To help U.S. students learn how to become more active citizens, a group of 20 educators and policymakers traveled to Scotland, where citizenship education is an integral part of the national curriculum.
During the two-day conference in Edinburgh last month, organized at the U.S. end by the National Center for Learning and Citizenship, the team met with educators and top government officials from Scotland and England, which also incorporates citizenship education into the curriculum.
In both those parts of the United Kingdom, students have the chance to meet regularly with politicians to discuss issues they deem important. Educators facilitate conversations about current events and teach lessons on moral and social responsibility.
The approach is different from that of the United States, where citizenship education generally takes the form of specific classes or service-learning opportunities.
"The Scottish and English governments have developed a comprehensive framework for citizenship education," said Susan Shroud, a conference participant and the executive director of Innovations in Civic Participation, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington.
Each government has a national education authority that sets curriculum. Because the central education agencies in both places have made citizenship education a priority, schools make an effort to teach it, according to Sir Bernard Crick, the Home Office adviser on citizenship and the chairman of the advisory group that produced England’s curriculum.
"We think [students] should be helped to become active citizens when they leave school," Sir Bernard said. The best way to do that, he added, "is to have discussions of real issues and real problems."
That part of the curriculum, which the U.S. participants wanted to learn more about, is called "political literacy."
"Our students are civically engaged," said Beverly Hiott, a service-learning coordinator for the Richland 2 district in Columbia, S.C., who also attended the conference.
"But I would like them to have a better understanding of the social issues and problems that they address through their community engagement," she said.
On the other hand, students in England and Scotland do not have nearly the same opportunities for service learning that U.S. students do.
"There are some very good practices in the States," said Sir Bernard, "especially on school-community relations."
Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 17Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as Youth Service