Developing the argument

17th October 1997 at 01:00
BREAK THE RULES. Norfolk Education and Action for Development (NEAD) Pounds 2.50 38-40 Exchange Street, Norwich NR2 lAX.

XHANGING THE WORLD. By Chris Blythe and Dave Richards. Reading International Solidarity Centre Pounds 14.95. 35-39 London Street, Reading RG1 4PS.

How does a teacher approach political issues in the classroom? Should she be scrupulously fair, offering both a right- and a left-wing perspective? Perhaps that is unrealistic. Should she instead admit her own position and let her students adjust accordingly? Possibly, but will her students have the maturity required to do so? Another choice is to play devil's advocate against the majority view, challenging and provoking deeper thought. Again, not easy for either teacher or pupil, but at least a course less likely to accept apparent "givens".

Development issues are as much about politics as about economics. Young people do care about the environment; they are concerned about animal rights; and they get angry about sweatshop workers in less developed countries toiling long hours for a pittance. The problem is that their response is often one-dimensional and superficial - moulded by emotion rather than intellect. The challenge faced by writers of classroom resources for development education is to allow students to reach their own conclusions and to ask fundamental questions, such as: why has this happened; how did we get where we are today; and what are the alternatives?

It is not obvious that these two publications have addressed this. The NEAD magazine, Break the Rules, is aimed at the 14-16 market, both in and out of schools. The latest edition is lively and covers a range of topics, including Nike footwear, which seems to be a common target these days. Unfortunately, it also contains superficial analysis, such as that used in a discussion of the cost of Nike's trainers, and simplistic appeals to the emotion rather than a balanced view of what is and what might be.

Xhanging the World is a wonderful resource in many ways. It is imaginative, creative, and many of the activities are thought-provoking, but in one way only - big business is bad, the North mercilessly exploits the South, and international currency markets exploit everyone. The answer, say the authors, lies in direct action or consumer resistance.

It is not clear at what age group this material is aimed, although there is a reference to "bright A-level students". More worryingly, there are no explicit learning outcomes. However, there is a mention of the need to emphasise in discussion the "monetarist ideology" that underlies the indebtedness of countries in the South and is the "driving force" behind economic policies in the North. If the reader accepts such statements then this material is for them; if they do not, then it is still to be commended, but only after careful and critical preparation by the teacher - perhaps playing devil's advocate?

David Lines is a lecturer in education and member of the education, environment and economy group at the Institute of Education, University of London

* See Development Extra, centre pages

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