Give citizenship a chance

28th January 2005 at 00:00
I read with some disappointment the article "Teaching democracy, practising hypocrisy" ( TES, January 7) by Shereen Pandit.

The opening statements about personal, social and health education (PSHE) and citizenship reveal a poor grasp of what schools are being urged to do.

No one in education really believes that simple focus days will bring about the changes Sir Bernard Crick envisaged in his report on teaching citizenship: citizenship will need to be taught in an increasingly sophisticated way but this takes time to evolve.

If we are still criticising the quality and delivery of history and English after years of practice and teaching, then it is no surprise that citizenship is struggling with birth pains.

Further, does anyone really believe that schools are bastions of democracy? Of course they are not. To paraphrase Derry Hannan, talking about democracy to pupils in school is akin to giving a prison inmate a travel brochure.

Schools are not democratic and to expect sudden change demonstrates a poor understanding of the education system.

The citizenship curriculum at least promotes a more democratically inclusive school. The process is often more important than the outcome and for pupils the process is critical. Ensuring young people can be involved in democratising schools is a challenge for governors, education authorities, government and parents.

It is also disappointing that Ms Pandit chose to reflect so negatively upon her daughter's careers education day (with the army).

A key part of citizenship is working with community partners. Work with the police and other agencies concerned with law and disorder is more complex, exciting and sophisticated than assemblies that lecture teenagers about "stranger danger" and what they should not do.

It's too simplistic to say that teaching citizenship will lead to more young people voting or obeying the law.

But even if some do not vote, they will at least be entitled to be more informed about their role in a democratic process; they will start to help schools and communities become more democratic because of this entitlement.

If we avoid taking citizenship seriously young people will feel disenfranchised and angry that adults have not tried to include them nor to help them articulate their concerns.

Chris Waller Professional officer Association of Citizenship Teaching Ferroners House Shaftesbury Place London EC2

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