Teachers participating in the dialogue seem to have ambiguous perceptions of democracy and liberal values. When asked how they understand or define those things, they seem to have difficulty being specific and providing tangible answers. Nevertheless, a common theme that emerges is the need for caution in dealing with liberal values. According to one teacher, for example, “We need to fight it [liberalism], to make it moderate and not extreme.” This distinction between 'moderate' and 'extreme' resonates with most teachers in the conversation. Similarly, Menua, a history teacher from Tavush, distinguishes two wings of liberal values: moderate and extreme. Expressing the view that small nations have fallen victim to those values, he refrains from elaborating on what precisely 'extreme liberal values' entail. Ironically, he suggests that he can’t live without those values because “the world has its rules.”
Opinions expressed by dialogue participants suggest that teachers have mainly formed their ideas about democracy and liberalism based on their experiences and observations. The recent geo-political changes in Armenia and Artsakh have also contributed to their perceptions. Menua, for example, points out that “organizations like UNICEF, which were formed in those very [democratic] countries, did nothing in Armenia,” adding that “all democratic countries are at a low level when it comes to acting democratically.” In the case of students, to many, education has played a significant role in their understanding of liberal values. “They poured liberalism into our heads,” says Aram, a UWC Italy alumnus who believes democracy can’t exist without liberal values.
Interestingly, Aram's liberal education does not seem to have pushed him further toward embracing liberalism without reservation. It’s worth noting, however, that although liberal education and liberalism as a political ideology do have mutual threads, liberal education does not necessarily assume that all students should embrace a liberal political ideology. In his criticism of liberalism, for example, Aram says, “They don’t talk about the consequences of freedom; how my freedom will affect others.” It’s worth noting that to this particular student, liberalism is predominantly understood as the absolute freedom of an individual, perhaps to the point of hedonism. “The definition [of liberalism] is that a person can do whatever they want; the law must not prohibit it,” says Aram. Despite its various definitions and interpretations, liberalism doesn’t entirely advocate for unrestricted freedom. While the understanding of how much a liberal state can restrict individual freedoms and what type of responsibility individuals have towards each other according to liberal values differ, no approach to liberalism ignores the consequences of one’s freedom on others.
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.