Puzzle Aristotle left us to solve

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Jeremy Sutcliffe talks to two of the TES Lucy Cavendish research fellows and finds out what research means for them

What is citizenship? How can we teach children to be good citizens, and what can we all agree are principles of good citizenship that every child should learn?

Any attempt to find agreement on such a hot political subject is likely to prove difficult. Common ground between, for example, Norman Tebbit and Ken Livingstone, is likely to prove elusive.

But that is exactly what Annabelle Dixon, the current TES Research Fellow, is searching for. Part of her task during her year of study at Lucy Cavendish will be to try to find "some kind of consensus", a "baseline" of common items or principles which make good citizens, and which can be taught, uncontroversially, in schools.

Having only taken up her post in October, she has a long way to go before coming to any clear conclusions. Already, however, her researches have taken her on a political and and philosophical mystery tour going back to the days of Ancient Greece.

Even then arguments over the nature of citizenship were raging. As Aristotle himself declared on the subject: "There is no unanimity, no agreement." Much later, in 1576, the French writer Jean Bodin complained that he had identified 500 definitions of citizenship.

While it is tempting to think that in 1997 we are unlikely to get any further in understanding and teaching about the nature of the good society, history shows the enduring importance of trying.

Annabelle's own interest in the subject runs deep. She is an active member of the Home Office-sponsored Citizenship Foundation working group which was set up to develop materials for primary school-children.

Winning the fellowship has enabled her to take early retirement, at the age of 56, from her job as deputy head at Holdbrook primary in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire.

She intends to carry out a thorough analysis of the materials currently on offer in educational programmes in the subject. She will also look at the most effective methods of teaching, for example through workshops, role play, games and writing activities. One possible outcome of her research could be the development of a national database, intended to help teachers with the subject.

Her study is a timely one, with last month's announcement by the Government of an advisory group on citizenship education, to be chaired by Professor Bernard Crick.

"I have got my work cut out, but all the politics and philosophy, and the history behind it, is fascinating," says Annabelle.

Of one desirable outcome she is clear: children need to spend more time speaking and listening.

"Children are not given enough time to debate. If they are going to benefit from their education, if they are going to develop the vocabulary they need and become fluent communicators then more time has to be found for speaking and listening," she says.

"What is in the national curriculum is all very sensible, but at the moment it is only giving lip-service to this. You ignore children's spoken language at your peril.

"The national curriculum has meant that speaking and listening is being squeezed out of the timetable. Yet it is the children who are articulate who get ahead."

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