G. Kerr-Sheppard

University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
Despite its importance in affirming democracy in today’s world, substantial problems are connected to the provision of civic education for democracy in schools (Print, 2015; Westheimer, 2015). From practical and ethical points of view, dealing with political and values aspects involved is no easy task for teachers (Hess & McAvoy, 2015; McLaughlin, 2003; Persson, 2015). Elements of risk are involved in applying appropriate open classroom pedagogies and in enabling school children to form personal opinions on potentially controversial political and ethical issues.

This paper is part of a study which examined teacher effect on delivery of the Palestinian Authority Civic Education curriculum in Ministry of Education and United Nations schools across the West Bank and in Gaza City. Using qualitative methods within a constructivist framework, data were triangulated through analysis of curriculum materials and text books; interviews with teachers and administrators; and observations of delivery of the curriculum in classrooms.

In 2000, following the 1993 Oslo Accord, the PNA rolled out a national curriculum reflecting the philosophical and cultural basis of the future Palestinian state. Included as a compulsory, stand-alone subject from grades 1 to 9, Civic Education aimed to prepare citizens for their role in the expected state by offering ‘knowledge and values that build a healthy civil society based on democracy and active participation of all citizens’ (PCDC, 2011).

With the intention of moving Palestinian society towards a modern reality, much of the Civic Education curriculum was of a critical nature and dealt with updating traditions and customs whilst still affirming the core of existing culture. The study identified a localized Palestinian understanding of democracy, contributing to congruence of teacher and curriculum ideology and siting the values aspects of the curriculum within teacher ethical comfort zones. This strengthened teacher disposition to deliver the curriculum and was reflected positively in choices made from the curriculum materials. Where an ideological clash did exist, the teachers were more likely to subvert curriculum intent by omitting content and replacing it with their own.

Complementary to the critical aspects, a constructivist pedagogical design had been embedded within the curriculum aiming to build students’ critical thinking abilities so that as well as becoming the nation’s active democratic citizens they could play a role as agents of social change. When the teachers understood the connection between the curriculum pedagogy and active democratic citizenship they used, or attempted to use, the given pedagogical steps. However, where teachers did not understand, or chose not to embrace, the specified pedagogy they defaulted to their own preferred pedagogies. Since the embedded pedagogy had been designed to support the central curriculum concept of the active democratic citizen, the teacher driven changes diminished the effectiveness of the curriculum to a large extent.

Two main implications indicated by this study concern teacher curriculum knowledge and comfort zones. When teachers understand what is required, in terms of subject matter and pedagogy and when the requirements fall within their ethical and pedagogical comfort zones, the intended curriculum is more likely to be delivered. These implications have significance in choice and training of teachers of education for democratic citizenship.