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Coronation: was it just for mugs?

Could the hours spent celebrating the Golden Jubilee been better used to think critically about monarchy? Biddy Passmore reports.

The warm, unquestioning reverence for the monarchy that marked this week's Coronation anniversary should not be allowed to infect the teaching of citizenship in schools, researchers say.

Being a loyal subject of Her Majesty and a critical citizen do not sit happily together, argue Dean Garratt and Heather Piper of Manchester Metropolitan University.

Writing in the latest issue of the British Journal of Educational Studies, they note: "The Golden Jubilee year of 2002 saw many children in schools busy designing pictures for jubilee mugs, rehearsing the National Anthem amd writing letters to the Queen.

"Perhaps the aftermath would be well occupied wih teachers reflecting on whether this was time that might have been better spent."

Observing Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897, the Labour politican Keir Hardie said: "The throne is the symbol of oppression. Round the throne gather the unwholesome parasites. The toady who crawls through the mire of self-abasement to enable him to bask in the smile of royalty is ...the victim of a diseased organism."

Dr Garratt and Ms Piper do not go quite that far but their republican position is clear. They say "the monarchy is a pernicious myth that is immoral and unjustifiable" and claim the hereditary principle underlying it sustains the division between "haves" and "have-nots" that runs through British society.

And they urge teachers to "carefully unpick the assumptions that lie behind the term 'citizenship' " or "the legacy of the myths perpetuated by the British monarchy will remain unchallenged".

If education for citizenship is to serve as a basis for "the social engineering of inertia", it may amount to "little more than a dubious masquerade, producing a chimera of democracy that is morally and educationally disreputable," they say.

The issue of "citizenship" lessons in a country where the people are subjects has troubled some, though not Professor Sir Bernard Crick, whose 1998 report underpins the teaching of citizenship in schools. He said: "The concept of 'British subject' and 'British citizen' seems much the same to most people."

But Garratt and Piper argue that a "citizen" and a "subject" should be very different beasts. "Even if the statement (saying they are the same) were accurate before the citizenship education initiative, a criterion for judging its success should surely be that it becomes inaccurate very soon after its implementation," they conclude.

British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 51 No. 2, June 2003. For details email D.Garratt@mmu.ac.uk

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