Citizenship through Secondary History

By James Arthur; Ian Davies et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Citizenship, political literacy and history

Pupils learning about and how to make themselves effective in public life through knowledge, skills and values - what can be called 'political literacy', seeking for a term that is wider than political knowledge alone.

(QCA 1998)


How does political literacy relate to citizenship education?

'Political literacy' was one of the three strands of citizenship explored in T.H. Marshall's (1963) work on this subject. The definition of political literacy given above from the Crick Report was developed from his ideas. It views the concept of political literacy as being bound up with 'public life', in other words where the life of the individual citizen interacts with the political system, whether on a macro or national level or on a local or micro level. The Crick Report assumes that this broad understanding is desirable and that therefore teaching pupils 'political knowledge' alone is insufficient. 'Political literacy' (in Crick's definition) implies that pupils need to learn how to engage and participate in 'public life' (i.e. politics at whatever level), not just learn about it. In turn, the National Curriculum Orders for Citizenship (DfEE/ QCA 1999b) are based on the conclusions of the Crick Report. While direct references to 'political literacy' have been removed from the final Orders, the Crick Report's definition of it clearly influenced the drawing up of the programmes of study. It therefore makes sense to analyse the Orders in the light of Crick's definition of 'political literacy'. Many teachers will equate 'political knowledge' in the Crick definition to factual information about politics rather than political literacy. Such information litters the Orders. They make reference to 'legal and human rights', 'basic aspects of the criminal justice system', 'central and local government', 'the key characteristics of parliamentary and other forms of government', the 'electoral system and the importance of voting'.

However, this factual information about politics is not to be seen as inert or neutral, even if teachers view it as 'content'. From Crick's definition of political literacy, the purpose of learning 'about' this factual information is to prepare students for an effective part in 'public life'. This was defined by Crick as 'encompassing realistic knowledge of, and preparation for conflict resolution and decision-making, related to the main economic

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