2016: let’s make it a Happy New Year for citizenship education

Christmas candles by Markus Grossalber

‘There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today. Many of those are teachers.’ (Image by Markus Grossalber.)

I know I’m a few days late, but I’m sure it’s still early enough in January to wish you all a very happy new year.

Of course, that may seem like wishful thinking, considering some of the news we’ve been hearing recently. Even this weekend, reports reached us of IS killing five more Westerners in a chilling video message that threatened to invade Britain and usurp our democracy:

‘All British government, all people of Britain, know that today your citizenship is under our feet and that the Islamic State, our country, is here to stay and we will continue to wage jihad, break borders and one day invade your land, when you will be ruled by Sharia’.

The threat was even more shocking for its endorsement by a five-year-old boy dressed in military fatigues.

The video comes a few days after David Cameron’s New Year message in which he pledged to take on the extremist threat to Britain, reaffirming his resolve to ‘come down hard on those who create the conditions for that narrative to flourish’ and vowing that we will have ‘greater confidence in – indeed, we will revel in – our way of life’.

He seemed a bit confused about what that meant though, apparently forgetting his previously-stated British values of ‘democracy’, ‘the rule of law’, ‘individual liberty’ and ‘mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith’ (whoever wrote that last one could be encouraged to add ‘brevity’ to the list). Instead, he told us: ‘if you walk our streets, learn in our schools, benefit from our society, you sign up to our values: freedom; tolerance; responsibility; loyalty’.

We know teachers also struggle with how to approach British values and extremism. But we also know the power of good citizenship education – wherever it is, whatever it’s called, and whatever the Government’s current rhetoric – to challenge and empower people to play a positive role in a flourishing society.

As the Queen reminded us in her customary Christmas address to the Commonwealth, ‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today’.

Indeed there are, and many are teachers; and, for them, citizenship education can be an essential tool. In 2016, let’s help them keep their candles alight.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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