Passion missing in civics lessons;Letter

12th March 1999 at 00:00
SINCE Education for citizenship and the teaching of democracy in schools was published, the fate of which is now being considered (TES, February 26), I have been trying to present to sixth-formers some of the ideas contained in it.

My initially positive attitude has given way to unease. First, a fundamental assumption appears to be that democracy per se should matter to people and they should therefore be equipped to engage with our political institutions.

However, while I have noticed it might be useful to gain an understanding of the political system, it is not a commitment to democracy which appears to motivate people to become involved in public life. Instead, it seems to be concern over diverse issues from preserving fox-hunting to animal rights. Democracy is for many a means to an end, not an end in itself.

While I accept that empowerment may enable greater involvement, my own experience suggests that a brush with powerlessness can provide a trigger to understand and engage with our system.

Second, the document seems to present a rational world; of individuals calmly reaching a consensus. It ignores passion and the fact that in issues such as fox-hunting ultimately opposing views will be held with equal conviction.

This less bland world also includes demonstrations and direct action. Should young people at least discuss whether chaining oneself to a tree in the path of a motorway is a legitimate expression of citizenship?

The document expresses concern about apathy and cynicism but fails to analyse why they occur. It is assumed that greater know-ledge should lessen these problems but engagement might surely lead to more not less cynicism.

Moreover, there is a danger in the emphasis on community service that young people might feel pushed into accepting responsibility for important areas such as the environment or social welfare, which for governments can be expensive and inconvenient. This could certainly leave people more cynical about our politicians.

Finally, I think we are asking too much both from our educational system and its students. Is it reasonable to expect our educational "product" to be able to contribute fully to the economic life of the country; to be creative, healthy, happily married and giving a home to granny; and to be spending the weekends litter-picking? Presumably we also expect them conveniently to die at 65 before they want anything in return.

W Thwaites 18 Great Lane Greetham, Rutland

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