A proposal submitted to the Peace Education SIG: ‘Peace Education: Transforming Conflict and Citizenship in Divided Communities’

[Word version available]

American Educational Research Association, San Diego, April 2004


How do we understand Citizenship Education? What are the links with Peace Education? This paper challenges traditional conceptualisations of Citizenship Education as a body of knowledge that can be theorised analytically and communicated didactically, in order to produce obedient consumers. Rather, Citizenship Education should be viewed as a form of personal enquiry that enables people freely to make collective decisions about how they should live together, given that human interests are contested and defy judgement by universal standards. It should be seen as part of a transformative process of non-coercive social change that is grounded in relational forms of theory-generation. The experience of theory-generation itself transforms traditional conceptual analyses into new living forms of theory.


Citizenship Education and its transformative potentials for Peace Education
Aims of the presentation

This paper sets out how Citizenship Education can be a possible grounding for Peace Education, and perhaps set a paradigm for the realisation of Peace Education as living practices. My understanding of the nature and potentials of Citizenship and Peace Education has been influenced by the experience of working in geo-politically contested contexts (Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland), where issues of citizenship and ownership of identity permeate public discourses. This understanding informs my work in education, where issues of identity and ownership are equally contested.

As a professional educator working in Ireland, I support the doctoral studies of eight practitioner-researchers. I also advise groups of educational managers, in international contexts, on professional education programmes which aim to improve the quality of organisational learning for social transformation. Key to these programmes are issues of identity, ownership of knowledge, and achieving peaceful and productive living – hence the link with Citizenship Education.

Citizenship Education is receiving attention worldwide (10). It appears on the UK National Curriculum (19, 20). Similar curricular interventions are happening in Ireland (7). For present purposes, I will give these interventions the generic name ‘Citizenship Education’.

The idea of citizenship education is central to the work of myself and my students, given that our work contexts are influenced by the politics of personal and cultural identity, as well as the politics of knowledge. Our work is about enabling ourselves and others to claim the right to create and own our identities, and our knowledge, according to how we can justify is right for us through the production of authenticated evidence. I believe that this kind of work can contribute to a more coherent theorisation of Citizenship Education as an area of enquiry that enables people to come together on an equal footing to realise their democratically negotiated goals (see similar aspirations set out in 5, 9, 21, 22). On this view, Citizenship Education can act not only as a grounds for a coherent form of Peace Education, but can also demonstrate how Peace Education itself may contribute to more peaceful practices at global levels.

I am, however, concerned about dominant conceptualisations of Citizenship, which frequently constitute orthodoxies, and how these are being implemented as schools-based practices. I am concerned that these conceptualisations and practices aim not so much at nurturing compassionate understanding, but are grounded in ‘dangerous illusions which threaten the survival of democratic institutions’ (18). I am equally concerned about the form of theory used, a propositional form that makes linguistic statements about objects of study. The expectation is that the theory will be applied to practice, a poor basis for passionate commitment to educational and social transformation. Here I set out my concerns, and give my reasons. These are to do with how Citizenship and Peace Education need to be grounded in a commitment to honouring people’s inherent potentials for creativity and originality of mind and critical judgement. These commitments underpin my own practice, a form of research that investigates how I might contribute to the development of a new form of educational theory (see 16, 17). In my opinion, abstract forms of theory need to be incorporated into the living theories that practitioners generate for themselves about how they might contribute to a more peaceful and productive world (26).

I remember, however, that trajectories of social transformation can lead to both good and evil. No fixed standards of judgement exist for what counts as good and evil (3). In my opinion, educators have a responsibility to make their enquiries public and to offer justification for how they choose to live. An implication for me, as a professional educator, is that I accept responsibility for ensuring that the influence I try to exercise in the lives of those whom I support is educative, not manipulative.

I am therefore inspired to move beyond dominant conceptualisations of Citizenship Education, challenge its philosophical foundations, and generate my own theories of citizenship. I aim to demonstrate my personal accountability by making explicit how and why I research my practice in an effort to achieve my educational aims.
Theoretical frameworks

If citizenship education is to influence the education of social formations, it must be remembered that social living is always contested in terms of human interests, and that people use multiple strategies to fulfil their interests (11). This view does not appear in current orthodoxies.

