'I might trust a schoolteacher to teach my child arithmetic but not citizenship.'
Onora O'Niell, Reith Lecturer 2002
When a Reith lecturer throws doubt on teachers' ability to help young people develop an understanding of citizenship, we must ask ourselves why.
From September 2002 every school in the country must be teaching citizenship. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has laid down the programme of study, awarding bodies have created GCSE short courses to match and Ofsted has developed an inspection framework. The infrastructure is in place, so where are teachers likely to fall short?
NO ONE IS AN EXPERT ...
As the programme of study for KS4 in Figure 1 shows, the breadth of background knowledge required is substantial so an individual teacher is unlikely to have enough depth in every field to help young people draw informed conclusions. The superficial and simplistic interpretation can do more damage than a failure to discuss issues as students generally regard teachers as a source of authoritative information.
In discussing the URs entry to the euro, one respected source of educational material is offering teachers an activity which includes the question 'Does Britain have a strong enough economy to make the euro work?'. This is one of a range of questions which asks students to evaluate the state of the UK economy in terms of Gordon Brown's five criteria. It offers little in the way of support, apart from some newspaper articles. How many non-specialist teachers are equipped to deal with such issues effectively?
DEALING WITH CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
The lack of trust may also come from a fear that teachers will peddle propaganda rather than help students to work out their own conclusions. The tabloid press must be lying in wait for some examples of indoctrination to make lurid headlines. There is no doubt that citizenship is challenging. It embraces issues which can raise sensitivities in the classroom. The development of work in this field is continuing and there is now a significant range of thinking and strategies for dealing with such issues.
The outcomes of research into dealing with controversial issues is shown in Figure 2. It suggests that many teachers feel equipped to deal with sensitive issues in the classroom. The ability to recognise the bias can be as important as being able to take an unbiased stance on an issue.
WHAT HAVE BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS TEACHERS GOT TO OFFER?
The data in Figure 2 comes from teachers across the profession. Results drawn from Business and Economics teachers might show different outcomes because of the nature of the courses. Both the way of thinking and the theoretical content of the subjects help teachers to deal with controversial issues.
* A way of thinking
The nature of business and economics means that teachers are frequently dealing with controversial issues. Business ethics, government spending, unemployment, discrimination, development and the environment are just some of the topics which are meat and drink to teachers in the field.
The conceptual framework of the subject area provides a system for evaluating ideas even if it does not always provide an answer.
The stakeholder model can readily be transposed to other situations to enable students to realise that there are many points of view which must be taken into account in coming to a conclusion when dealing with any controversial issue. …