Citizenship: one for all

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
As one of the "very nice people" referred to by Judith Gillespie (TESS, January 12) on Learning and Teaching Scotland's Education for Citizenship, I must respond to some of her points. I do not agree that "the nature of the state itself determines the nature of citizenship".

There are many examples of ways in which the state is brought into line by external agencies when determining the rights of individuals, the UN Charter on Human Rights being the most prominent. It is questionable whether the Westminster Parliament would have adopted many of its principles if the UN Charter had not existed.

Being an active citizen is all about dissent and not compliance with the state. That does not mean we are in constant conflict with the state but it allows us, when we disagree with the establishment line, to voice our opinion and know that it will be listened to.

Mrs Gillespie argues that citizenship "is not to do with membership of different communities, whether ethnic, social or geographic". I could not agree less. Citizenship is all about belonging to communities which transcend nation states. If we confined citizenship to being a member of a nation state, an argument often put forward by Bernard Crick, chair of the group hat produced the citizenship document for schools in England, then we are adopting a very narrow definition of citizenship. Individuals have rights and responsibilities in relation to others which have nothing to do with the state and in fact which can come into conflict with the state.

Pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Charter 88 would not be able to reflect and change public opinion and therefore, arguably, government policy, if social, geographic and ethnic groups of citizens, coming together as concerned individuals, did not believe they have a say in our democracy.

The revulsion at the poll tax was one example of citizenship in action.

Lastly, Mrs Gillespie takes issue with the core skills outlined in the document. In particular she singles out ICT. Tell that to the people of America right now. They have a new President, whom the majority of US citizens never voted for, helped along to the White House by the poor ICT skills of the people of Florida.

IT skills are a part of global citizenship as much as critical thinking and working collaboratively. But I would defend the right of Judith Gillespie to say otherwise.

Hilary Neilson Co-ordinator, IDEAS Schools' Forum

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