Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Beyond Civics: 21st Century Citizenship Learning

Beyond Civics: 21st Century Citizenship Learning

Presentation to the NZ Electoral Commission:
 Voter Participation and Electoral Research 
23 August Wellington, 2013 

By Dr Bronwyn Hayward
Senior Lecturer, University of Canterbury, NZ 

My sincere thanks to the NZ Electoral Commission for inviting me to speak today.

Today I'd like to draw on some of the insights from focus group interviews with 160 primary school children (8-12 years) over 4 years in New Zealand. I report on those interviews and wider research in the book Children, Citizenship and Environment.

 I offer the following reflections in the hope it helps our discussion at a key time in rethinking how we teach citizenship in the 21st century here in New Zealand.

19 September 2013 will mark 120 years since women of New Zealand first won the vote.

We often say, "women got the vote",  as if it was a natural progression, not a 2000 year long struggle. In reality, communities have had to struggle against entrenched interests for centuries to extend a radical Greek idea that free men could govern, to include women and minorities.

Thinking of democracy as an ongoing struggle to maintain and expand participation against the resistance of powerful interests helps add urgency to any discussion about citizenship education.
How can we support young citizens, including the 1.145 million New Zealanders aged 18 years or younger, who can't vote?

We are talking today about declining voter engagement in New Zealand (see Jack Vowles' 2010 and 2012). It is a pattern which is serious and worrying. However if citizenship education is to be relevant we need to understand the context of this decline. So I'd like to consider:
  •  The intersecting challenges currently facing young citizens 
  •  Three main types of social hand print or citizenship responses we model to young citizens 
  •  The limits of 'civics' and new opportunities for richer democracy education in New Zealand

But first, what do we mean by citizenship?

Taking children seriously as political actors in their environment forces us to rethink our adult assumptions about what we mean by the terms ‘citizenship’ or ‘environment’. In policy making we are used to talking about citizenship as a set of legal entitlements conferred on individuals living within nation states or political regions. This approach emphasises adult rights, duties and expectations (for example, voting, paying taxes and support from the state in tough times). Yet
this interpretation overlooks the way children also identify with their communities, make demands and contribute to civic life as citizens, in the sense of actors who participate in, identify with and belong to our communities, even in the absence of a full framework of adult legal entitlements and obligations.

What challenges face NZ's youngest citizens?

Young New Zealanders share many issues in common with over half the world who are now aged under 25 years. While each generation faces unique challenges, the issues confronting young citizens today are very different from those of their parents and grandparents.To provide effective and relevant citizenship education we need to understand these challenges better.

 In Children Citizenship and Environment: Nurturing a democratic imagination in a changing world I identified four intersecting challenges which I argue confront young citizens globally.

The first is dangerous environmental change including climate change, severe storms and heat impacts which have particular implications for highly urban, youthful populations. These challenges set the wider context for everyday democracy whether its voting, or engaging in public debate.

In New Zealand we are  inclined to think about dangerous environment change as natural hazards like earthquakes but dangerous environmental change , particularly climate change, is intertwined with a variety of human actions and exacerbated by policy choices. 

  For example, Japan's recent events remind us that dangerous environmental changes can interact with other decisions in ways that can create a cascade of devastating impacts. In  my own community of Christchurch, after earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 children's recovery in some communities was undermined rather than supported, by a government policy of rushed school closures and mergers in some of our poorest neighbourhoods, (see earlier posts) and by the policy priority placed on the central city rebuild at the expense of wider social recovery. Moreover grass fires of 2012, reminded Canterbury residents that our human actions impact on our climate which  on the East Coast  of the South Island is becoming drier even as we struggle to recover from earthquakes- its important to note that the decision to suspend regional elections in Canterbury was made on the grounds that water needs to be managed more effectively -so local democracy was swept aside (see below).

In another example of compounding dangerous environmental change, the children of Kaeo in Northland, New Zealand have experienced five severe floods since 2007 compounding problems of poverty deprivation in a region facing more intense rainfall and coastal erosion.
(Photo:  Northern Advocate)

The second challenge confronting young people everywhere is unprecedented youth unemployment as a global economy fails to create sustainable new, paid work, and communities struggle with the imposed burdens of austerity policies.

