There are many putative aims of public education. For example, some claim that the aim of education is to improve happiness and others claim it is to ensure that the economy is strong. Critics may argue that it is no business of the state to determine what goals people should pursue in a pluralist liberal democracy. However, the idea of citizenship and citizenship education enjoys a less controversial appearance. It is clearly the business of educational institutions in a liberal democracy to ensure that adults are capable of contributing to the democratic process as an equal. This seems to be entailed by a commitment to the stability of liberal democracy.
The structure and appropriate content of civic education is a hotly debated topic. While some argue that citizenship education need only be narrow, others have claimed that it requires that citizens develop a significant degree of autonomy. Some claim that since some groups in pluralistic democracies reject the idea of an autonomous life, education for autonomy cannot justifiably be imposed on them. Rather all we can do is offer the opportunity for individuals to develop it if they so choose. Others claim that citizens must deliberate about political matters and so must have developed autonomy, even if this clashes with their religious convictions or frustrates their ability to live a religious life. Others still have argued that the demands of civic education amount to full, and not merely political, autonomy, in any case. In the same spirit, others argue that education for citizenship can help further other desirable goals including a break-down of class divisions. The relationship between civic education and nationalism is also an important question in the education for citizenship literature. Educating for patriotism may seem to be consistent with the preservation of liberal democracy, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not spill over into something much more pernicious.