Yesterday I was inspired by Dan Smith, a consultant who works on the British Council’s Active Citizens project, as he reflected on our work.
The thought is simple but fundamental to the ‘why’ of citizenship education.
He said that he had been nervous of interventions with young people where we try to make them agents of change – it’s hard for us not to impart our agenda in some way or another.
But then he thought that world is changing all the time anyway. Hugely these days: few people are not part of the flux. Change is happening in many ways beyond our immediate control, particularly in respect to ‘globalism’ – shorthand for burgeoning multinational marketplaces, communications, shared perspectives and population shifts.
When changes start to happen, for whatever reason, some people can be more in control of how we respond. They become more powerful. They can exploit it (like multinationals across the globe, oligarchs in Russia, oil companies in USA) and become supremely powerful.
Young people are often at the end of the chain of change.
Perhaps not so in the sixties – richer American hippy youth felt that the answers were blowing in the wind of change… and they were the agents.
But this generation is in no such position.
So, Dan mused, given that change is happening – where are the next generation being prepared to be active in the nature of change, rather than passive recipients?
The purpose of supporting young people as (active) citizens is not so that they can be the unique and exalted leaders of the future. It is to enable as many of them as possible to be involved in the changes that are happening all around them. To participate in collective decisions and actions. To guard their own interests against the exploitative giants or the myth makers who will spin their heads towards false Gods.
Social action, economic awareness, legal capability, political understanding – they all prepare young people to participate. They need it. We all need it.