While New Zealand has not reached the staggering levels of youth unemployment confronting  Greece (65 %) or Spain (55%), nor the challenges of the Middle East and Africa, there is little understanding that New Zealand youth, aged 15 to 24 have accounted for as much as 45% of all New Zealand's total unemployed (NZ Institute 2011 p 15) in 2009, meaning New Zealand youth made up the highest proportionate share of total unemployment among nations of the  OECD, (in large part because we have very low comparative rates for retaining youth in school or training).

( From Boven R. Harland, C. and Grace L, using 2009 figures in 2011 More Ladders Fewer Snakes: two proposals to reduce youth disadvantage. Discussion paper 2011/1 NZ Institute)
Moreover, today the youth share of unemployment figures remains very high at 37.4%, or 56, 900 young 15 to 24 year olds not in work, despite new, regressive 'minimum wage' policies.

Thirdly, young New Zealanders, like young citizens globally, also face the challenges of growing social inequality as the gap between rich and poor widens everywhere.

As an unlikely source of youthful debate on inequality, the Financial Times has recently published a series of thoughtful articles, arguing the global Occupy movement has pushed social inequality to the fore, and it is now on the IMF, academic research as well as public agendas. (Occupy from Wall St -Frankfurt-London-Christchurch, NZ).
New Zealanders have experienced the fastest  rise in inequality in the OECD  on average over 25 years, especially in the 1980s-1990s, when inequality grew faster than any other country except Sweden. In a strongly worded editorial the NZ Herald concluded: "In the space of a generation, New Zealand has become a country many New Zealanders do not recognise or like much".

Growing social inequality also has differential age, generational and ethnic implications. Dr Monika Queisser of the OECD noted, New Zealand is also the nation in the OECD with the greatest material deprivation gap between or elderly and children. What this means in effect (see figure below) is that while an estimated 2% of New Zealand elderly live at less than 50 % of the median income, (a remarkable achievement given New Zealand's comparatively low incomes), 15 % of New Zealand children, measured by the most conservative assessments, struggle in homes earning 50% or less of the median income. Those most likely to face deprivations of poverty are Maori and Pacifika children. For example, Maori and Pacifika youth unemployment doubled from 2008 to 2010

Perhaps most concerning is the extent to which rapidly growing social inequality and hardship for youth may have exacerbated New Zealand’s shamefully high rates of youth suicide. At its height in 1995, youth suicide reached 28.7 deaths per 100,000 amongst 15–24 year olds. See the graph above from the OECD, 2012 Family Database.Research by Chapman-Howden and Hales highlighted the way closure of larger former state employers, (particularly forestry and railways) in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s, combined decreasing income support, severely impacted on the life experiences of young Māori men, while the New Zealand Mental Health Commission notes social exclusion is a particular problem for young women. Today, young New Zealand women aged 15–19 years lead the OECD youth suicide rates. (Update: see 2013 report just released here)

While economic growth does not equate to mental well-being, social exclusion is exacerbated under conditions of poverty, and this in turn compounds a fourth problem: weakening democracy.

 Around the world, young citizens are confronted by weakening democracies as local communities everywhere struggle to hold global corporate financial power to account.

The New Zealand Electoral  Commission correctly highlights declining voter engagement as a serious issue which, if unaddressed, threatens to drop below  50% in three national elections. Declining turnout risks undermining the legitimacy of electoral outcomes in a small state.

But what are we to make of this decline?  We commonly attribute low turnout to low voter 'efficacy' (the belief I can understand politics and effect change), lack of competition, and costs of engagement, but new studies suggest that voter disillusionment is also exacerbated by inequality of political power.

Amartya Sen reminds us that growing corporate power is undermining citizens capability for effective action, and he argues we need to sustain the freedoms that enable effective citizenship.

Sen argues effective democracies must maintain the conditions which enable and support responsible citizenship in changing economic and social conditions. In this light it is particularly disappointing that New Zealand, having won the vote for women, appears so casual about maintaining this precious democratic freedom.

In Christchurch after the earthquakes for example, regional government elections have been suspended without regard to community or constitutional responsibility. Moreover the local council no longer holds any meaningful power in city recovery, with its roles and functions swept aside by a newly created central government depatment, CERA. All too frequently we hear the justification for this extraordinary state of affairs on the grounds that its much more "effective" or "efficient" to make decisions without democracy".

