Democracy: What Should We Teach Young People about It in School History?
In the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) a traditional element of the teaching of history in school has focused on the development of a democratic system of government in the nation state. In the UK, this has been termed ‘Whig History’, where British history is presented as a celebratory rendering of the national past, with Britain undergoing continual and sustained progress from absolute monarchy to liberal democracy. The main focus of this story is on periods of history leading up to the granting of the franchise to all adults and the establishment of a liberal democratic society. Comparatively less time and attention is spent considering British history after the granting of the franchise to all adults. To some degree ‘Part 2’ of the story of democracy in the UK is not told to young people. What happened when everyone got the vote? Did it bring about ‘government of, by and for the people’? Did it bring prosperity, equality of opportunity and social justice for all? Given that the development of young people’s political literacy is now considered to be an important function of school history in the UK, and that democracy is widely thought to be an important idea in contemporary society (to the extent that wars are fought in its name), the paper considers some of the tensions and complexities that are involved in presenting the concept of democracy to young people. After exploring some of these tensions and complexities, the paper suggests ways of teaching young people about democracy in a way that is compatible with the nature of history as an intellectual discipline and an enquiry based subject, based on the consideration of evidence as a basis for considering the validity of claims about truth statements.
Keywords: Democracy, Education, School, History
Dr. Terry Haydn
Reader in Education, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia