Shaping the Future

Citizenship education enables students to engage with issues about the contemporary relevance commemoration to individuals and communities. It raises questions such as

  • How is our history commemorated by people today?
  • How do public sites of commemoration contribute to public memory?
  • How and why do controversies emerge in public and in history settings?

The challenge for teachers of citizenship education is how to help young people resolve these conflicts around these issues in a democratic way so that the diversity of national, regional and religious identities are respected and safeguarded.

The aim of the strategies outlined is to help young people to

  • Explain their views and arguments to others.
  • To learn to tolerate, accommodate and reflect upon the opinions and views of others who may be different to themselves.
  • To participate discussions and  informed debates of their ideas in the classroom and ideally  to use these skills in their lives outside school

Many aspects of the commemoration of past events can be considered to be emotive and controversial because they involved actual or perceived unfairness to people by another group or individual. These issues are complex and challenging in a contested society where perceptions of the “other” are seen in terms of religious, ethnic, social, cultural and political identities .In Northern Ireland today learning about the legacy of  both Home Rule, and the relationship between the Ireland  and the British Empire, can be challenging issues to consider in the classroom.

Town Hall Debate

(This strategy is adopted from Facing History)

This strategy introduces students to the purpose of town hall meetings as a forum for open discussion especially around a complex issue or one which has different perspectives such as identity and how it can be expressed in different ways. It provides students with opportunities to have open dialogue with one another and to listen activities to other opinions in the setting of a town hall..

Students often come away from this experience with a greater appreciation for how our perspective can limit their ideas and opinions they hold. By listening to others’ ideas, they broaden our understanding of the world in which they live.

Teacher selects four-six readings on the same topic representing different perspectives and distributes one reading to each six group of students. Students read and discuss the reading among themselves. Each group will appoint one representative to summarise the group’s views about the reading. Teacher arranges chairs in a circle and gives one chair to each group. The representative for each group takes a chair and the rest of the class form a larger outer circle around the chairs. The students are instructed that they can only speak when they have entered the circle and are seated. Teacher asks each representative to present facts and not interpretations of this stage .Each person in the inner circle can comment on their own reading and or that of another group. This process is repeated only this time students are allowed to analyse and suggest interpretations while the students in the outer circle listen at this stage.

Students in the outer circle can enter the discussion but must tap the shoulder of someone in the inner circle and then take their seat. This is the only way that the students can enter or leave the discussion. At the end of the discussion students can be asked if they thought that their voice was heard and whether they understood all the reading including their own.

  • What were the main ideas and facts presented?
  • Why are these ideas relevant or important? From whose perspective is this text written?
  • How might that influence the ideas expressed in the text?
  • Did the students ideas about the topic change during the activity and if so explain what caused their ideas to change.
  • What does perspective mean and where does our own perspective come from?
  • How does our perspective shape the world we see the world?

Identity Charts

This strategy require students to think about their identity in a different way and how they might like to represent it. It challenges them to think about the ways in which they identify themselves and also the ways in which others identify them. These are important issues when they are examining in history classes, the religious, political and cultural identities of different groups of people in Ireland in the past.  It may also allow them to consider important  questions around identity such as who has the right to determine a person’s identity? Is identity something we can chose for ourselves?

Teachers ask students to design their own identity charts. This can be a simple drawing of the outline of their hand where they include the things they think have shaped their identity for example gender/religion/language/family/political beliefs. Outside their hand they are asked to draw examples of how other people identify or label them (encourage both negative and positive response) By comparing the inside and outside of their identity charts they can explore similarities and differences in terms of what comprises their own  identity and the identities of others. The students could discuss words or phrases in their charts which other people attach   to them.  How do these words connect to the communities they belong. In the process students may reconsider or rethink some of their  own assumptions and stereotypes by exploring how these have influenced the choices they and others make in their every day lives. What have the consequences of these choices been for their own lives today and for people in the past?

Bio Poems

This strategy helps students to articulate their thoughts about an individual and his or her identity. It asks them to think critically about another person’s identity ,their values and interests and the pressures on people to conform or change who they are when faced with certain groups or situations. Teacher identifies  a key individual form the past such as john Redmond  and ask the students to research information about his background ,who he was, what positions he held and why he was an important figure  at the time he lived.  After sharing their  first impressions students are then asked to write an identity  poem for John Redmond using the format below.

First name

Four labels describing the individual

Relative of ….

Who feels…

Who needs….

Who fears ….

Who gives …..

Who believes…..

Who would like to see…..

Resident of….

Last name…..

Teacher reflects with the class about how this identity poem help them to understand who John Redmond really was and what his identity meant to him. They can also discuss the factors which would have influenced him to change his identity poem? What does an identity poem show them about what makes a person unique?  The class can use this with other key individuals in history and also could create their own identity poem about themselves so that they can understand who they are what their identity means to them.

Emotional Engagement

Many aspect of history may be considered controversial and emotive because they

  • Have relevant significance for what is happening in the world now
  • Deal with issues of perceived injustice, intolerance and/or discrimination.
  • Deal with religious and racial  tensions
  • Deal with treatment of others, in terms of attitudes towards, repression of or retaliation of individuals and/or groups

It is particularly important when studying emotive history that the students are

  • Encouraged to care about what happened in the past, or to move beyond the ill-informed and one-sided views they may have developed through their community histories by involving them cognitively as well as emotionally through the study of history which is diverse and inclusive as it helps them to develop their own sense of   identity.
  • Provided with  more opportunities to study our shared heritage as well as our different cultures and perspectives
  • The integration of historical knowledge ,processes and concepts provide a good framework for  studying emotive issues.
  • Exposed to a wide range of interpretations so that the students begin to recognise that emotive issues in history are open to various and sometimes competing interpretations.

The Silent Conversation

This is another Facing History strategy which can be used to slow down the students thinking and to consider the views of others. It will also allow the students to explore an issue in depth and to create a written comments of their thoughts. It is extremely useful when using emotive material such as an eye witness account/ personal story/but can also be used to allow the students to explore the experiences of other groups in society  .The fact that this is done in silence provides the right atmosphere to examine sources of a sensitive nature.

Pairs of students work in silence for about 10-15mins using a large piece of paper with a piece of text attached. The student use markers to write down questions or comments they have about the text (it could be an image which reflects some difficult aspect of an event or a politician’s speech/ or cartoon). Still working in silence the students circulate their sheet of paper around the other groups and they can add on further comments or questions.

Finally the teacher begin to dig deeper into the content by using the ideas on paper to develop the students thinking.