From education to employment

Could David Blunkett’s Compulsory “Citizenship” Lessons make Young Citizens More Activ

In the second of a two ““ part series, FE News journalist Joe Paget examines the emergence of citizenship education and the effect it may have on Britain.

Planting Seeds

For governments, there is always the danger that encouraging young people to debate contentious and controversial issues could backfire. The young are more likely to be radical than older people, and impatient about making the world they are entering a better place. One of the biggest embarrassments to Tony Blair in the early days of the Iraq war was the spectacle of school children protesting vociferously against his decision on the lunchtime news.

Surely promoting the idea that young people can actually change things – in schools and colleges up and down the country – is suicidal?

Already there are ominous signs. In his speech on citizenship, David Bell recounted a story about a sixth form pupil on the pilot programme leading “a sustained campaign” in favour of Free Trade, which ended with the institution being forced to introduce a vending machine with free trade products. More worryingly for politicians, Ofsted and the ALI report that: “learners enthusiastically participated in a productive discussion on the ideal characteristics of an MP.” Plant a seed in a classroom debate, and it could grow into something much bigger outside.

Learners are unlikely to rush out en mass to man the barricades; but that’s not the point. Michel Foucault argued that the old class-based struggle for total revolution would disappear by the end of the twentieth century. He believed it would be replaced by very localised resistance against the powers that be; that small groups of people would confront governments on single issues and fight for small changes at a local level.

Foucault Sense

In recent years, many British citizens have proved the French social critic right. Barbour-jacketed protesters have fought against a hunting ban; dreadlocked anti-hunt saboteurs have clamoured for one; Fathers for Justice have demanded paternal rights; pensioners have gone to prison over council tax; farmers and hauliers have protested about the price of fuel; cyclists have protested about fuel pollution; the Campaign for Real Ale has demanded the right to a proper pint; and the naked rambler has defended everyone’s right to ramble naked.

There is no common cause between most of these groups, and some want completely opposite things. This is a headache for any government, especially one like New Labour that likes to try and please all the people all the time. Adding a new generation of politicised young to this already potent mix could have dire consequences: sit-ins, boycotts, dirty protests ““ who knows what could be in store when citizenship is fully rolled out?

Still, if British youngsters stop short of torching cars, then at least our politicians can say they”ve done a better job than their counterparts on the other side of the channel.

Joe Paget

Read the first part of “Citizenship: Power to the People?” right here at FE News

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