Take part in the future;Reviews;Citizenship;Books

15th January 1999 at 00:00

EDUCATION FOR PARTICIPATION. Edited by Cathie Holden and Nick Clough. Jessica Kingsley pound;16.95


VOICES FOR DEMOCRACY. Edited by Clive Harper. Education Now Books pound;11.95

Michael Duffy reviews four books that debate the role and form of citizenship lessons

Citizenship lessons are coming closer - and, at a time when more and more young people are socially and politically alienated or apathetic, that is no bad thing. But what sort of lessons should they be? While we wait to see what the Government's proposals for "preparation for adult life" will actually cover, the debate continues.

Part of the difficulty, as John Beck makes clear in his excellent but slightly dated survey, Morality and Citizenship in Education, is that citizenship itself is a contested term in the United Kingdom. Across the political spectrum lie fundamental differences of opinion about the rights and entitlements of citizens and the roles they should play.

Even "social and moral responsibility" is contentious ground. What Beck calls the "millennial moralism" of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority chief excutive Nicholas Tate is rooted, he says, in a fear of change - not the best basis, perhaps, for the education of the young.

Besides, there is a fundamental difference between public and private moral values - and much less consensus about the first than pundits will concede. We should be less concerned, he says, about telling children to be good and more about teaching them (in a phrase that begs some questions) "the right kind of openness to diversity". The real danger, he says, is that schools, sensing the minefields around them, will play safe with "a soft-centred and unanalysed citizenship education, centred on voluntary participation in small-scale community involvement".

But not if they listen to Cathie Holden and Nick Clough, editors of Education for Participation - the fifth volume in a series unequivocally entitled Children as Citizens. Their starting point is that responsibilities and duties must always be balanced against individual human rights. In this sense, children are already citizens.

Participation, they say, is an entitlement from the earliest days. Even pre-school children can become "action-competent", and children who share fully in their learning will grow up to share fully in society. That's an optimistic message, but this book contains accounts from the UK and Europe of how it might happen.

Of course there are competing rights, the authors say; again, openness to diversity will help young adults resolve them.

Rhys Griffith takes the debate a step further. Arguments about civic rights and duties, social and moral responsibilities and relative cultural values are, he says, mere camouflage. What matters is children's capacity to "do" and to "be" - and to be aware always of "social justice and the dignity of humankind".

There is a sort of "education", he says - not just a curriculum - that will create this capacity, which he calls "educational citizenship". Its absolute pre-requisite is independent learning - that children learn "whatever they want, what way they want, when they want".

Don't scoff. Educational Citizenship is a serious book, buttressed by the author's Damascus Road experience as a secondary modern teacher ("it was teachers like us who hid the hidden curriculum") and by serious but admittedly pre-OFSTED research in Cornwall, where he was a senior advisory teacher.

At the very least, it shows what committed and enthusiastic teachers could achieve, before our education system became so instrumental. Its 12 factors of independent learning deserve serious debate. True, it ducks the thorny issues of "citizenship" (dismissively described "a high-risk, low-status subject") and the curriculum at large, and says nothing about the views of parents or those who fund the system. But what it does say is said with conviction and style. Chief inspector Chris Wood-head would hate it - possibly a powerful recommendation.

And Voices for Democracy, drawn from an international colloquium of that title at the University of Natal, does echo some of its concerns. It deals with the question, very much part of the citizenship debate, of how best the education system can contribute to sustainable democracy in the developed and developing worlds.

Part of the answer lies in "making schools themselves more democratic", and there is a summary here of Bernard Trafford's recent account of how this was tackled in a hitherto "benignly authoritarian" English grammar school.

The following chapter tells a similar story, set this time in a once-all-white, advantaged Durban school, now successfully multiracial and multicultural.

Other topics include re-planning teacher education in Botswana, teaching conflict resolution in KwaZulu Natal, and bringing human rights into UK classrooms. The emphasis in all of them is similar. It is "being" and "doing", we learn, that has the most effect - not "being told" and "telling". Indeed, that is very much the message of all these titles. It is encouraging that Professor Bernard Crick's working party on citizenship went far towards endorsing it.

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