In brief

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Teachers, Human Rights and Diversity

Edited by Audrey Osler

Trentham Books pound;16.99

To their own disadvantage, and that of us all, most academics fail to communicate effectively with practitioners and policy makers; some do not even try. So they are not heard.

Audrey Osler is an honourable exception. In the first part of the book she outlines her argument: that practising citizenship in our schools is essential to our collective well being and peaceful survival in "just" societies in an ever-shrinking and interdependent world. In the second part her fellow contributors illustrate the theoretical case with two particularly vivid insights into primary and secondary school practice as well as some thoughts on teacher education.

Inspired by a Unesco symposium, alongside similar discussions in other parts of the world, Audrey Osler decided the time was ripe to bring together contributors from a range of perspectives to argue the case for a strong multinational and multicultural approach to the curriculum. In the past hundred years the number of nation states has grown from 43 to more than 190, and now 160 million people live in a country that is not of their birth or original citizenship. Nation states have been blinkered in their vision of citizenship education, failing to acknowledge their citizens'

various identities and shifting cultures. The book provides case studies from the United States, Northern Ireland, Eire and England. Osler compares and contrasts the separate Parekh and Crick reports that have set the scene for our own approach. She raises the as yet unexplored implications of the 1998 Human Rights Act. Then the book concludes with some sharp insights into both the practice in London primary and secondary schools and the inadequate preparation in training for teachers and headteachers for their vital role in such a society.

When the national curriculum was introduced I made myself unpopular by being the dog that barked in the night. Reading this book makes me realise that the focus of my protest - namely the dangers of incipient totalitarianism when a large nation state imposes its detailed curriculum on its citizens - was probably misplaced. Real though this concern is, I should have warned more of the national as opposed to the multinational element of the curriculum and of the subject-specific framework. On this latter point Audrey Osler quotes US educationist Thomas Dewey approvingly:

"All genuine education comes through experience."

As Chris Wilkins concludes in a stirring last chapter, teachers need to see themselves as agents of social change if they are to be effective citizenship educators, enabling children also to see themselves as genuine social agents capable of shaping the future.

Tim Brighouse is chief adviser forLondon schools

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