Political education can play a crucial role in the process of democratization precisely because it is moulding the norms and expectations of the ‘ordinary’ citizen. After identifying three politico‐cultural obstacles to democratization, ‐ exclusion, violence and institutional manipulation ‐ the article explains how education for democracy programmes might undermine these obstacles. An assessment of several projects follows, including a new school curriculum and non‐governmental organization programmes among young people and poor communities. Given the enthusiasm shown towards such initiatives, it is paradoxical that levels of formal political participation via the parties are very low. The article explores the credibility gap of the parties, especially notable during elections, and which is leading the parties to respond by adopting more participatory practices at the base. El Salvador is in an advantageous position precisely because of its greatest problem: the lack of a liberal democratic history which is now allowing ordinary citizens to ‘create’ their democracy from scratch and to imagine for themselves a new identity as citizens.