Citizenship: Freedom, justice and the Great Condom Dispute

Role playing is one way to explore concepts of democracy, writes Hilary Wilce
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The Independent Online

One of the major aims of citizenship teaching is to help students develop political literacy. And with fewer and fewer young people able to name leading politicians or bothering to vote once they turn 18, many see this is the most urgently needed strand of the new curriculum.

One of the major aims of citizenship teaching is to help students develop political literacy. And with fewer and fewer young people able to name leading politicians or bothering to vote once they turn 18, many see this is the most urgently needed strand of the new curriculum.

But teaching political literacy goes far beyond merely exploring how Parliament works, or encouraging pupils to exercise their democratic rights, vital though these are. It is about examining ideas and arguments, and through them coming to understand why a society has rules and laws, and how political institutions and processes try to deal with complex issues of rights, responsibilities, fairness and the distribution of resources.

A lesson plan developed for older students, for example, looks at a hypothetical dispute within a sixth-form college. At this college, students have voted by a simple majority to have a condom machine installed in their toilets. But not all the students agree, and neither do some local community and religious leaders. The argument looks set to split the town in half. What should the college governors do?

Using a situation very real to students, the Great Condom Dispute, developed by the Citizenship Foundation, which supports citizenship teaching, aims to help students identify the causes of moral disagreement in today's society, to recognise how this disagreement can affect public policy decisions, and to consider how such disagreements can be resolved.

Along the way, it will introduce them to words such as "consensus" and "quorum", it explores how majority rule can sometimes lead to a loss of individual and group freedoms, and examines how conflicts like these can be eased by public consultation and negotiation.

Teachers know that even pre-school children can wrestle with the concepts of fairness and power, and schools that have already spent time developing their students' political awareness say that they are always amazed by the maturity and passion which students bring to arguments. A common route by which many schools do this is within school councils, youth parliaments or mock elections.

The challenge of the new curriculum is to link this natural interest to the wider political process. Under it, students aged 11 to 14 will be taught about legal and human rights and responsibilities, the justice system, how central and local government work, and the electoral system and the importance of voting. The curriculum will introduce 15- and 16-year-olds to how the law is made and shaped, the importance of playing an active part in the democratic process, the role of a free press, and the UK's relationship with the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.

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