John Simkin

Developing a Citizenship Course

23 posts in this topic

I thought it might be worthwhile to start a discussion on what would make a good citizenship course.

In my view the main objective of such a course would be to encourage young people to become fully functioning citizens. I think this could be done in several different ways.

The course must have an historical element. It is very important that young people have an understanding of how people obtained the vote. It is especially important they know why some people tried to prevent the majority from having these rights. Linked to this is having information on how legislation changed after the introduction of democracy.

The students should also study the sociology of voting. This would include the reasons why some people do not vote and the consequences of this for society. For example, the tendency of political parties to ignore the opinions of those sections of the community who appear to be apathetic about politics. This part of the course would also look at the role of pressure groups in society.

The most important aspect of the course would be activities designed to encourage the students to become active in their community. I think this is the best way to show students the importance of politics.

One aspect of this would be to get the students to come up with some ideas on how they could improve the quality of their local community. They could then form groups based round these different issues. For example, they might come up with the idea that the community needs a youth club. The teacher’s role would be to help them to develop a campaign to get this facility. Even if they fail in obtaining their objective, they will get important insights into the way the political system works.

It is important that the students do not see politics as a purely selfish instinct. Another aspect of the course would be for the students to carry out a survey to discover what older members of the community would like to have changed. After the results of the survey are analysed, a list of possible campaigns would be drawn up. Students would then opt to join one of these projects.

Each one of these campaigns would have its own website. This will enable the students to chart their activities and to communicate the progress they have made in obtaining their objectives to the wider community.

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Firstly, let me try to explain what an English teacher is doing on this site! I think that the aspect of my work which John was most interested in was the IT-based distance education aspect. Or, to put it in more normal language: how do you get both teachers and pupils from around Europe to collaborate with each other actively?

I'm going to ask a colleague of mine, Nicholas Ammert, if he would like to contribute to this part of the Forum (if that's OK with the rest of you). Nicholas is an experienced teacher of 'Samhällskunskap' (knowledge about society) and is currently a teacher trainer in the field. Sweden (and the other Nordic countries) have had something like 'citizenship' as a compulsory part of the school curriculum for many years now, and it might be interesting to hear what's worked and what hasn't.

I think John's ideas are really interesting. I also see a Citizenship course as being a sort of 'Owner's Manual' for how society works. One very common project on similar courses in Sweden is to get the pupils to find out how you campaign for very concrete improvements in your local area (such as getting a reduction in the speed limit right outside a school, or getting the council to take a more environmentally responsible attitude to waste). Encouraging schools in different countries to compare and contrast their experiences could be both a learning experience for each set of pupils, and a way of getting them to see their societies in a more European perspective.

One feature of citizen's rights which is particularly strong in Sweden, for example, is 'offentlighetsprincipen' (the right of public information). Basically, most official documents have to be given a reference number, and any citizen can demand to see them, at very short notice. So, if you want to see the Prime Minister's official credit card receipts (i.e. his official credit card, not his private one), to see what he was spending public money on last month, you just have to ask.

This is something that's really wound up certain EU officials - it's difficult to keep low-level secrets when Swedes are involved … and it would be fascinating to see if there was anything comparable in other EU countries.

However, as I've said, the subject matter of this project doesn't really fall within my area of expertise, so I might well be barking up the wrong tree …

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One more formal question: what languages are we going to use? At the moment, we're using English as the working language by default. However, I think we ought to consider a language policy - even if it's a really simple "English +" one (i.e. I don't think we need to spend too much time on the debate, since we all know what the disadvantages of trying to express yourself in a foreign language are). My feeling is that if we don't put this question on the table right from the start, individual team members could start feeling that they were at a disadvantage later on.

I suspect as well, though, that Citizenship is an area where specific terms might need to be defined in the language of their origin, with explanations in another language. Just think of the Swedish term 'folkhem' (people's home) which describes the vision the social democrats had of an inclusive welfare state - the very term sounds like East European communism!

You never know, we might be able to forge a practical working policy which falls in between the extremes of English determining the terms of the discourse on the one hand, and the paralysis of everything having to be translated into umpteen languages on the other.

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I am writing about very practical topics (Comenius project, funding...), I will post later about the Citizenship course.

