Pinning down citizenship

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Fred Forrester's extraordinary assertion that "academic discussion of political issues is appropriate in higher education but not in schools" (TESS, January 5) is an archaic contribution to the current debate on citizenship.

Mr Forrester states in his article that many teachers will be "uncomfortable" dealing with "mainstream political, social and moral debates" and that they will "have problems . . . with the shifting nature of political ideas". This viewpoint is contradicted by the work of modern studies departments across Scotland.

In suggesting that political ideas should not be taught to school students until there is "more consensus" Mr Forrester misunderstands the nature of political ideas. The world is in a constant state of flux. The fact that it will always be so makes the study of political ideas in secondary schools essential. A vivid example of this has been the recent establishment of a Scottish Parliament.

Young people need to understand political ideas because it is they who will decide the future direction of this new institution. Few students will ever engage in meaningful political debate if they do not do so at school. Would he limit decision making in our country to the minority who study poltics in higher education?

The study of political ideas and issues in secondary schools is of course, not just legitimate but vital. Mr Forrester states, for example, that it would be inappropriate for students to study the role of the media in a liberal democracy.

I would argue that it would be inappropriate if students did not. His concerns clearly arise from the misunderstanding of political ideas. In dealing with complex and controversial topics modern studies teachers explain the nature of debates rather than providing answers.

Certainly there are problems in actually pinning down what citizenship is and how it should be dealt with in schools. Mr Forrester correctly asserts that the current consultation is overly ambitious, and Judith Gillespie's concerns about government manipulation (TESS, January 12) are also valid.

Everyone seems to agree that students must be equipped with the skills necessary to take part in a democratic society. However. Mr Forrester's view that students can be equipped with these skills without understanding political issues cannot be accepted.

Gavin Clark

Principal teacher of modern studieshistory, Dunbar Grammar

Chairperson, Modern Studies Association

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