Actions speak louder than words

Citizenship is practical activity, but books and other media have a part to play in giving the historical background to public institutions, says Tom Deveson

The most important things to understand about citizenship can't be taught from books. Realising that pushing in the dinner queue is as annoying and pointless as trying to jump a red light; knowing how to organise a game of football in the park so that, while you enjoy the expanse of grass, you don't encroach on other people's space; noticing when a mother with a pushchair needs help in the supermarket - countless skills like these make life truly civilised, but children have to learn them by doing them.

Books and other resources can, none the less, perform two vital functions in which the pragmatic and the theoretical are brought together. They can analyse and reflect the history and nature of the institutions in society which are - or should be - the accumulated outcome of millions of those small acts of consideration.

If parliament and the law are there to enable us to make our sense of civility or justice concrete and effective, we need to know where they have come from and where they are directed. And by showing children how their contemporaries have engaged with many kinds of social activity, they can act as inspiration, instruction, reminder and warning.

Publications

Young Citizen's Guides(10 titles)Hodder Wayland www.madaboutbooks.com Price: pound;10.99 each Tel: 020 7873 6000

Wayland's series of Young Citizen's Guides for pupils at key stages 3 and 4 cover a whole range of institutions and concepts, from the historical complexity of the criminal justice and electoral systems to the constantly changing worlds of media, money and volunteering. They do a good job of bringing out the relationships between apparently separate elements, such as cabinets, civil servants and quangos. They fail to elucidate fully the hidden, but potent links formed by friendship and favours, and this is also a problem with larger and more academic volumes.

There are some places where events have moved on and made the books seem slightly belated (William Hague and Michael Heseltine are surely yesterday's men, though they feature in pictures here), but issues for the new century, such as the accountability of the police, are commendably given an airing.

Marginal quotations are well chosen. Harold Wilson's words about prime ministers' essential needs being "sleep and a sense of history" still apply more than 30 years on. The lists of resources provide details of some useful websites, including some where you can discover not just facts, but the gap between the facts and how things are officially supposed to be.

Citizen's Guide: Law and Order The European Union News and Views The World Community The UK Economy Governing the UK Heinemann Library www.heinemann.co.uk Price: pound;11.25 each or a pack of six for pound;64.13 Tel: 01865 888180

The older you get, the more complicated the world begins to appear. Concepts like news or money, or law need explaining to readers at key stages 3 and 4, and the explanations should acknow-ledge that some things happened before the 21st century.

Heinemann's A Citizen's Guide series provides historical depth to its accounts. Law and Order goes back, past Magna Carta, to the conflicts between rights and justice in Aeschylus, before leading us to consider issues such as the Stephen Lawrence case.

The European Union is seen to have arisen from a century of world wars and from the reforming vision of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman.

The complications of the present are also dealt with lucidly. Charts and questions are provided at regular intervals. Topics such as television sound-bites, the security of email, the multi-ownership of news media, the role of the Countryside Alliance, the beef export ban, and the nature of small businesses are all touched on sensibly.

The series provides not only incentives to intelligent debate, but also sufficient information to make the debates worth having.

Changing Places National Youth Agency www.nya.org.uk Price: pound;3.95 Tel: 0116 285 3709 Fax: 0116 285 3777 Email: sales@nya.org.uk

"Active citizenship" can mean many things for young people. The booklet Changing Places provides a set of inspiring case studies. They range from organising football tournaments and setting up a youth radio station in London, to devising a crime-stopper scheme at a Dorset school and helping rough sleepers in Leeds.

The book then goes on to spell out the steps readers need to take to establish their own projects. The explanation is comprehensive and encouraging, with plenty of sensible advice on how to run meetings, keep accounts, apply for grants, and make a campaign effective.

Video

Parliament Uncovered Twofour Productions, Quay West Studios, Old Newnham, Plymouth PL7 5BH Price: pound;4.70, until end of 2002; pound;19.99 next year Tel: 01752 333900 Fax: 01752 344224 Email: enq@twofour.co.uk

Parliament sometimes seems to guard its privileges rather than submit to public scrutiny. The veil is briefly lifted in a series of six short films on the video Parliament Uncovered.

Aimed at students aged between 14 and 18, it gives reasonably frank insight into how elections take place and what goes on once MPs are elected. Perhaps the best section is the last, where a 13-year-old girl enlists her local member to challenge the siting of a mobile phone mast. The films explain terms like "Black Rod" and "three-line-whip", but explaining "policy", "opposition" and "democracy" is not so easy.

Educational pack

Put It To Your MP UNICEF, Unit 1, Rignals Lane, ChelmsfordCM2 8TU www.unicef.org.uk Price: one copy per school available free of charge Tel: 0870 6063377 Fax: 01245 477394

If young people think MPs do little more than shout at one another, UNICEF is happy to disabuse them. Put It To Your MP is a pack explaining how the "right to be heard" - enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - can be put into practice. It persuasively argues for the value of setting up a school-based MP's surgery, and suggests a method for doing so. Carefully distinguishing between wants, needs and rights lies at the basis of an intelligent process for making parliamentary democracy visible.

CD-Roms and disks

Coping with Life series:Citizenship Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland. Primary and secondary school versions available www.ribi.org Price: Free Tel: Any Rotary club or Colin Sawyer on 01670 813470

Within the CD-Rom Coping with Citizenship (Primary) the worlds of families, teachers and students are united by the concepts of rights and responsibilities.

Families can use the resource at home, and children and parents are encouraged to see things from one another's perspectives. Teachers can glean much advice on how to teach the new curriculum and find their way to many helpful websites.

Students (in the largest section) can read stories illustrating ideas, such as the need for shared laws, or take part in on-screen activities featuring civil life at local and international levels.

PSHE and Citizenship - Complete Teaching Programme etr, 115 Chestnut Lane, Amersham, HP6 6DZ Price: pound;149.99 Tel: 01494 432212 Fax: 01494 432213

One little box, 10 floppy disks, 120 PHSE and citizenship lessons - it sounds tempting. The package offers a "complete teaching programme" for key stage 3 and, while nothing can substitute an individual tutor's understanding of a specific class's needs, the skeletal plans offered here can be customised and supplemented without too much difficulty.

Each lesson is mapped out with guidance on outcomes, resources and teaching methods, and there are regular opportunities for monitoring pupils'

understanding. As the compilers modestly suggest, it is not the answer, but an answer to busy teachers' needs.

Film Have A Good Time Alpha Films, 16 Reade Road, Holbrook, Ipswich IP9 2QL.

www.alphafilms.co.uk Price: pound;24.99, plus VAT and pound;1.50 pamp;p Telfax: 01473 328283

A quarter of children at key stage 3 claim to be regular drinkers of alcohol. Two recovering alcoholics have made a film Have A Good Time to warn them of the dangers, while acknowledging the pleasures.

Produced with involvement of young people themselves, it tells the story of a disco that begins with convivial boozing, then evolves into a heavy night at the pub and ends in tragedy. It avoids patronising lectures, but provokes sympathetic thought and lively argument.

A training guide accompanies the film, with ideas for taking the story beyond the screen into real teenage lives.

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