Citizenship

4th August 2000 at 01:00
ESSAYS ON CITIZENSHIP. By Bernard Crick. Continuum pound;14.99. EDUCATION FOR CITIZENSHIP. By Antony Flew. Institute of Economic Affairs pound;5.

Citizenship exists, and that's official. From 2002 it will be a compulsory element of the curriculum in secondary schools in England. For Bernard Crick, whose Essays on Citizenship span 20 years of reflection and campaigning, that's a matter for celebration. But for Professor Antony Flew it's a matter for profound alarm. For him, citizenship education smacks of indoctrination, political correctness and cravenly pro-European propaganda, and in his pamphlet Education for Citizenship, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, he attacks the report of the Advisory Group on Citizenship which Bernard Crick chaired and which led directly to the new curriculum changes.

Fortunately, perhaps, Flew's pamphlet is short - a mere 36 pages. It does not deal at all with the background to the issue - there is no mention, for example, of the all-party encouragement given to the Hansard Society's long campaign for greater political literacy in schools - and though it appears to accept the report's premise that there is an alarming level of political apathy and alienation, it says nothing about how to address it.

Flew's first theme is that teachers cannot be trusted to teach citizenship. Citizenship demands critical thinking skills, he says (he makes great play of the requirement that children should understand "justice", "rights" and "equality" by the end of key stage 2) that even the best teachers simply don't possess.

And, he argues, far too many of the worst teachers, the ones who in the Seventies and Eighties "were certainly engaged in various forms of indoctrination" are still in schools today. But his over-riding concern is with what he calls a "monstrous deficiency" of the Crick Report, namely that it says nothing about the implications for British citizenship and British democracy of membership of the European Union.

Bernard Crick's essays demolish most of Flew's objections. He makes it cear, for instance, that "citizenship" includes participation as well as rights and duties, and that it is only by being given responsibility that children can learn to exercise it.

He recognises the dangers of indoctrination, whether from the centre or by teachers: that is why, he says, it's just a "light touch Order" that specifies only "the bare bones" of subject content (he clearly doesn't recognise the Cromwellian overtones). And he is emphatic that citizenship not only can but must exist at different levels, locally, nationally and internationally. It is muddled thinking, he says, to conflate citizenship and sovereignty.

The real danger of the new proposals, though, may be that far too much will be expected. Crick tells us that three considerations above all shaped the report's proposals: that citizenship education was a precondition for successful constitutional reform; that it was a necessary condition for a more inclusive society; and that, "after all, we are a democracy". There are two contentious statements there, but it's the "after all" that betrays a certain weakness.

Crick's argument (and David Blunkett's too) is that if we teach citizenship in schools we can change the behaviour of the adult world: dissolve away, as it were, the apathy, cynicism and selfishness that so alarm us. The Crick Report put it explicitly: "We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country."

That is asking a lot of schools, and in a 1998 essay on the decline of political thinking in public life Crick comes very close to saying so. His complaint is that outside the universities, political thinking is dead, "drowned in a democratic flood of mere opinion". The politics of the quick-fix solution, the soundbite and the focus group, he suggests, have destroyed the politics of argument, commitment and debate.

Somehow, Crick believes, citizenship education in schools will serve to turn aside that "flood of mere opinion". Teachers will certainly try to deliver - but it's a tall order.

Michael Duffy


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