The citizens' classroom;Leading Article;Opinion

18th June 1999 at 01:00
THE CONFERENCE on citizenship (page eight), organised by the Gordon Cook Foundation in collaboration with Community Learning Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, took place with subtle irony on the day after the European elections when three-quarters of the adult population showed singular lack of civic involvement. But although speakers deplored political apathy and advocated education in democratic rights and responsibilities, the generally accepted definition of "citizenship" was much wider.

Young people are interested in public issues but not party politics. They are concerned by genetically modified foods, and they are involved in more forms of community action than previous generations of youth. The extramural school curriculum encourages many pupils to be good neighbours (of the elderly, for example) and good citizens through involvement in umpteen projects, most recently helping Kosovo refugees.

Citizenship means knowing and promoting consumer rights. It demands a grasp of the principles and practices of law. It presupposes acceptance of certain moral values by teachers as well as pupils. In so far as it starts in schooldays, it raises questions about where it should appear in the curriculum.

South of the border the Crick report advocated "a statutory requirement on schools to ensure that it is part of the entitlement of the pupils". The Scottish Parliament is unlikely to want to legislate. It would prefer appropriate messages to be conveyed through 5-14 guidelines and Standard grade subjects. But for teachers the question will be one of finding a place for good intentions within day-to-day classroom practice.

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