For many young citizens, the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes has resulted in sidelining citizen participation as the community is reduced to mere spectators in the city 'rebuild, a project largely focused on central city business and large iconic projects which inflate real estate values and short term construction but generate little sustainable long term work 
An alarming disregard of local democracy, intolerance of dissent and a failure to attend to the social and economic conditions which support responsible citizenship is not simply a post earthquake phenomena in New Zealand.  The erosion of Westminster democratic principles is visible in sweeping amendments to law extending the powers of the international intelligence agency GCSB,  a constitutional review which, while welcome, was instigated by only two political parties compromising its mandate, and series of new laws that have  prompted the NZ Law Society to raise serious concerns about human rights. In this context its no wonder Dame Anne Salmond, as New Zealander of the year, has argued strongly that citizens must defend New Zealand's democracy when governments 'go feral'.

New Zealanders citizens also seem increasingly concerned, especially about unaccountable corporate power.  Bryce Edwards  reported that 79% of 1000 New Zealanders recently interviewed by Colmar Brunton (2013) for Transparency International agree that 'this country’s government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves?" Moreover 44% of respondents answered this question to a ‘large extent’ or ‘entirely’. In addition  75% of New Zealanders surveyed believed that political parties are affected by corruption. 12% believe the parties are ‘extremely corrupt’.

The myth of youth disengagement and apathy

Nevertheless,despite these significant challenges and intense debates, young citizens are not giving up. It is a grave error to keep repeating the mantra that young people are apathetic, self interested and disengaged. Look around us. Everywhere, on twitter and facebook, in music and on streets from Tunisia to earthquake torn Christchurch, we've seen young citizens continuing to make a stand on issues that matter.

One of the working parties from the Christchurch Student Volunteer army which after the 2011 earthquakes was communicating with 24,000 people via facebook , arranging daily working parties across the city. Image  Sam Johnson 
In 2011 a world survey of young citizens was published for UNEP which I contributed to with colleagues from Surrey and Canterbury as a lead author for New Zealand and the UK chapters. Conducted after the financial crisis, the survey of 8000 young people aged 18-35 years in 21 countries asked respondents to talk in their own words about their hopes and fears. The results were often deeply moving. Across 13 languages, many respondents expressed modest hopes and aspirations: a 'meaningful' relationship, 'employment' and the opportunity to "make a difference".

Making a difference or agency, (the ability to imagine and effect desired change) matters. Loss of agency was also a key concern of survey respondents when discussing their worst fears: expressed as living without hope, unable to effect change, in war, famine or precarious work or most starkly: "caged".

This youthful citizen passion for agency is a precious democratic treasure or taonga, on which the health of our democracies depend, yet as Amartya Sen reminds us, encouraging free citizens is viewed with feared by those with power. Despite saying we want democratic engagement, we often teach something very different. I argue there are three dominant social handprints, or responses to citizenship which societies model for young citizens, not all of which are desirable or democratic

The social hand print: Three dominant models of citizenship 

How do young citizens experience everyday citizenship?  What our our dominant models of citizenship? We are used to thinking about our ecological footprint or the impact that we have on the environment , and in political science, of Franklin's (2004) work on 'voter footprints' as possible generational effects of voting, but what of our wider democratic legacy as citizens?- I offer a typology of citizenship here to highligh some of the democratic implications citizenship learning for

  • political agency, 
  • a sense of place or environment, 
  • legitimate decision making, 
  • attitudes to justice, and 
  • political imagination.

The first model of citizenship I argue we too often impose on children and young citizens, is one of the FEARS of Authoritarianism. In the book I consider the model in detail but I introduce it here.

Even in long standing established democracies like New Zealand, not all children have the opportunity to learn to think of themselves as citizens, nor to value democracy. Some children struggle to experience citizenship as any form of positive democratic participation or belonging. The experience of domestic violence, poverty, increasing securitisation and threat of environmental risk and disaster can inhibit children’s capacity and resources for citizenship. While there is growing recognition that children have significant potential to exercise agency in the face of very difficult circumstances, we cannot ignore the way suffering undermines many children’s capability to act as citizens, testing their physical, emotional and social resilience and well-being. I summarise these children’s experiences as: Frustrated agency, Environmental exclusion, Authoritarian decision making, Retributive justice and Silenced democratic imagination

By contrast, other children may express quite marked expectations of personally responsible citizenship which I describe in Children Citizenship and Environment as ‘SMART’ citizenship of: Self-help agency, Market participation, A priori justice, Representative decision making and Technological transformation.

I argue the net effect of SMART citizen education is that citizens learn that desired policy outcomes (particularly in the case I was examining, environmental outcomes) are achieved through individual efforts in the market, guided by universal rules or contractual agreements, representative decision making, and a political imagination informed by technological problem solving. These SMART education experiences help young citizens address some of the symptoms of the current challenges and wider sustainability crisis, but they leave the drivers of ecological and social injustice unquestioned and unchallenged.

