Beyond blockades

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
A RAGTAG and bobtail collection of truckers and farmers holds the Government and country to ransom. More than 7.5million people vote in the Big Brother eliminator, whereas only 10.6 million bothered to exercise their franchise in the last European elections. That is the background to the consultation exercise on citizenship education launched this week (page five).

The days have long gone when every boy and every gal was born a little Liberal or Conservative, or even into the ranks of new Labour. As the report of a Learning and Teaching Scotland review group points out, allegiance to political parties and trade unions has declined. Single-issue causes and organisations have taken over, from animal rights to truckers. Does that matter to the curriculum of youngsters too young to vote?

For a start, fewer of them than ever before do vote when they reach 18. If they reard the ballot as an irrelevance, that is a challenge to democracy. If they embrace causes from whales to genetically modified foods, they need to be able to articulate why, answer their critics and maybe learn to be activists. The philosophy in schools movement has shown that young children like to argue about moral issues. They can be taught to think logically - and perhaps see through the smokescreen thrown up by politicians.

Citizenship is not a separate subject. In pretending otherwise, England is on a wrong course. Education in citizenship has to permeate the primary and secondary curriculum, and it will bear most fruit where the school is a caring, questioning place with pupils encouraged to take responsibility. But that can be beguilingly panglossian. Nothing much will happen unless schools become active promoters of the cause. Vote early, vote often.

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