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England's Citizenship Education Experiment: State, School and Student Perspectives

reviewed by John P. Myers - November 08, 2013

coverTitle: England's Citizenship Education Experiment: State, School and Student Perspectives
Author(s): Lee Jerome
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 1441122249, Pages: 208, Year: 2012
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Although the nation can serve as a compelling unit of comparative analysis, especially at the level of policy, such analysis can also propagate the myth that schools and classrooms take up the policies in approximately similar fashion. This tension between a national perspective of a policy-driven education system in England with the very local and situated ways that such policies are taken up and enacted in classrooms by teachers and students is a central concern of this volume. It addresses both of these concerns, in a way that “connects the broad analysis of political principles to the action of teachers” (p. xvi). Jerome takes on the ambitious goal of seeking to understand the tightly bound relationship of politics and citizenship education reform as a process of translation and implementation. All in all, the author achieves this goal although in the process he nonetheless raises another set of questions. Of these, most pressing is whether telling this story matters for the practice of citizenship education in England, and elsewhere.

It is important to note that all policy work has an ideological component that shapes the content of the implemented policies. However, citizenship education is an especially pertinent case because it shares fundamental value questions about the nature of the good citizen with partisan politics. Jerome adeptly maneuvers between political theory and careful analysis of the policy context, which is clearly the strength of the volume. The volume helps us to understand how New Labour conceptualized the “good citizen” and turned it into a working model in schools. From the start, the author makes clear what he means by citizenship:

There is nothing absolute about being a citizen—the freedoms of a citizen will ebb and flow over time depending on the decisions taken by governments day by day. Somehow all those decisions—the everyday processes of government and the interactions between citizens and other citizens representatives of the state—all add up to create contemporary citizenship. (p. 4)

Clearly, this is a view of citizenship that is highly contingent on the government in power, which subtly shifts the role of agency from citizens toward political authority.

The book is divided into two sections: “Thinking About Citizenship Policy” and “Implementing the Vision.” The first of these parts (Chapters One to Four) is a loosely tied together collection presenting the theoretical and contextual backgrounds (Chapter One); the author’s methodological approach to studying education policy (Chapter Two); New Labour’s implementation of citizenship education during the past ten years, which also serves to highlight themes that will be examined later in Part 2 (Chapter Three); and an analysis of two significant policy documents on citizenship education policy in England, the Crick Report and the Ajegbo Review (Chapter Four). In my opinion the writing is most effective—and the argument most convincing—when focused on the painstaking dissection of the political context and policy. For example, Chapter Four, The New Citizen in Education Policy, outlines the development of the official citizenship education curriculum in the two aforementioned reports. Although much of this has been previously reported, Jerome’s analysis provides new insights by focusing on three thematic elements: rights and responsibilities, community and diversity, and active citizenship. Readers will appreciate this disentanglement of specific aspects of citizenship that can look very different when put into education practice.

The second part (Chapters Five to Eleven), however, in some respects is a more gripping read for educators and classroom researchers. This is due to Jerome’s ambitious effort to examine how policies translated into school classrooms. Many of the chapters add intriguing empirical data on the ways that teachers and students act as mediators of policy. This part makes a contribution to what we know about the implementation of such policy, particularly the detailed studies of teacher and student views on what they are teaching and learning about the three specific dimensions of citizenship that are recurring and threaded themes across the book: rights and responsibilities (Chapter Eight), community and diversity (Chapter Nine) and active citizenship (Chapter Ten). It’s important to note, however, that the empirical basis involves only two schools and therefore it is not representative of what happened across England. Furthermore, as the author explained, he selected schools where citizenship was already taught well.

As students are the ultimate recipients of education policy, the inclusion of their voices is arguably one of the innovative features of this volume. The teachers’ and students’ accounts of policy on the ground present a picture of the uneven relationship between policy goals and the reality of classrooms and schools. For example, Jerome concluded about active citizenship that “there was some evidence that individual projects could be harnessed for several different types of Citizenship learning . . .” (p. 214). Yet, at times, the limited qualitative data left a feeling that these chapters were stretched a bit thin. We never really learn much about how students came to think of themselves as citizens over time, such as an ethnographic lens would have provided. What then can we conclude about policy translation when one school takes up the policy and the other largely does not, as was the case for active citizenship?

In the end, this volume should be received as a delicate and detailed analysis of the process of policy development and the relationship between politics and education policy for citizenship. In this sense, the volume is an engaging and accessible account for specialists, particularly individuals already with a stake in the British education system. The author’s aversion to learning and pedagogy—the ultimate measures of any education policy reform—which he dismisses as “classroom tips” (p. xvii), renders the volume of less interest to teachers and classroom researchers who could have benefitted from a deep exploration of the impact of the practices on student learning. To be fair, this clearly is not the point that Jerome is making. Nevertheless, we are left with an interesting story that helps us understand what happened, but not necessarily what the way forward is.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 08, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17315, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 12:54:21 PM

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About the Author
  • John Myers
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    JOHN P. MYERS is associate professor in the School of Teacher Education and social science education major leader at Florida State University. His research interests focus on education for global citizenship, globalization and education, and political thinking and discourse in the classroom. His work has been published in journals such as Teachers College Record, Theory and Research in Social Education, and Comparative Education Review.
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