Don't knock citizenship

26th January 2001 at 00:00
WE should be grateful to Judith Gillespie (TESS, January 12) for engaging so sharply with the subject of "Education for Citizenship". Such a response, although one can disagree with it, is useful in helping us to focus on what we do indeed mean by citizenship and whether it should or can be taught in schools. Judith suggests that it can't be - "The state should never write a programme of education on citizenship . . . for its motive is to teach compliance."

While I agree with the latter part of this sentence, I would argue that if citizenship is not taught in schools, where can it be taught. If we don't make some attempt to do it in schools we will continue with the status quo which Judith herself describes quite accurately, where the power lies in the hands of the few.

The "Education for Citizenship" document contains much that is good and in fact does not merit such severe criticism. It refers frequently to the need to teach young people the principles and practice of participative democracy and it suggests sound methodological ways of doing this.

It recognises the disillusionment with current democratic processes and institutions which affects and alienates so many sections of our society and offers suggestions about how education might halt this disabling scpticism.

It also actually addresses some of the big issues of our times and proposes that schools might do something about these. If schools were to act on this document with seriousness and commitment we would see some real change for the better.

Where I would disagree completely with the article is the statement:"It (citizenship) is not to do with membership of different communities, whether ethnic, social or geographic."

Of course it is; that is largely what it is about. It is about being an active, participative member of a community, knowing what is going on or able to find out, being able to challenge actions and behaviour of power groups, being able to join with others to bring about change.

Before you can do these things you need to acquire the skills which are described in the document. (To dismiss ICT skills, for example, is equivalent to dismissing the ability to read so far as the empowerment of people is concerned. Think of the use of e-mail and the mobile phone in the recent fuel price demonstrations as just a very modest example.) My worry about the document is not its content but about whether it will be taken seriously. If it is, Judith's concerns will be on their way to being met.

Margaret Macintosh Rothesay Place Edinburgh

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