We want to start a Comenius 2.1 project, more concretely (there are several ways):

European cooperation projects for the training of school education staff

Projects which create, test, and deliver training courses for educational staff

By analysing the needs of teachers, pooling expertise and studying good practice in different European countries, a partnership could design a training course and create the necessary teacher training materials (accompanied, where appropriate, by materials for pupils). The resulting course would then be delivered over several years by the partner organisations, both during and after the end of the project supported by Comenius 2.

http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/progra...menius2_en.html

The best way to begin this sort of projects is organising a preparatory visit. One of the partners hosts the meeting (John in our case) and the others have to apply for funding at their national agencies

http://europa.eu.int/comm/education/progra...cttypes_en.html

Normally, at least in Spain, you have to apply for about two months before the meeting will take place. The application form can be obtained on our National Agency's web site.

This the Spanish one http://aplicaciones.mec.es/programas-europ...4_vpcentral.doc

We need to know different data about all the partners. Ihave been trying to enclose mine but I didn't achieve it.

We need a coordinator institution who manages budget, deadlines...

:ph34r:

Well, I think it is enough of practical information.

Edited by Juan Carlos

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After looking into the Spanish application form (I assume the form will be the same in all countries)

We need to know in advance:

First name, name, name of the institution, country... of all participants

More data of the host institution (e-mail... John, the best would be that you check it out on the British Socrates Agency web site)

We need to agree on:

Objectives, topics, activities of the project.

Dates (beginning, end... Normally it will be from September 2006 to September 2009)

The name of the partner institutions

Activities during the visit (sort of agenda)

Edited by Juan Carlos

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Let me also explain what an English teacher is doing here. B) Teaching the Language, we give the knowledge of a foreign culture, traditions, try to persuade the students to respect it and, sometimes, completely forget about the culture and other important things concerning our own country. First of all we should come up to the defenition of what citizenship is since it's a very complicated notion. If citizenship is "the ways in which a good citizen behaves, for example, being responsible and helping their community" (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English), we should make up a list of compulsory topics which make up the whole course. One of them is Voting right and obligation of a good citizen as John has stated, another one might be "How to react on injustice or lawlessness". I think, it's rather important for a good citizen, 'cos i often see how adults go by such things,being indignant but doing nothing to change the situation. One more topic I consider quite vital is "Country's achievments" because I come across such students who are crazy about abroad, considering their own country to be unbearable to live in. We as educators, should select the material in such a way to convince the students to be proud of the country they live in. I might be wrong, if so, let me know. Probably, i'm in the wrong direction :ph34r: . All the ideas stated above appeal to me greatly. But what I consider to be necessary is to make an outline of the course to start collecting material.

Marina

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In my view, Citizenship is one of the most controversial issues in early 21st century.

We can define citizenship as a legal and political status which allows the citizen to acquire some rights (civil, political, social...) as an individual and some duties (taxes, military service, loyalty...) in relation to a political community, as well as the ability of intervening in the collective life of a state.

This concept of citizenship dates back to the late 18th century and is characterised by the pre-eminence of the state-nation as the political community that comprises the individuals. Citizenship is tantamount to nationality.

Two major transformations are placing in question the role of the contemporary State-nation and the concept of citizenship that it embraces:

Firstly, globalisation, that is to say, the fact that the central and strategic economic activities are integrated on a world scale through electronic webs of capitals, goods, and information exchange. A key element of this globalisation is the development of the Internet and the information society. The States-nation are less and less able to cope with the challenges of globalisation.

Secondly, the existence of more multicultural societies that break up the theoretical homogeneity of States-nation. Regional or national diversity (Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom, Russia) and multiculturalism and multiethnicity brought about by growing immigration are key aspects of the new European society.

Which are the topics related to Citizenship that I am interested in?

Historical background (fight for right of vote and other political rights)

The way the political systems work in our countries (political parties, institutions…)

Setting up didactic activities that deal with the most controversial topics in our societies (immigration, racism, nationalism, gender issues…) and promote our students’ participation as citizens in their own communities

I think that this project can bring together people from Russia to Spain, from Norway to Greece. It is a privileged situation to have a real pan-European scope on the topic of citizenship.

A project’s web site (lessons, resources, activities…) will be the main outcome and the most important tool to be used in our citizenship course.

English is the vehicular language of the project. However, I think we should produce materials is our own languages as well.

Edited by Juan Carlos

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I agree with Juan Carlos’ remarks about the practical matters of the project.

I think that many crucial issues can be discussed in a project like this.

First of all there are many terms pertaining to citizenship like civics, social sciences, social studies, world studies, society, studies of society, life skills and moral education.

The area also has links to curriculum subjects and options, including history, geography, economics, law, politics, environmental studies, values education, religious studies, languages and science. The range of terms and subject connections underlines the breadth and complexity of the issues addressed within this area. This breadth and complexity is both a strength and a weakness.

