Citizenship Education: The Value of Dialogue by Eileen Francis

The purpose of the Values Education Council UK is to help individuals to develop as responsible and caring persons and to live as participating members of a pluralist society.

The aim is to promote the study of values in education and develop the practice of values education. VEC UK seeks to achieve this aim by promoting dialogue about, and awareness of, values and their application in education and society. The VEC Executive encourages member organisations to work in partnership to achieve mutually-shared aims and objectives.


In 1999, two member organisations – Antidote, the campaign for emotional literacy, and SAPERE, an organisation which promotes philosophical thinking with children – developed the Value of Dialogue project in co-operation with the VEC Executive. The project team organised conferences in London, Belfast, Manchester, Rugby, Bristol and Edinburgh, attended by over 500 participants who came together to explore dialogical principles and to share their own practice.
This report provides an insight into some of the ideas explored at the meetings on the value of dialogue which began in London in October 2000 and concluded in Edinburgh in October 2001. The title of the Edinburgh conference was Citizenship Education – Information or Transformation? We know that each country in the United Kingdom has a particular perspective on education for citizenship in the 21st century. Citizenship education becomes a subject in the English National curriculum in 2002. Scotland has produced a discussion document on education for citizenship. Northern Ireland regards active citizenship as an outcome of values education.
Wales emphasises the notion of belonging to a community. The emphasis of the VEC conference was on the soundness of the inner dialogue on citizenship – thinking about the intrinsic values that underpin citizenship, about the thinking and feeling that citizens bring to community service and the ethical dimension of citizenship activities.
This record of the conference begins by setting out frames for thinking about dialogue. They enable us to develop dialogical principles to inform our lives and work. We select three words dominant in contemporary vocabulary – dialogue, citizenship and spirituality – for specific scrutiny by Elizabeth Templeton, to mark our concern for the integrity and meaning of language in education. This is followed by two contributions which register the importance of a dialogical perspective in understanding the context of politics and civic participation. The first, by Andrew Samuels, includes the concept of the ‘good- enough’ leader and the second by Deborah Wilkie asserts that dialogue is a powerful way to secure owned change. Finally, Roger Sutcliffe and James Park reflect on the process and outcomes of their project on the value of dialogue.

We also include ‘instances in action’- to use Adelman’s term – snapshots of work which participants in this series of conferences have described for us.

The learning and teaching approaches which many of our members have developed for personal and social education and for religious and moral education are now relevant to the needs of the citizenship curriculum. We are clear that education for citizenship needs to be both transformative and informative if we are to feel the real meaning of community and engage civil society in public service.
The Values Education Council regards dialogue as more than a methodology for the classroom. It is a philosophical approach which informs the teaching and learning relationship. While technocratic and bureaucratic voices are currently dominant in education, we seek to keep the philosophical voice alive through the development of a community of educationalists reflecting on the dynamics of dialogue in school and society.

We reflected initially on the frames which contain the study of dialogue in education and society. These frames and the connections between them need to be considered as we develop our thinking about dialogue.


Inner Dialogue: The Neuro Psychoanalytic Frame

At present neuroscientists such as Damasio (1999) are providing insights into the notion of inner dialogue. Damasio states that consciousness begins when brains acquire the power of telling a story – a story without words. He discusses the autobiographical self, based on autobiographical memory, which is made up of implicit memories of multiple instances of individual experiences of the past and of the anticipated future.
This connects with psychoanalytical work which identifies autobographical competence as the outcome of secure attachment. Carol Gilligan (1988), with her team of researchers at Harvard, identified the voice described by Noddings as the care voice whose organising image is a web of interdependence. These are some of the words that characterise the care voice:

being there; listening as a moral act; building and sustaining trust over time; being hurt or troubled by another’s pain; sharing responsibility for each others’ safety and welfare ; knowing another well as a result of shared history; strengthening a secure relationship by providing evidence of listening and dependability.

Gilligan has written about the different moral voices of men and women and the relationship between the orientation of the care voice and the justice voice.

Dialogical Principles:

Eileen Francis
If we are to be effective inquirers about dialogue we need to connect the work of Noddings and Gilligan with that of discourse psychologists such as Harre and Gillet (1994),authors of the Discursive Mind, who regard mental life as a dynamic activity engaged in by people who are located in a range of interacting discourses.

