Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lighting the fuse...

I've just discovered What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy by Joel Westheimer, as part of a wider look at the social sciences in early childhood education.

Social science is a vague subject that really goes undefined in Te Whāriki yet when you get an understanding of what it entails it's ends up being a core learning area. This is the problem with a prescriptive curriculum! Not that I'm complaining, it's just a gamble leaving it up to individual teachers to click onto social science...

The links in Te Whāriki are cringingly obvious though:

equitable opportunities for learning, irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity, or background”

each child has the right to active and equitable participation in the community”

Yeah it's all about relationships, accepting of diversity, and participating in society.

Citizenship is a social contract between an individual and the state and infers all sorts of rights/responsibilities as a participating member of society. This article looks at the different types of citizens and is new territory for me so is a good place to start:

The Personally Responsible citizen: to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must have good character, be honest, responsible and law abiding... work and pays taxes, recycles, gives blood; volunteers etc. This sounds like pretty much like most people we know right? Well the straight ones at least.

The Participatory citizen: to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must be active in community structures and positions. So rather than just giving, they're out in the organising committee's hustling for change – by the rules of course.

The Justice Orientated citizen: to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must question and change established systems and structures when they reproduce patterns of injustice over time. Justice orientated citizens “ critically assess social, political, and economic structures and consider collective strategies that challenge injustice and where possible address root causes of the problem” (p.3). This is the shit.

Westheimer goes on to say “the limits of character education and of volunteerism and the conservative political orientation reflected... distracts attention from analysis” (p.5). In other words kindness is a way of avoiding the problem.

I'm hearing 'the most important thing you can do in a democracy is vote' type shit. Can you?

I've always had trouble around citizenship, especially the arbitrary line that determines a citizen from a non-citizen and how many basic rights can quickly crumble if you are on the wrong side. Who gave the State the authority to impose or grant rights? For me, citizenship is all tangled up with nationalism, blind obedience and the mass control of society in a similar way that religion operates. So it's great to read that critical thinking, analysis and a mandate to explore deeper social issues with children is being promoted – and that it's best done collectively. Sure we need 'nice' people who are responsible citizens, but as Westheimer says, “they hinder rather than make possible democratic participation and change.”

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