Dominant forms of Citizenship Education in England and Ireland rest on certain premises about models of democracy. These have to do with how governments authorise elected representatives to speak on behalf of citizens. Decisions about the degree of public participation allowed rest on an assumption that rational debate will lead to a consensus about how we should live as members of a given social order. Conceptualisations of citizenship appear as an unproblematic unified body of theory, communicated via appropriate methodologies, to be imposed on practice (2, 27). Within a centralised curriculum, as in England and Ireland, citizenship appears as part of a wider effort to control what counts as knowledge and who should be regarded as a legitimate knower (1).

Current conceptualisations of Citizenship Education focus on the transmission of information and values, about how we should behave as good citizens, and why we should do so (10). Some implications are that, within wider debates about neoliberalism and the global order (8), and how education is used to promote compliance (6), it becomes obvious how governments deliberately set what counts as official knowledge and dictate how it should be imparted, in the interests of increasing consumerism (14). It also becomes clear how governments draw on the assumed self-evident rightness of consensus-seeking to justify their own practices of not only imposing those forms of theory but also the specific forms of practice that the theory requires. Citizenship Education therefore appears as a body of reified knowledge about citizenship, to be imparted via didactic pedagogies in order to teach children to conform and not to question. Given the neoliberal intentions of governments to pursue free markets in the interests of corporate elites, largely through the privatisation of social institutions such as education and other public services, and their transformation into competitive financial contexts, it is hardly surprising that education, especially Citizenship Education, focuses on training young people to become expert consumers, of knowledge as well as other perishable goods (12).

This situation contradicts my educational values. For me, social transformation is embodied in collectives of committed individuals who take action to improve their situations according to their democratically negotiated values. My own commitment is to promoting a view of citizenship and peace as agonistic rather than antagonistic (18) – a respect for multiple interests rather than the colonisation of one group by another to impose a particular set of values. Achieving this, however, means developing new forms of theory that depart from alienation through categorisation and the violent imposition of ideas, and embrace relational forms that recognise the politically-constituted base of theory generation within politically-contested forms of living.
Modes of enquiry

In my work as a professional educator and consultant I emphasise throughout the potentials of self-study for social change (16, 17). The commitment to self-study is informed by specific ontological and moral values, that individuals bear the responsibility of accounting for themselves. The commitment to self-study for social change is rooted in an epistemological tradition that holds knowledge as embodied within transforming relationships.

I am especially aware of my responsibility to encourage others to exercise their originality of mind and critical judgement, as I suggest how they might understand the politically-constituted nature of their work by asking questions of the kind, “How do I improve what I am doing?’ (25), as I do. By implication, we have to engage with our wider political contexts and the relations of power that can prevent us from living in the direction of our values. My students produce their dissertations and theses to show the processes of the transformation of their own embodied knowledge into publicly available forms of validated practical theory. I do the same. Given that much of this work is located in contexts where injustice prevails, our accounts provide a systematic body of living theories (23) that shows how we have transformed our situations into contexts that celebrate originality in thinking and multiple forms of living.

Significant numbers of accredited dissertations and theses are in the public domain (see 28). Some contain accounts of how practitioners have challenged organisational and cultural orthodoxies, especially those that unjustly marginalize children or sustain traditions that devalue citizens. Some reports explain how their authors, working at a variety of levels in education systems, have transformed those systems into constellations of life-affirming practices for all (4, 15, 24). These accounts are contributing to a wider knowledge base, as required by (23) and (13), about the transformational potentials of practitioner researchers as they generate their own living educational theories for social justice. A significant feature is that the accounts show how individual enquiries contain the potential for sustainable global educational networks of communication.

The findings of my students’ enquiries demonstrate that, by adopting forms of pedagogy grounded in values of freedom and truth, they have learned to help the young people they support to learn to exercise their creativity of mind and critical judgement, and make decisions for themselves about how they should learn and live. My students confirm that I have done the same in relation to them. Their reports show how they have grounded their enquiries in their values, and have used their values as the standards of practice to check whether or not they are succeeding in responding to the question, ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’ (25). They have invited their students to address the same question. Their reports contain authenticated evidence to show that the young people, in asking ‘How do I improve my work?’, have come to appreciate how to improve the quality of their own learning experience, in spite of ever-present organisational constraints that threaten to suppress their capacity for independence and critical creativity. They have come to see the potentials for social change in their work, and this, I believe, holds significance for new directions in educational enquiry.
Educational importance