Voice: a cognitive frame

Inner dialogue initiates spoken language. Spoken language is projected by the voice. We talk of finding a voice but we forget the differences in language processing which create difficulties in terms of readiness for dialogue. What happens when those who process language fastest are in charge?

We need to feel the voices as well as to hear them, to develop empathy.

Our engagement in dialogue requires us to develop qualities of interpersonal reasoning by activating our capacity for responsiveness. Noddings (1991) defines interpersonal reasoning as the capacity to talk appreciatively with others regardless of fundamental differences. The dialogue needs to be open, flexible and responsive. It is guided by an attitude that values the relationship of the reasoners over any particular outcome, and is marked by attachment and connection rather than separation and abstraction.

The ideal speech community

While we may have a vision of the ideal speech community in which virtues such as truth, justice and care are paramount, we do not have an idealised view of dialogue. We perceive dialogue as describable, as having a systematic form. Socio-linguists such as Saville Troike (1982)help us to understand that speech communities hold knowledge and behaviour in common. They are characterised by ‘patterns of language use, interpretation, rules of speaking and attitudes concerning language which are identifiably specific’.

The pedagogical frame

This is important when we come to think about the meaning of dialogue for learning and teaching. Nicholas Burbules helps us to de-construct its meaning. He compares and contrasts different conceptions of dialogue:

There is a conception of dialogue which says one discovers truths by undergoing a dialectical give and take between provisional hypotheses and sceptical questioning. This kind of dialogue should have an end-point. There is a different conception of dialogue which is critical and constructivist, opens up possibilities for communication and investigation and is not based on the assumption that the participants in the dialogue will reach common conclusions.

Burbules 1993

Paolo Freire is identified with this second relational characterisation of dialogue, a constructivist view of knowledge and non-authoritarian conception of teaching. He sees the goal of dialogical teaching and learning as the mutual development of understanding through a process of shared inquiry, not the transmission of truths from a knowledgeable expert to a passive recipient.
I do not think unless others think. I simply cannot think for others or without others. Dialogue between teachers and students does not place them on the same footing professionally but it does mark the democratic position between them. Teachers and students are not identical…after all it is the difference between them that makes them precisely students or teachers. Dialogue is meaningful precisely because the dialogical subjects, the agents in the dialogue, not only retain their identity, but actively defend it and thus grow together.

Freire 1994

Others, perhaps more sceptical about the meaning of the term dialogic, refer to the development of a deliberative democracy. Already there is creative tension among those working on citizenship education about the emphasis one gives to the development of deliberative competence. Those committed to it are concerned that political literacy and service learning, with its emphasis on the actions of citizens, will be given more prominence than the dynamics of being a citizen.
Remembering Fromm (1978), having citizenship education is different from being a citizen. The values we wish to project need to be made more explicit if we are to discern the difference between decision making and decision taking and the citizens’ role in relation to both activities in society.
Giddens talks of creating a public arena in which controversial issues – in principle – can be resolved, or at least handled through dialogue rather than through pre- established forms of power. This presumes the development of personal relationships in which active trust is mobilised and sustained through discussion and the interchange of views, rather than by arbitrary power.

“Dialogue between teachers and students does not place them on the same footing professionally but it does mark the democratic position between them.”

In Giddens’ terms we need ‘social movements which can open up spaces for public dialogue’. They can force into the discursive domain aspects of social conduct that previously went un-discussed or were settled by traditional practices.
Power: the political frame The frames outlined so far focus on the personal and interpersonal relationships which encourage a dialogical approach. The political frame demonstrates how the pressures of the system can interfere when dialogue between persons is healthy but becomes distorted by a less healthy dialogical system.

One of the aims of citizenship education is to develop the capacity for ethical discourse in civil society. Anthony Giddens (1994) has used the term dialogic democracy to focus this vision. It provides another

Giddens considers that individuals who understand their own emotions, and who are able to communicate effectively with others on a personal basis, are likely to be well -prepared for the wider tasks and responsibilities of citizenship. Dialogic democracy, then, defines a tighter, finer communication web for representative liberal democracy, and is intended to be an advance on our current understanding of participative democracy.
If citizenship education could begin to explore the values and concepts underpinning notions of dialogue and power with the aspiration of developing the emotional and cultural literacy of young people in relation to power structures in society, we may yet realise the vision of dialogic democracy. As practitioners we suggest consideration of three types of dialogue.

