A European Education: Citizenship, Identities and Young People (CiCe)

Author(s) Alistair Ross
Publisher Trentham Books Ltd
Published 2008
Pages 159
Price £17.99
ISBN 9781858563671
Reviewed by Brian Poole
Sohar University, Oman
Review published 1 October 2009

This excellent book, which completes a series of eight volumes on “European Issues in Children’s Identity and Citizenship”, could usefully be read by both pre-service and in-service teachers, as well as by those responsible for teacher-training and professional development. It provides a thought-provoking overview of educational issues around the notion of European citizenship, with a particular focus on schools. The author draws in insights from various fields (education, politics, sociology), and is particularly strong on both classroom practices to support European citizenship education and on their theoretical foundations.

The ten interlinked chapters cover a range of issues of relevance to the general topic of European citizenship education. Naturally enough, early chapters set the scene, with discussion of such matters as the relationship between identity, citizenship and education, and the nature of a European identity prominent. The author uses his own identity – he sees himself as Scottish (not English), but a Londoner, as well as a European – to foreground the issue of complex identities in a globalized world. “I’m a bit English, Danish, Spanish, Welsh and Scottish as well,” says one teenage girl (p.100). The question of how a European identity is to be defined at a personal level – as well as at the level of the EU itself – is also considered, with the author suggesting (perhaps somewhat optimistically?) that what is distinctive about the latter is the “creative tension” between competition and cooperation. Chapters Four and Five outline the differences between active and passive citizenship, and the author argues that today’s young people, who often participate politically through single issue pressure groups, are most likely to be “fired up” in European citizenship classes by an issues-based curriculum. Middle and later chapters deal in more detail with the question of personal identity, its component parts, and its relationship to learning. The penultimate chapter addresses the place of human rights in European citizenship education, and puts forward the view that improving and defining rights should form a large part of active citizenship in a rapidly changing world. The final chapter concludes the book in a satisfying way, because it ties all the preceding discussion (which at times, of necessity, is abstract or theoretical in nature) to clear principles of curriculum design. In Ross’s view, European citizenship education requires a whole school approach to determining values and a classroom dialogic based on respect for the learner. This - together with his emphasis on active citizenship, the importance of discussing and continually modifying rights, and an issues-based approach – gives us a good indication of what might actually take place in classrooms.

Readers who pick up a book with this sort of title are unlikely to be Europhobes. Nevertheless, some might at times be a little put off by Ross’ evident enthusiasm for the European project, which seems – on rare occasions – to lead to an overstatement of his case. For instance, he writes (p.12) that “40 years membership of the Union leaves a substantial proportion of the UK population cold.” But this is said in the context of discussion of a survey carried out in 2004, when Britain had been part of the European Community only a fraction over thirty years. There are also one or two typographical errors (the perennial ‘leaning’ instead of ‘learning’, which is not picked up by a spell-checker, for example), and other writers might have made more of Britain’s outstandingly poor performance in learning languages when discussing the one-plus-two policy for “everyone to add to their first language two more languages” (p.75). But none of this should be seen as detracting at all from what is an outstanding little book, lucid and well-organized. Many works in the area of citizenship education devote a great deal of time to defining their subject matter, but in contrast Professor Ross’s book constitutes a judicious balance of well-informed discussion of citizenship, identity and rights with theory on learning. In short, it is a book distinguished by its concision and clarity, and I imagine that all readers with an interest in European citizenship as an idea, or as a school subject, would enjoy reading it.