28 September 2007

(Absurd but) please tell me who I am

Quoting myself (as one does) from my comments on the Commission for Integration and Cohesion: "The government will, it seems, give us back our sense of identity, suitably remodelled."

Recently, we got more of the same, this time directly from the Ministry of Justice, and Mr Notblair*:

... there is common ground between British citizens, and many cultural traits and traditions that we can all recognise as distinctively British. The Government believes that a clearer definition of citizenship would give people a better sense of their British identity in a globalised world. British citizenship — and the rights and responsibilities that accompany it — needs to be valued and meaningful ...
(My emphasis throughout.) Yes, we need to be told what British values are before we can have them. And, naturally, we shall need a national motto. This is because identity is really only possible within a strong communitarian context. Indeed, many sociologists tell us that identity simply is position in social space.
Identity is important because it shapes people’s sense of self. Some components of our identity are given to us and are matters of fact. But others are the subject of at least a degree of choice: faith, political affiliations, occupation, for some, nationality. Yet even those elements that are ‘chosen’ are not the result of a completely free choice. The influence on identity of family, geography, education, ethnic background and origin, and how we are perceived by others, is huge.

Huge, I tell you. And, of course, young people must receive appropriate indoctrination instruction in what it means to be a British citizen.
The Government will now launch a Youth Citizenship Commission which will examine ways to invigorate young people’s understanding of the historical narrative of our country and of what it means to be a British citizen ... The Commission will examine what support schools in England need to improve the ways that they prepare young people for their life as an adult citizen. It will look at how citizenship education can be connected to both a possible citizenship ceremony when young people reach adulthood ...
So young people will have a citizenship ceremony to look forward to. They will, however, need to be more adequately prepared for this than they are at present.
Ministers have agreed to recommendations made by Sir Keith Ajegbo, a former head teacher and government adviser, who argued that children had to be taught Britishness alongside cultural diversity. Lord Adonis, the schools minister, said: 'Learning about the make-up of British society and British values will help promote greater understanding and tolerance.' (Guardian)
What is this so-called "fourth strand" of citizenship lessons — adding British Values to the existing three strands of Responsibility, Community and Politics — going to be like? Here we have to descend into the obfuscating jargon of education/history academese. (The purpose of which is to emphasise that we shall continue to be restricted to ideologically correct versions of Britishness, without however making this too explicit.)
[from Sir Keith's report] We believe that if children and young people are to develop a notion of citizenship as inclusive, it is crucial that issues of identity and diversity are addressed explicitly. Inherent in the relationship between the citizen and society is the role that identity, or a sense of belonging plays within this relationship. This is because the motivation for citizens to participate in society is logically predicated on a sense of belonging, or ‘identification’ with, the context where they are participating.

We advocate that an understanding of issues of identity and diversity in the context of citizenship is best approached through a political and historical lens.

It is important to recognise that whilst learning about history clearly has a place in Citizenship, getting the pedagogical approach right will be critical. There were also concerns expressed through our consultations that it would mean a return to the old curriculum of British constitutional history and civics, undoing the work of the last four years.
Such concerns are probably unnecessary, as Chris Waller, professional officer of the Association of Citizenship Teaching, explains:
‘It is about empowering young people with the knowledge and understanding and aspirations to want to participate, to want to know, to want to engage with their community at school, at home and so on. The character of Citizenship must retain its critical and practical focus. Citizenship is about grey areas. It’s not about whether I’m right or wrong, it’s about me trying to understand my own explanations and explain those to others.’

The overarching aim is to develop ‘active citizenship’ that is informed by relevant evidence, drawing on contemporary history to examine issues of contemporary importance around the themes of identity and diversity in a political context in the UK.
No worries there, then — the fourth strand will simply be more of the same, i.e. the usual multiculturalist ideology ('change is good', 'diversity is good', etc).

Next year, apparently, pupils will be treated to a ‘Who do we think we are?’ week "involving all schools in an exploration of identities, diversity and citizenship. This will give all young people the chance to foster a stronger sense of their own identity and what it means to be a British citizen." Lucky them.

All the talk of a "national debate about British values", and encouraging open and frank discussion of the issues, is of course just phoney pseudo-democratisation. It's as dishonest and misleading as citizens' juries and Blue Peter pet naming. Only answers which conform to the elite's preferences will be considered.

The real purpose of boggling over 'British values' is to block genuine analysis and debate. Boggling signals that an issue has become taboo — in a more potent way than if it was simply not discussed at all. There is no intention of considering, say, that what makes Britain unique might be world leadership in the original bourgeois virtues. That particular response, like others which deviate too far from the ideal answer determined in advance by those in power, is not admissable.

Boggling helps to confuse potential critics of mediocracy, if they are naive enough to be taken in by it.

* Dr Brown