Intrapersonal dialogue: Here we are concerned with the inner dialogue.

We explore counselling and psychotherapeutic strategies which respond to personal needs. We rehearse the inner dialogue associated with cognitive development, examine its association with philosophical inquiry and relate it to the personal search of religious and moral education. The emphasis for teachers is on understanding the process and strategies for developing awareness, insight, empathy and moral development. We provide opportunities for paired work and group work but the learning focus is personal. It is the I which is important.

Interpersonal Dialogue

Here we are focused on the l-We interface. Dialogical relations mean that what I can do alone may not be what we can do together. How do we understand and react to the tensions in interaction? In an ethnic minority context, the inner dialogue may be thought to be sound in terms of knowing what is right, but how the individual behaves in interpersonal relationships under group pressure may challenge personal ethics. Interpersonal- perspective taking can break down under stress. Working on assertiveness, on ethical dilemmas, on discussion strategies in the classroom, developing group work and exploring the capacity for deliberative competence within the interpersonal context, helps to increase understanding awareness and skill in addressing these challenges.

Group dialogue

Civil society consists of public spheres where questions of belief and faith, morality, world view and philosophy of education are played out. Exposure to ethical discourse is therefore a primary purpose for education. Entering a learning environment should mean that we will find sensitivity and empathy for our learning needs. School should be a place where we experience the best in communication. It is where we begin to understand that the intra-personal and interpersonal dialogues rehearsed in school can break down in stressful situations in the community.
It was a horrible irony that between my writing of the I synopsis of my conference paper and my final expansion of it, the events of 11th September in New York and Washington intervened. For nothing could illustrate more starkly than these events how fraught and ambiguous were all the words of my title.
The whirling comment and counter-comment in the autumn of 2001, both domestic and international, indicate gulfs of communication and understanding which seem to beggar healing. We have constant reports of foreigners of darker skin being attacked on casual roadside contact; of a columnist of presumed Muslim provenance being emailed as a ‘foreign bitch’; of bricks and abuse being hurled at mosques.
We have had multiple accounts of the apocalyptic attack on the key symbols of America’s capitalist democracy. For some, the onslaught is the work of demonic forces, presumed Islamic, motivated by envy, resentment and the desire to replace democracy with the totalitarian models already foreshadowed by Taliban rule. For others, even if the act is deplored, the motivation is read quite differently: as the frustration and outrage of those for whom America, as the only global superpower, holds the rest of the world in economic and military thrall.
What price dialogue in such a world? Where some dance with joy at the penetration of the USA’s security systems? Where some see the immolation of the suicide bombs as a spiritual sacrifice for the greater glory of God? Where all of us wait, with bated breath, for the almost inevitable escalation of violence which will be needed to satisfy 80% of American citizens and 70% of British citizens, if the polls on retaliation are at all accurate.

Noone in such a world can take dialogue, citizenship or spirituality as having assured meanings.

Each one of these words has, in recent years, been at risk of becoming cultic. that is to say, each can carry for given groups, the status of accepted orthodoxy within a particular frame of reference. Dialogue has been ecumenical chic for about thirty years in Christian circles, following the dissemination of Vatican II documents in a new spirit of non-triumphalist Christian openness. In parallel, the World Council of Churches, for some thirty years has been initiating or supporting countless dialogues – with Marxist ideology, with people of other faiths, with various denominations, confessions and interest groups. (It may have been weariness at the weight of all this dialogue which provoked one young man to sport a T-shirt at one conference I attended, emblazoned: “To hell with dialogue, smash something up!”)
Not an edifying message, but perhaps a salutary reminder that under our learned veneers of civilisation, we need also to name passion and rage as a part of the complexity of meaningful dialogue.
Citizenship is currently one of the noisiest buzz-words in education in the UK – a primary weapon in this government’s rhetorical armoury of the virtues. Many participants in VEC conferences will have been deeply involved in both the theoretical and practical processes which have put citizenship on the curricular agenda. But I doubt whether any programmes of citizenship education, formal or informal, can work until we face, locally and nationally the depths of alienation from self and society which we have bred in so many of those we would like to call to citizens. Graven on my mind is an image from a television detective story set in a Glasgow housing estate: bored toddlers straggled behind their slightly older siblings across an urban wasteland, where life offered no zest except the kicks of drug dealing and abuse, the vandalising or looting of cars and the ritual bating of the beleaguered police.