The Common Room recently posted a citizenship conundrum. Do citizens have the right to drain money from other taxpaying citizens, through the foodstamp program, and then buy giant chocolate bars with that money? And what do you do when somebody gifts you with said chocolate bar? Who really owns that candy?
Also in the past week on The Common Room: why it is the duty of homeschooling citizens not to go beyond the required (government) reporting limits; why it's ridiculous for podiatrists to be punished (by the government) for not taking the blood pressure and temperature of their patients; and a post about why government is force.
And people still wonder why it matters for kids to learn about boring, hard stuff like how government is supposed to work?
What is Citizenship? ...It is the legacy or heritage we each enjoy from the past— the fruits of the big political victories won by our forefathers. Whether deserved or not, it is the rich possession of all who are fortunate enough to be born and grow to adult age as members of the British race and Empire....And so valuable a possession is it that it ought to be prized. Indeed, it must for its own sake be prized. Any time now spent upon learning about it and understanding the rights and privileges it gives and the duties it brings to its possessors is, therefore, most usefully spent....A study of Citizenship is clearly a part of such a training. Intelligently pursued it will yield a liberal reward. It will teach you what are your many famous privileges as a British citizen, and what are the duties expected of you in return. It will enable you to take a real, live interest in your country's welfare, and in your own also as a subject-member of it. Without the knowledge it will give you, you will not be able to play your part as well as you ought in our splendid system of self-government : nor will you understand (as well as a citizen worthy of his citizenship ought to understand) the big and urgent tasks and problems in securing the well-being and prosperity of our State and Nation.
No nation can ever be great and hold a proud place among the nations of the world unless the men and women who are its citizens understand what their citizenship is, what it means to themselves and to their State, and try to live it out worthily. Its citizens are a nation's real strength : their personal quality is what counts in the struggle of life. ~~F.R. Worts, Citizenship, 1919
I found a book on Google Books that I was able to partially preview, which explains a lot about the emphasis on citizenship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, specifically referring to books used in the Parents' Union School such as H.O. Arnold-Forster's Citizen Reader.
The book is The Language of Empire: Myths and Metaphors of Popular Imperialism, 1880-1918, by Robert H. MacDonald, published in 1994 by Manchester University Press. If I can find a copy of the whole book (which seems difficult, although it's not very old), it's definitely going on my to-read list. Short version: if there's anything in Charlotte Mason's selection of citizenship materials that makes you nervous, you haven't imagined it; yes, a lot of these books were written specifically to boost the British Empire. The educational thinking of the time often connected (or confused) Christian faith, high ideals, and good citizenship with national heroes (like Nelson) and belief in the Empire. Which doesn't make the books necessarily any worse, as far as propaganda goes, than the current patriotic materials of our own countries; and in a literary sense, they're undoubtedly better written. Even Robert H. MacDonald isn't completely blasting all the books written for the schools of the Empire; he admits that at least some of them weren't "jingoistic." They just had a particular bias, and we need to be clear about that.
Which is why we will probably not be able to use the same books that the P.U.S. did. (Although, in a way, it's good to have those examples as a warning of the fallibility of any human government.)
How might Charlotte's approach to Citizenship be applied in our time?
However, the classical end of Citizenship, the leadership studies in Plutarch, still holds up as well as it did a hundred years ago, since it is not biased towards any empire or administration of our own time. (As Charlotte mentions in this chapter, though, the stories Plutarch tells are not all suitable for young ears. Some editing is strongly recommended.) And Charlotte Mason's book Ourselves still works, though, like any book of its age, some of its references (especially the this-just-happened ones) will need to be explained.
Current events--that's self-explanatory, although I think the hardest part of that these days is finding suitable, family-friendly, and non-axe-grinding sources for news. The Ambleside Online curriculum has a list of some sources they have used, so you might want to start there if you're searching. Basic civics-type instruction about how voting works, things like the Senate or the House of Commons or House of Representatives, who gets to be a judge, how laws get passed, that sort of stuff, is usually readily available through online sources, school textbooks, or government educational materials. I taught my oldest daughter a half-credit course in Canadian civics (required in Ontario), and we used a kit of materials that the government had produced for schools--it included a video about the branches of government, a copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that sort of thing.
