Citizenship Again

I attended a Citizenship event at the Uni of Leeds last night and first of all thanks for the idea for today’s lesson!

I’m not going to do a blow by blow account like last time, partly because I’d like to keep this brief and fresh, and partly because I started writing this on my phone and my fingers aren’t that nimble. It’s also a fairly rough, gut reaction type piece: no extensive drafting here!

Just a couple of reflections really: the first is around the citizenship ceremony which I previously knew little about (a not uncommon situation, apparently). And what I know now makes me feel even more uncomfortable. Not least of these is the idea of making some sort of oath, a kind of eternal promise to be a good little citizen. This is, for me anyway, pretty repulsive. This is inherently discriminatory, simply because I have not been required to do this, yet get given citizen status by a simple accident of my birth. I’m rather glad about this: I hate the idea of an American style swearing of allegiance. To date I have only ever made one promise like that and it was a personal promise, and would hate to me forced to do this to something as amorphous and largely irrelevant as “my country,” and especially to a monarch or elected leader.

Second reflection: the idea of the citizenship test, the status it confers, and the values attached to these. I don’t attach value to my “status” as a British citizen who has only left the country a few times and for mainly culturally comfortable places, and so never had to test out the security of the promise printed in my passport. Yet our learners value the test and the status it confers, rather than any learning attached to the test: as can be demonstrated by people learning to pass the test by rote learning the shape of each question and which letter corresponds to the correct answer (a, b, c, d) rather than learning the actual knowledge needed to answer the question.

Third reflection: that there are some attractive (to left-leaning ESOL teachers) definitions of citizenship: rooted in ideas around community participation, but here again there is a imbalance between my own community participation practices (limited to a couple of events at my daughter’s school, and a charity bike ride) and an idealised selflessness of the active community member. I suspect that in this regard many of my learners are better citizens than I am.

Final reflection: and a practical point really: we instinctively tend to throw life in the UK type questions back at learners: “we have been talking about hospitals today, now tell me about hospitals in your country” rather than addressing learners experiences of the UK. There are pedagogical reasons for this: basically that it’s easier for learners to talk about what they know. This is fine to an extent, but actually most learners have an experience of, and opinions about, living in the UK, and can draw on their experiences of these things. So why should we treat these learners as “representatives” of their countries? I am not a representative of mine.

Like me, learners have a unique perspective on their country, this country and indeed several countries in between. So maybe I’ll stop with the “tell me about your country” for a bit, and go for “tell me about your experiences” instead.

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