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Rezension / Literaturbericht, 2006
7 Seiten, Note: none
The Cult of Citizenship Education
“A dread that goes beyond the breakdown of bowling leagues and civic clubs… the fear of our young as letterless, unassailable barbarians”
Alan Sears and Emery Hyslop-Margison, in The Cult of Citizenship Education, illuminate the driving discourse behind the seeming explosion in democratic citizenship education reform with particular attention to the last decade.
Sears and Hyslop-Margison lay a solid foundation of scholarship to support their claim of a climate of educational reform driven by mere slogans and dogma, rather than any meaningful research or reliable data. Calling on Janice Gross Stein’s 2001 Massey Lectures, The Cult of Efficiency, Sears and Hyslop-Margison, in accessible terms, explain that meaningful dialogue around issues of educational reform is precluded by the participants being caught up in a maze of rapid-fire rhetoric. As a result, The Cult of Citizenship Education, is a call for a more careful, thoughtful, and nuanced approach in understanding and promoting democratic citizenship education and its reform.
Moving forward, Sears and Hyslop-Margison begin to analyze some of the rhetoric produced by this cult mentality. Their overarching claim is that a grossly distorted discourse of crisis has formed around the subject of citizenship education, and is a driving force in sweeping reforms resulting in little to no value in regards to meaningful reform. Sears and Hyslop- Margison synthesize the discourse of crisis into three main areas (1) the crisis of ignorance, (2) the crisis of alienation, and (3) the crisis of agnosticism. Calling forward a host of reputable scholars and research they attempt to disassemble these claims. Without wishing to compromise the integrity of their arguments, I will further summarize them for our purposes here.
Within the crisis of ignorance Sears and Hyslop-Margison assert that our youth are no more ignorant than that of a hundred years ago, and that which they are ignorant of is
‘questionable’ in its relevance to meaningful democratic citizenship; the listing of prime ministers and naming of famous Canadians was cited among other “arcane historical and political facts” (p. 18). Although respecting the potential problems associated with these perceived areas of ignorance in the Canadian population, Sears and Hyslop-Margison dismiss this as a crisis of citizenship stating that this knowledge is “not particularly essential to good citizenship” (p. 18).
Turning to the crisis of alienation, the authors refer to a conclusion of alienation from the socio-political apparatus that has been drawn, primarily, from steadily declining voter participation rates, especially among younger voters. Sears and Hyslop-Margison in essence endeavor to sever the idea of political alienation from that of civic alienation. Pointing to research that suggests contemporary youth are no more cynical than their parents, but rather less allegiant to partisan politics, concluding that today’s youth are merely alienated from a “political system closed to meaningful consultation and participation” (Buckingham, 1999, as cited on p. 18). They proceed to illustrate that this does not translate into across-the-board civic disengagement, but does perhaps reflect the significant voter decline. In fact, the authors turn to Gautier (2002) to demonstrate that youth are turning to a form of participatory democracy; they are engaging in social movements such as environmentalism, and that this form of civic engagement is increasing. Thus, our youth have merely shifted their participation away from the purely political process to a more “grass roots” form of engagement.
Finally, in respect to the crisis of agnosticism, Sears and Hyslop-Margison argue that we cannot conclude, from such incidents as “ethically motivated attacks on foreign residents in Canada, Europe, and the United States” a “serious deficit of democratic values” (p. 20). Arguing that the situation is not this simple, the authors defer to a host of studies that have identified youth as “positive” towards an expanse of democratic values. In fact, they point to the willingness of youth to limit rights such as freedom of speech for groups promoting racism. Recognizing that some may see this denial of access as a low level commitment to fundamental democratic values, Sears and Hyslop-Margison respond by saying that it does demonstrate that young people are “genuinely concerned with ethno-cultural diversity” (p. 20). They end simply with a statement that the crisis of agnosticism is complex.