Besides there are interesting pedagogic matters like the content of the curriculum or the aims of this subject in the European Education, the citizenship’s teacher specialization and training, the teaching and learning approaches, the use of textbooks and other resources etc.

On the other hand a European dimension in this project is inevitable as most of our countries are members of the E.U. (let us see the results of the referendums next days so that we can guess the future of E.U.) and other countries want to be ).

Discussion about

1. the formulation of the new notion of European Citizen,

2. the effort to build a more coherent Europe, based on values and principles and not on ephemerous interests so that

3. the going to be E.U. members will accept without qualification the European ideals

is already (at least in Greece) brought to prominence.

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I agree with Juan about practical matters, too.

Quite a lot of good ideas have been given so far. I think that the European dimension of citizenship could be a feature peculiar to the project.

I think that national institutions and the way the political system works in each country (political parties, electoral systems, the written constitution…) are usually dealt with at school, in Italy there is a specific subject to teach these topics.

I would find it interesting to promote students' awareness of their European citizenship, not only in terms of institutions, rights, duties, but also with reference to to some big issues such as immigration, globalisation, multiculturalism and multiethnicity (the issues Juan Carlos suggested), etc. on a European level. This because a single state is unable to cope with these problems on its own, and common European solutions will have to be found in a global world. As Tasos wrote, the complexity of these issues can be a real challenge, so we should try to define the scope of the project.

Of course this would imply collecting data, studying the issue, comparing and discussing points of views, etc.

Having students discuss these issues on forums could be very interesting, although I do not know if it could be managed easily.

One of the goals of the projects could be promoting in future citizens the ability to take part in their own community's life with a clear idea of its being part of a much larger system.

I also think that the project could meet the need for promoting deeper involvement of young people in social and political issues, from the origin of the term politics itself (polis). I think there is a real need for this type of commitment in many European countries, also because the recent changes in our history call for new policies.

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A lot of important points have already been mentioned.

One important aspect for me and my students is to see how other political systems (election, organisation of Parliaments, local goverment; means and opportunities of particpation etc.) work and which values and principles they are based on.

The first step of the project for me would be to define for ourselves what "citizenship" is and what we think makes "good" citizen. This can be the basis for the material and projects we develop and initiate.

As we will be working on an international/European level I support Juan Carlos' and Caterina Gasparini's suggestions of giving the project a European dimension.

As I think that teaching Citizenship/Politics is more than asking students to read different texts and as I believe that the only way this subject leave a lasting and sustainable impression on the students is to help them get involved, the challenge of the project would be to combine the international/European dimension with the students participating actively in some projects.

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It is striking that much of what counts for "Citizenship" in schools is about obedience to rules rather than understanding and discussing political concepts, theories and issues.

A good citizenship course should include material which may challenge the status quo rather than just inculcate an acceptance of one's place within it.

A good Citizenship course should aim to make children think critically about the world they are about to inherit.

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A good Citizenship course should aim to make children think critically about the world they are about to inherit.

I agree. Does your school course do this? Do you know of any examples of this approach being used in the UK?

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A good Citizenship course should aim to make children think critically about the world they are about to inherit.

I agree. Does your school course do this? Do you know of any examples of this approach being used in the UK?

Some of the online Citzenship materials I have created aim to do this but Citizenship across the board is not a area I have much control or influence over.

DFES guidelines for Citizenship largely follow the "duties" rather than "rights" approach - being a good citizen being seen as being an obedient drone

http://www.school-portal.co.uk/GroupHomepa...p?GroupID=24218

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A good Citizenship course should aim to make children think critically about the world they are about to inherit.

DFES guidelines for Citizenship largely follow the "duties" rather than "rights" approach - being a good citizen being seen as being an obedient drone

I agree. I think that the approach should be changed, I mean "rights" should be taught together with "duties". The old question is that duties and rights are connected, the single citizen's rights may have to stop where the community's rights start.

The stress should be on participation and involvement, so I agree with Andy that it is important to help students understand and discuss political concepts, theories and issues.

This is done in part in Italy in the history and philosophy classes, which are usually taught by the same teacher.

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The stress should be on participation and involvement, so I agree with Andy that it is important to help students understand and discuss political concepts, theories and issues. This is done in part in Italy in the history and philosophy classes, which are usually taught by the same teacher.

In a mature democracy I think that all students should have access to such thought provoking content. Unfortunately in the UK it usually only appears in A Level Politics, Sociology or Philosophy- subjects which are only ever taken by a very small minority.

"Citizenship" however is an 'entitlement for all students' and is a National Curriculum subject at all key stages. If this new project is able to influence the delivery of this then it will be a very worthwhile endeavour indeed.

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