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Citizenship Education as Placebo: 'standards', institutional racism and education policy

By David Gillborn

Abstract

The issue of 'Institutional Racism' briefly rose to the top of the policy agenda when, in 1999, the British government was faced with a damning report into the circumstances surrounding the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence (an 18 year old Black college student). The official inquiry found evidence of institutional racism throughout the London police force and argued that all key agencies in society, including education, had a duty to identify and combat racism (including unintended and indirectly discriminatory actions). This paper examines the evidence of institutional racism in the English educational system and argues that the promotion of citizenship education, as a solution to this problem, acts as a placebo in terms of policy intentions and outcomes. Citizenship education is now a required component of the national curriculum that must be taught by all state funded schools in England. It is constantly highlighted by policy makers as a major innovation that promotes social cohesion in general, and race equality in particular. At the same time, however, the government has continued to pursue a so-called 'standards' agenda that emphasizes a hierarchy of schools based on their students' performance in high stakes tests and promotes increased selection that is known to disadvantage Black students. Consequently, the principal education policy strategies are themselves revealed as potentially racist by the government's own definition. It is in this context that the promotion of citizenship education can be seen as a public policy placebo, i.e. a pretend treatment for institutional racism that gives the impression of action but is, in fact, without substance or effect. Meanwhile, the excesses of racialized educational inequality not only continue, but in some cases worsen

Year: 2006
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.ioe.ac.uk.oai2:1660

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