As for the rest, beyond the basic stuff you'd need to know to pass a citizenship test...unfortunately, that's the really important stuff, and that's the part that we're going to have to figure out for ourselves. What do young people today...particularly Christians...need to know to be citizens of their countries, to protect the freedoms and rights they are promised, to carry out their own responsibilities, while still thinking for themselves? Where do you draw the line between being a loyal citizen of a state or nation on earth, and being part of God's kingdom? Should Christians get into politics? Should they serve in a military force? Should they stay out of all involvement with the government? Is that even possible? Does power corrupt? Does God approve of capitalism? How do you deal with problems like food stamps and giant chocolate bars?
In the first book of the Uncle Eric series, Richard J. Maybury recommends that we all study at least four models of how the world works: the business model, the economic model, the legal or justice model, and the foreign-affairs model. The other books in the series consider each of these models in turn, and I will say personally that the books have given our family a lot to think and talk about. But you may find some more specifically Christian-based material that also considers those questions...although I don't think there's anything ever written that supplies perfect answers.
To Study Citizenship is a Duty. — As in most other branches of life, it is necessary to learn what to do and what to avoid in the practice of your citizenship, if you are to be successful. Unfortunately so many people to-day are listless and ignorant and therefore unsuccessful in this important matter. Although citizens by right of birth they do not value their citizenship even enough to understand it. They accept all the benefits it brings them as a matter of course, but never trouble to ask the "why" and the "how" about them....It, therefore, behoves all young and ambitious people to think about their future status as fully-fledged members of the State and the duties it will involve....Another powerful reason why all should study this subject is this: it may be necessary one day to defend the privileges of our full citizenship from those who would take them from us and destroy them. ~~F.R. Worts, Citizenship, 1919
What books did Charlotte Mason use to teach citizenship? Youngest (fourth or fifth grade) to oldest:
Stories from the History of Rome, by Mrs. Beesly (online at The Baldwin Project)
The Complete Citizen: An Introduction to the Study of Civics, by Dr. Richard Wilson
The Citizen Reader, by H. O. Arnold-Forster
North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, edited by P. Giles (Cambridge Press)
Smith's Smaller Classical Dictionary
Classical Atlas (Dent) (my note: if it was published by Dent, it was likely part of the Everyman's series)
Pronouncing Dictionary of Mythology and Antiquities; "very important"
"Social and Industrial Life", by John St. Loe Strachey. The full title is actually The citizen and the state; industrial and social life and the empire.
Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason, Book I. "The point of view taken in this volume is, that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in every one; but that each person is subject to assaults and hindrances in various ways of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray."
Citizenship, by F.R. (Frederick Robert) Worts
Ourselves by Charlotte Mason, book II
Areopagitica by John Milton
"Thoughts on the cause of the present discontents" by Edmund Burke
"Essay on Burns" by Thomas Carlyle
Utopia by Thomas More
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Socratic dialogues: Euthyphro or Crito or Phaedo, by Plato
The education of Cyrus, by Xenophon, translated by Henry Graham Dakyns
And some books used after Charlotte Mason's death:
Everybody's business by Hartley Withers, published 1932 (economics)
The English-speaking nations: a study in the development of the commonwealth ideal by Guy Wilfrid Morris and Leonard Southerden Wood. Review: "The task as concerned with British imperial history has never been better done than in this book, on the whole not so well done. The book lacks the contagious enthusiasm of Seeley's "Expansion of England"; it is less keenly sympathetic than Lavelle and Payne's "Imperial England" ; it is not so full an account as Hall's "The British Commonwealth of Nations"; and it does not attempt the personal appeal of Beer's "English Speaking Peoples." But rather more concisely than any, it really does the work of them all. For American readers especially useful and informing chapters are those on the Australasian Dominions and India, on the Government of the Commonwealth, and on the Imperial Conscience. By going over the same ground more than once and strictly limiting each account to the particular topic in hand, confusion of detail is avoided and an unusually clear view of the gradual progress towards the present Commonwealth is given." ~~Saturday Review of Literature, June 2, 1925