 2007) refrain from defin­ing “stan­dards” while express­ly tak­ing up the con­cept of “com­pe­ten­cies.” This mod­el is so far the first one (at least for his­to­ry) which express­ly elab­o­rates a para­me­ter for dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing lev­els (“niveaus”) of the com­pe­ten­cies it defines.

5To be not­ed: the role mod­el for such col­lec­tions of “edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards” col­lect­ing not con­tent- but per­for­mance-stan­dards, the Com­mon Euro­pean Frame­work of Ref­er­ence for Lan­guages (CEFR) had been devel­oped under the aus­pices of the Coun­cil of Europe, had been in devel­op­ment for many years.

6The Ger­man term “Poli­tikver­drossen­heit” car­ries a stronger notion of dis­in­ter­est, annoy­ance and rejec­tion politics/polity/policies. Cf. Edelstein/Fauser 2001, pp. 6–12.

7The trias (“Herrschafts­form”, “Gesellschafts­form”, “Lebens­form”) is for­mu­lat­ed by Him­mel­mann 2004. Democ­ra­cy as a form of life has been sub­ject of polit­i­cal thought in Ger­many since at least the 1950s. Cf. e.g. Friedrich 1959; Kirch­schläger 1974; Hamm-Brüch­er 2001.

8Petrik 2004 uses the term “Art-of-Teach­ing”. The Ger­man term “Lehrkun­st­stück” com­bines the notion of exem­plar­ic learn­ing with a notion of “leg­erde­main” and teach­ing being an art. In the works of Mar­tin Wagen­schein, “Lehrkun­st­stücke” are teach­ing arrange­ments and quests which enable stu­dents to detect or dis­cov­er basic and path­break­ing insights of mankind them­selves by solv­ing pre­pared tasks. The con­cept has been re-vital­ized by Hans Christoph Berg 2004).

9In Ham­burg “PGW” (pol­i­tics, soci­ety, econ­o­my) in Gym­na­si­um and “civic edu­ca­tion” (Gesellschaft­skunde” in the new Pri­ma­ry and Urban Quar­ter Schools (Pri­marschule, Stadt­teilschule), the lat­ter includ­ing his­to­ry and geography.