Methodists warn of politicised citizenship

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Church fears that children are at risk from indoctrination if the Government dictates course content. Sarah Cassidy reports

CITIZENSHIP lessons could lead to the political indoctrination of a generation of schoolchildren, the Methodist church fears.

Politicians must not be allowed to determine the content of such a value-laden subject, according to the Methodists' first major education policy document since 1970. "What would citizenship have meant in 1930s Germany or Stalin's Russia?" it asks.

The Government also poses the greatest threat to teachers' authority, increasing bureaucracy, and destroying their professional autonomy by dictating how they should teach, says the report, The Essence of Education.

Instead, the content of citizenship lessons should be determined in the same way as religious education - where a diverse committee decides an "agreed syllabus" for every local authority.

Dr Jack Priestly, chair of the working party which produced the report, said: "It is right to bring the curriculum into the public domain, but important not to politicise it.

"Political intervention has already been seen in English and history - two subjects which are vulnerable to ideology.

"With citizenship, as with religion, local and international considerations are every bit as significant as national ones. The history of the 20th century should serve to warn us of the dangers of trusting the interpretation and implementation of such teaching solely to national governments. " Student unrest and teenage culture in the 1960s were seen as the biggest challenge to teachers' authority when the last report was published in 1970. But the Government is now the greatest threat and its educational innovations may "make the cure worse than the disease" said the report.

The Methodist Church has a strong commitment to education and believes the State should not be allowed to monopolise it.

Methodist day schools go back to the first half of the 19th century when they and other denominations provided public elementary education in nearly 1,000 establishments.

In 1891 Methodists formally withdrew from the commitment after school boards were established. By 1900 the boards had taken over more than half the church schools and by 1944 only 100 remained.

The report, The Essence of Education, is due to be presented to the Methodist Conference this month

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