Why Being a Good Citizen Goes to Heart of Our Democracy; STEPHEN LAMBERT Argues That Citizenship Studies Should Be Made Compulsory to Aid Attempts to Stamp out Extremism

The Journal (Newcastle, England), August 5, 2015 | Go to article overview

Why Being a Good Citizen Goes to Heart of Our Democracy; STEPHEN LAMBERT Argues That Citizenship Studies Should Be Made Compulsory to Aid Attempts to Stamp out Extremism


OVER 1,000 students are following A-level Citizenship courses, including those at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington, as part of their overall A-Level programme.

This is to be welcomed by all those who want to see a 'politically, economically educated electorate' in the second decade of the 21st century.

Yet the Government quango, Ofqual, has suggested that the subject be deleted from the 16 to 19 programme.

Nothing could be more foolish or short-sighted at a time when policy experts are telling us that as a nation we are experiencing a "crisis of democratic engagement'' with fewer people turning out to vote in elections or joining voluntary associations.

As the top American Don Bob Puttman notes in his classic book Bowling Alone, people are more likely to watch the sitcom Friends than make them! Rather than scrapping Citizenship Studies, it should be made mandatory with students sitting the Life In The UK test at the end of it, or for more advanced students the full AS/A-level.

This summer the Government has placed a legal duty on all schools and colleges to be pro-active in challenging 'extremism' as part of its anti-terrorism strategy.

This means teachers being on the lookout for signs of potential radicalisation whether that be Isis or involvement in far-right organisations. But there is an alternative to the Government's narrow and possibly stigmatising approach.

Let's widen space in the national curriculum in the form of citizenship classes for learning about citizenship, democracy, rights, justice and fairness, and developing pupils' skills for critical thinking, argument and participation. This alternative is based on education, not just surveillance.

One major feature of citizenship education is a grasp of political, legal, economic and social processes. For instance, politics is concerned with power in our society.

It affects nearly every part of our lives. Decisions not only have to be taken in national, local and European settings, but also need to be taken within day-to-day social relationships. In short this is what politics is all about.

To participate effectively within the various decision-making processes, it's vital adults are suitably equipped with the relevant civic knowledge and skills. The last four decades have seen the rapid development of society with the result of more centralised political decision-making, despite devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some regions of England.

Centralised power has reduced the ability of citizens to actively influence decision-making, let alone understand it.

More alarmingly in the last 10 years a huge chunk of the populace feel 'alienated' from the democratic process. Only 66% of those registered actually turned out to vote in the 2015 General Election. …

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