The more we discuss and explore ‘British Values’ with our students, the clearer it becomes: equality needs to be at the heart of our value system. We cannot teach these values without placing the idea of equality at their core and reflecting on what it means for the way we live our lives and make decisions.
Let’s take them one by one:
The idea of democracy is based on citizens having an equal say in decisions which affect them. In a democratic state, the freely expressed wishes of each citizen, regardless of who they are, should carry equal weight. As we explore this concept more deeply with students we can discuss how well different democratic systems translate people’s wishes and aspirations into public policy and allow everyone’s voice to be heard. In an unequal society, the notion that each person’s voice should be of equal worth and carry equal weight is still a radical and precious idea.
The rule of law
The idea that we need rules in order to maintain a functioning society and protect people is generally well understood. Students also need to appreciate that in a democracy, the right to question and criticise particular laws is a legitimate and vital right. They should also recognise that laws can change over time and that different territories have agreed different laws. They key is that we should all be equal before the law. In any particular jurisdiction, the law should apply equally to everyone and the right to representation, the burden of proof and the application of the law should be blind to people’s position in society.
The freedom to live our lives, to identify and express ourselves as we wish without unnecessary coercion, discrimination or oppression as long as we are not doing so at the expense of the fundamental freedoms of others also needs to be seen through the lens of equality. These individual and collective freedoms are only meaningful if they apply equally to us all. A society where some groups or individuals enjoy rights which others are denied cannot claim to value those freedoms.
Respect and tolerance
The idea of respecting others is also profoundly egalitarian. It means putting into daily practice the belief that others are entitled to the same respect from us which we hope to receive for ourselves. If we only show respect for those we like or agree with, or those we have more in common with, we would be denying the fundamental equality of human beings.
Young people are growing up in a society where they have plenty of lived experience of inequality. In our educational settings, we should aim to create experiences of equality while also acknowledging the shortcomings of the world we live in and encouraging critical engagement. The way we teach citizenship and British values should emphasize their egalitarian core even if their practical application in the world can sometimes be found wanting.
Crick reloaded: citizenship education and British values (September 2016)
Post-16 citizenship in tough times (May 2014)
Unashamedly egalitarian (February 2014)