I believe that the core significance of the work lies in showing how the epistemological and political base of theories of curriculum can be transformed, and how theories of social change can be transformed from those of violent revolution, where one side must lose in order for the other to win, into processes of transformation, where personal and collective prejudices are challenged, and injustices are systematically transformed into pluralistic forms of living. Such a conceptualisation of social transformation is rooted in a relational form of theory-generation that encourages debate and a commitment to personal responsibility. The experience of the process of theory-generation itself transforms the dominant conceptual form of theory that understands Citizenship and Peace Education as discrete bodies of knowledge to be communicated via autocratic pedagogies. Rather, by embracing an ontological stance that enables personal commitment to transform into collective forms of practice, educators can show how they move beyond the conceptual analyses of issues such as citizenship and peace to living practices of citizenship and peace, as they show how they give meaning to their lives by living according to their educational values.

1. Apple, M. (1993) Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age. London, Routledge

2. Bottery, M. (2000) ‘Values education’ in R. Bailey (ed.) Teaching Values and Citizenship Across the Curriculum. London, Kogan Page.

3. Berlin, I. (2002) Freedom and its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty. London, Chatto & Windus.

4. Cahill, M. (2000) ‘How can I encourage pupils to participate in their own learning?’ MA dissertation, Thurles, University of the West of England, Bristol.

5. Chomsky, N. (1996) Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order. London, Pluto.

6. Chomsky, N. (2000) Chomsky on MisEducation. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

7. Department of Education (1997) Relationships and Sexuality Education A Partnership between Home and School. Dublin: Government of Ireland.

8. Derber, C. (2002) People Before Profit: The New Globalisation in an age of Terror, Big Money, and Economic Crisis. London, Souvenir Press.

9. Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education. New York, Collier.

10. Faulks, K. (2000) Citizenship. London, Routledge.

11. Gray, J. (1995) Enlightenment’s Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age. London, Routledge.

12. Herman, E. and McChesney, R. (1997) The Global Media: the new missionaries of corporate capitalism. London, Continuum.

13. Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R. and Stigler, J. W. (2002) ‘A Knowledge Base for the Teaching Profession: What Would It Look Like and How Can We Get One?’ Educational Researcher, Vol. 31, No. 5, pp. 3­15.

14. Hutton, W. and Giddens, A. (eds) (2000) On the Edge: Living with Global Capitalism. London, Vintage.

15. McDonagh, C. (2003) ‘Presenting Voice in Action Research’. A paper presented at the invitational seminar ‘Critical Debates in Action Research’, University of Limerick, Limerick.

16. McNiff, J. with J. Whitehead (2000) Action Research in Organisations. London, Routledge.

17. McNiff, J. with J. Whitehead (2002) Action Research: Principles and Practices (second edition). London, Routledge.

18. Mouffe, C. (2000) ‘For an agonistic model of democracy’ in N. O’Sullivan (ed.) Political Theory in Transition. London, Routledge. (Quotation appears on page 128.)

19. QCA (2000) The National Curriculum for England. London, QCA.

20. QCA/DfEE (1998) Education for Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools. London, QCA.

21. Reid, L.A. (1962) Philosophy of Education. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

22. Russell, B. (1932) Education and the Social Order. London, George Allen & Unwin.

23. Snow, C. E. (2001) ‘Knowing What We Know: Children, Teachers, Researchers.’ Presidential Address to AERA, 2001, in Seattle, in Educational Researcher, Vol. 30, No.7, pp.3-9.

24. Sullivan, B. (2003) ‘Democratising practice as a means towards social justice’. A paper presented at the invitational seminar ‘Critical Debates in Action Research’, University of Limerick, Limerick.

25. Whitehead, J. (1989) ‘Creating a living educational theory from questions of the kind, “How do I improve my practice”’, Cambridge Journal of Education 19(1): 137–153.

26. Whitehead, J. (2000) ‘How do I improve my practice? Creating and legitimating an epistemology of practice’, Reflective Practice 1(1): 91–104.

27. Wilkins, C. (2000) ‘Citizenship education’ in R. Bailey (ed.) Teaching Values and Citizenship Across the Curriculum. London, Kogan Page.

28. Website address:

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