Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

CCHRE Director discusses history with MPs

29 November 2008 |

At an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Crick Report on citizenship education in England, CCHRE Director Professor Audrey Osler told MPs that recent questions about the possibility of a future Black Prime Minister indicate how we quickly forget aspects of our shared history in Britain.

Robert Banks Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool, who entered parliament in 1791 and held the office of Prime Minister from 1812-27, was of mixed descent, with an Indian woman as his maternal grandmother.

The ways in which we teach history and citizenship (and what we include or leave out) can influence how children react to politics and whether they believe they can get involved or make a difference. The excitement generated in Britain by the recent US presidential election suggests that politics can catch the imagination of the young.

Many students in British schools celebrated the election of Barrack Obama as US president, but school text books regularly overlook the long established diversity of Britain. We need to ask ourselves why we seem to suffer from collective amnesia when it comes to examining issues of race.

The Crick report painted a picture of disengaged youth who need citizenship lessons in order to strengthen our democracy. The reality is more complex. Schools which involve young people in decision-making find that they respond well. Practical experience of democracy, as well as information about their rights, encourages young people to be responsible and to work for social justice.

Professor Osler argued that teachers need on-going support and training in order to prepare young people to participate. If students are to become media literate and able to recognise propaganda, teachers need to feel confident in leading discussions on complex subjects such as political violence, global inequality, racism and extremism.

Some schools have developed programmes of citizenship education which encourage young people to develop global perspectives and recognise what they share with people in distant places. Others, particularly those in inner cities, place an emphasis on diversity in the local community. In a context in which schools and communities across the country are welcoming migrant students from a different regions of the world, both these aspects are clearly important and suggest that these complementary areas of expertise need to be shared.

The Question Time session in parliament was organised by ACT, the Association for Citizenship Teaching. CCHRE guests from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan were in the audience.


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