Citizenship Education in Deeply Divided Societies: Theoretical Debates

Osler and Starkey argue that in democracies citizenship is composed of three essential and complementary elements: status, feelings and practice.5 Citizen status encompasses legal nationality: this may reflect biological heritage and the subordination of certain racial, gender and class groups.6 Citizenship practices are the skills and behaviours deriving from democratic and human rights values.7 Feelings of citizenship are part and parcel of identity, but also depend on the inclusiveness of society and on its specific expressions of nationalism.8

Leenders and Veugelers observe that ‘different citizenship concepts appear to be related to different pedagogical aims’ of citizenship education, as identified on a spectrum between minimal and maximal citizenship education.9 David Kerr shows that minimal citizenship education (or civic education) promotes a narrow definition of citizenship, often supports the exclusive interests of some groups, employs didactic teaching and focuses on knowledge acquisition. It focuses primarily on citizenship status, conveying the rights and duties of citizens within the predefined legal framework of the state, and concentrates on political and governmental institutions, mechanisms for decision-making and governance, and only occasionally on information about human and individual rights.10

Leenders and Veugelers argue that minimal civic education assumes the homogeneity of the population and aims to transmit fixed values to children in an attempt to promote loyalty and obedience and ‘to help integrate a diverse population into a single national culture’.11 The promotion of minimal and contested notions of citizenship, the emphasis on assimilation rather than diversity, and the attempt to erode group attachments through loyalty to the state and the promotion of individual rights can exacerbate inter-group tensions, especially if dominant groups ‘subordinate the very aim of educating children as civic equals, to perpetuate their own power’.12 Indeed, defining citizenship in terms of loyalty to the state can exclude certain communities in deeply divided societies.

In contrast, maximal citizenship education (or citizenship education) defines citizenship broadly and inclusively, conveying the contents and knowledge components of civic education, but also questioning the processes leading to the emergence of current definitions of citizenship.13 To cultivate citizenship status, maximal citizenship education provides knowledge about the political system and society. To promote citizenship practices, it encourages involvement in civil society, and actions improving the local and wider community. Finally, to stimulate feelings of citizenship, it fosters debate, investigation, critical thinking about inclusive notions of citizenship, ‘socially useful qualities’ and value dispositions.14 Tawil argues that ‘method and content in the area of values education are inseparable’, so maximal citizenship education requires participatory methods, critical thinking, open communication and debate, independent learning and group work.15 Above all, it requires the practising of citizenship skills.16

Maximal citizenship education aims to show that identities are ‘multiple, nested and overlapping’.17 Rather than breaking the link between individuals and ethnic, religious or national groups, it strives to construct superordinate identities and transversal loyalties, reconciling citizenship, individual rights and group membership.18 In this approach, pride in citizenship and commitment to the state can only be developed if students are proud of their ethnic, national or religious identity and if the state recognises and values each of its cultural communities.19 This is why, after a violent conflict, maximal citizenship education can act ‘as a positive transformative force, rather than a means for indoctrination’.20

It is widely accepted that children can be introduced to the values and principles underpinning citizenship in primary school, but the best time for political socialisation and the tackling of issues related to conflicts is after 10-11 years of age.21 In schools, civic and citizenship education can be taught as a separate subject: this ensures teacher training, provides a protected environment to practise values and behaviours, and endows civic and citizenship education with a higher status (as do official exams).22 Citizenship can also be ‘integrated’ into a social studies course, allowing students to extrapolate findings from other subjects.23 Finally, citizenship can be a cross-curricular theme: this encourages coordination across several subject areas and a ‘whole school’ approach to certain founding values and principles. Yet, a cross-curricular approach tends to be fragmented and weak, and risks marginalising citizenship in favour of higher status subjects.24

Moreover, citizen status, practice and feelings are not only conveyed through the manifest curriculum: beyond content (the curriculum), Kerr points at the influence of culture (from societal norms and traditions to the professional culture of teachers) and climate (school ethos, opportunities to practise values and explore controversial issues).25 Building on these three categories, Shuayb argues that Lebanese schools adopt one of five approaches to citizenship education. The passive approach promotes a subject approach to citizenship education, with few school activities and focusing on exam preparation. The avoidance or apolitical approach attempts to depoliticise the school by banning debates over politics and current affairs, teaching citizenship education didactically, offering limited extracurricular activities, and physically separating students belonging to different communities. The extracurricular approach relies on extracurricular activities to practise some citizenship skills, but rarely allows students to plan activities or reflect upon them. The multidimensional/ structured approach integrates citizenship education in every aspect of school life and organisation, encompassing the relationship with the wider community, a democratic management system, an inclusive admission and hiring policy, extensive social and civic activities, active student councils and critical classroom pedagogies. Finally, the paradoxical approach emphasises active pedagogies, provides a voice for students and extracurricular activities, but it does so within the confines of one community.26

Shuayb proposes a correlation between schools’ approaches to citizenship education and students’ political attitudes: she maintains that students in schools applying the passive and apolitical approaches are more likely to express sectarian opinions and prefer the exclusive company of students and teachers from their own community, and less likely to trust people belonging to other communities. Students in schools applying the multidimensional and extracurricular approaches are less likely to trust sectarian parties and are more reticent to join them, preferring voting as a form of social participation. In contrast, students in schools adopting the paradoxical and apolitical approaches tend to trust sectarian parties and aim to join them. Thus, Shuayb suggests that, to promote social cohesion in Lebanon, schools should move from a subject-based approach to citizenship education to a more holistic and multidimensional approach.27 Analysis of initiatives to reform citizenship education in Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Macedonia shows that the three societies are moving towards more maximal approaches to citizenship education.

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