Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Prof. Audrey Osler delivers the annual 24th Symposium Lecture

11 September 2007 |

The School of Education's CME Symposium Distinguished Lecturer, Prof. Audrey Osler, discusses British politicaldiscourse on multiculturalism, patriotism and shared values and consider the implications for the teaching of citizenship and history.

Citizenship, Multiculturalism and Minority Education in Britain: a Question of Civil Rights or Human Rights?

Center for Multicultural Education, 24th Annual Symposium Lecture at the University of Washington

In a world increasingly characterized by migration, globalization and ethno-nationalism, is it constructive or unhelpful to promote national values?

For Audrey Osler, who presented the University of Washington’s Center for Multicultural Education annual symposium lecture the answer is straightforward: we can only speak of national values if these are the values to which the nation has signed up.

In an illustrated presentation, Audrey Osler, Director of the Centre for Citizenship and Human Rights Education at the University of Leeds rejected calls by senior politicians to inculcate ‘British values’ and an uncritical patriotism through citizenship lessons. She advocated an approach which makes clear that the democratic values taught are shared by other modern democracies across Europe and the world, and are, in fact the expressed values of the United Nations, as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

America: our nightmare?

Osler invited her audience to draw comparisons between the UK and US experiences. Drawing speeches by past and present British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and on a 2005 speech by Trevor Phillips, now Chair of the UK Commission on Equality and Human Rights, who claimed that Britain was sleepwalking to segregation, she asked, was Phillips accurate in asserting that ‘for all of us who care about racial equality and integration, America is not our dream but our nightmare’?

Osler also rejected a traditional multicultural approach to citizenship, as promoted in the Ajegbo report, which focuses on diversity within the nation, but doesn’t properly address the experiences of young people growing up in the 21st century, who have access to global networks through the Internet and who often have ties to countries and traditions beyond the nation’s boundaries.

Instead, she advocated education for cosmopolitan citizenship, which recognizes and builds upon young people’s experiences and understanding of diversity in local communities (where we generally experience our citizenship in a direct way), at national, and at international levels. The important thing, she argued, is to build on this experience, not deny it. It was a mistake to ask students to reject it and to take part in celebrations of national pride which did not make sense to them. Attempts to instill national pride can be counterproductive, she pointed out.

Osler was introduced by James A Banks, Director of the Center for Multicultural Education and currently Tisch Visiting Professor at Columbia Teachers’ College in New York, who flew in to Seattle for the occasion of the lecture. Describing Dr Osler as the leading UK expert in citizenship education and a world class scholar, the former AERA President reminded the audience of her scholarship and extensive publications. He stated that few people can talk more authoritatively on the subject of citizenship, democracy and diversity in education.

Hidden histories

Osler drew on her own experiences of growing up in the UK in the 1960s to question whether a focus on national history is a solution in our efforts to teach for both unity and diversity. Whose history was Gordon Brown advocating when he called for a greater focus on British history? Audrey Osler suspected it was unlikely to be that of her family. She reminded her audience that diversity in Britain and in Europe was nothing new.

Although Britain had celebrated the ‘first Black MPs’ in 1987 with the election of Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz to parliament, we appeared to have forgotten our past. Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, who was Prime Minister from 1812 to 1827, was of mixed Indian and White British heritage; there had been three MPs of colour in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from Liberal, Conservative, Labour and Communist parties; and among the most prominent suffragettes in London in the early twentieth century were two Indian women Sophia Duleep Singh and Bhikaji Cama. There were no photographs of these women in history text books when Professor Osler was at school and it is still unlikely that many students will hear about them in today’s classrooms. Why was there a tendency to present diversity in England as something rather new?

For further information and photos visit: http://education.uw.edu/cme/Osler

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