Thirdly, some children, however, have opportunities to learn about citizenship in ways which I argue offer more promising foundations for a new kind of more democracy. I summarise these experiences as the SEEDS of strong ecological citizenship. These experiences include: Social agency, Environmental education, Embedded justice, Decentred deliberation and Self-transcendence. In this model children learn about citizenship as social agency or the ability to affect choice and act in collaboration with others.

 In the study of Christchurch children which I report on in the wider book, social agency was most effectively learned by doing, that is through real action with others, particuarly in mid decile public schools, in sports teams, in indigenous Maori language programmes and through taking part in local community protests, and observing adults around them running the PTA, serving the board of trustees and making decisions with children for the school and its community.

Arguing after  Vygotsky, I suggest these community interactions are also very important for supporting a child’s ability to reason about justice which is accelerated when children have the opportunity to debate moral issues with more experienced adults or peers. In the face of overwhelming and challenging situations which confront many children, the chance to share stories with others, to 'decentre' experiences in space and time and to transcend self, or place our experiences in a wider context, spiritual, cultural, historical, to gain support is also extremely important.

The limits of 'civics': opportunities for democracy in New Zealand's curriculum

Where are the spaces for citizenship teaching for the 21st century in the New Zealand curriculum?
As professionals I think it matters that we strongly resist the introduction of the language of civics, into New Zealand education which conjures up dry facts and standard tests, all of which we know fail to address the needs citizens have to learn about democracy by 'doing' democracy.

Active participation in democracy in classroom and community is a key lesson of the Crick report in the UK and of the pithily titled "No child left thinking"study by Joel Westheimer of the USA. Both studies emphasize engagement with real communities in real life learning situations, and the need for democratic principles to imbue the  culture of the school and its everyday interactions.

In this light are already some important opportunities for democratic teaching and learning at present are implicitly woven through the principles, values, and key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum.

These opportunities are most clearly framed in the learning objectives of the social studies curriculum. In the absence of much professional support from schools from political science as a dsicipine, New Zealand teachers have done a sterling effort to help create a sense of a shared participatory society. For example at level one students will "understand how belonging to groups, and why "places, the past and cultures" are "important for people" . At level 2 this expands to understanding "social, cultural, and economic roles, rights, and responsibilities". By level 3, they gain knowledge skills and experience to understand "how groups make and implement rules and laws". Elsewhere in Maori indigenous programmes children learn a strong sense of whananatanga or mutual support, and ways to develop social capital through kapa haka, koreo and te reo.

All these opportunties are significant, but it is concerning, given the now, very diverse nature of the New Zealand's, under 14 year cohort, that no where in the curriculum do we explicitly use the words "democracy". We teach people about "laws", "government"and "rights". We talk about belonging, which is vitally important in a rapidly diversifying community, but we also need to model democracy as a desirable social norm.
Children sign a calico petition in the tradition of Kate Sheppard,
to keep schools open following the Christchurch earthquakes

A survey of the "civics"  knowledge of year 9 New Zealand students (eg questions about recognising the flag, knowledge of rights, expectations of the media, trust in institutions), suggests that while children in this country rated above the mean in a recent international survey, there were significant variations among groups of children. These findings echo concerning results a decade earlier in both the Perry and Webster values studies and a review by NZ Treasury. Both reports noted significantly greater tolerance for authoritarian amongst those who have only attended primary school, and disconcertingly narrow bands of shared values.

There are many exciting opportunities to support classroom teaching, and individual teachers, researchers, schools and agencies like the Electoral commission and parliamentary education programme and ESOL, all of whom are doing a terrific job to fill a void in democratic learning. But in a rapidly changing world, as political science educators, its now time we stepped up and offered more coordinated support to schools, particularly in a period of rapid education reform which could see an erosion of democratic values and growing social inequality as a result of haphazard introduction of new public private Charter school models of education in New Zealand.

We need to be explicit and focused in our support of conditions through which children learn about and come to appreciate a democratic tradition in New Zealand.

In 1965 Rachel Carson wrote about nurturing a child’s sense of wonder about their natural world. In the 21st century we also need to nurture a child’s sense of wonder about their democratic world, and the extra-ordinary possibilities of ordinary people acting together to effect change for a more just and sustainable common future.