Singapore Management University’s Distinguished Education Lecture: Monday 30th 2015 – Educating for Citizenship – and link to Power Point Presentation

Mar 31, 2015 | Uncategorized

David Alton delivers the 2012 Tyburn Lecture  

Singapore Management University’s Distinguished Education Lecture: Monday 30th 2015

Click here for link to power point presentation accompanying the lecture:



University President, Professor De Meyer; Professor Kirpal Singh; Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests: I am honoured to have been invited to deliver the Wee Kim Wee Lecture – not least because of his own belief that education is central the cultivation of good citizenship. And where better to deliver such a lecture than at Singapore Management University – which like the university where I hold a chair, Liverpool John Moores, is a modern civic university? And when better than to consider some of these questions than at the end of a week in which Singapore has been commemorating the memory of its founding father, Lee Kwan Yew.

When Dr.Singh asked me to take as my subject “Education for Citizenship” he asked me to do so in the context of a world which is being convulsed by violence and conflict and disfigured by intolerance and civic disaggregation – such a contrast to one of Singapore’s, and Lee Kwan Yew’s, central achievements.

In the UK – and it is true in other jurisdictions – there has been a run of confidence in national institutions. Banks have seen their reputations tarnished by deliberate mis-selling and the financial crisis; the media by phone hacking; Parliament by falsified expense claims; many aspects of social and economic life in turmoil. Trust in our institutions has been badly damaged and is in need of renewal.

Henry David Thoreau once asked: “How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down.” By educating for citizenship we will be planting new trees from which the birds will once again sing. All societies and institutions are in constant need of renewal and regeneration.

Singapore is renowned for its meritocracy – but meritocracies must always guard against leaders becoming a detached elite. A fundamental principle of democratic leadership is to serve those whom you have been entrusted to lead. Educating for citizenship must inspire a new generation imbued with the concept servant leadership capable of renewing institutions and the vibrancy of society.

Dr.Singh reminded me of the time when we routinely taught every child something which we called “civics”, when we saw education as being about a preparation for life, not just for work.

It was a British Member of Parliament, Sir William Curtis, who, at the end of the eighteenth century, used the phrase “the three Rs”reading, writing and arithmetic – to emphasise the basic skills which every individual needs to be employable or to access higher levels of education.

The idea has even earlier origins. In the fifth century Saint Augustine in his “Confessions” noted that “For those first lessons, reading, writing and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek.”  Winston Churchill famously admitted that learning Latin had for him been a burden – saying that he saw little purpose in learning how to address a table in six different ways.


Education can, indeed, become a burden or a penalty if it degenerates into an obsession with memorising vocabulary or merely understanding quadratic equations.

Charles Dickens captured the futility of this kind of education in his classic novel, Hard Times.  His fictional teacher, Thomas Gradgrind never sees education as being about values or about the deepening of a man’s mind but tells us “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

But is a world of the “three Rs” and an education based merely on the regurgitation of facts – a world of numbers and memorised rote learning – enough?

In Dickens’ fictionalised account, Gradgrind creates a world devoid of humanity, compassion, or gentle intellectual inquiry and fails both as a teacher and as a father – seeing his own son becoming a thief.

Contrast Gradgrind’s view of education with that of the first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, where it is said “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

Or contrast a Gradgrind education with John Henry Newman’s description of what a university should be: “It is a seat of wisdom, a light of the world, a minister of the faith, an alma mater of the rising generation. It is this and a great deal more.”

Newman listed the intellectual virtues as “good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command and steadfastness of view.” In the “knowledge economy” where there is less time for learning for its own sake, we must be careful not to replace Gradgrind’s narrow vision with our own equally narrow one.

Once the mind has been formed and the intellect has been connected with the foundational principles, a modern civic education must surely have something to say about how we inter-act with our fellow citizens and the world in which we live.

Instead of merely educating for facts, we must, therefore educate for virtue: educate for citizenship. What do I mean by this?

An education for citizenship would enable young people, in particular, to reach beyond academic attainment alone – to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation and the world.

If we educate young people for citizenship we will need to lay before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living; world crises – ranging from hunger, to the use of violence and terror, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

A civic education must, above all, underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – enabling us to see ourselves as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of ethical responsibility for their individual and collective actions.

This kind of education will be the antidote to intolerance and barbarism; the antidote to ignorance.

It was C.S.Lewis who warned against educators who “make men without chests”, who cease to be educators and become what he calls “conditioners”. He said that “The task of modern education is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.”


In a characteristically blunt turn of phrase Lewis says that through our hollowed-out education system we treat our children like “geldings. We bid them be fruitful only to neuter them.” But it needn’t be like this.

Matthew Arnold – poet, educationalist and son of Thomas Arnold, the famous Victorian headmaster – passionately believed that education should ensure that students have access to “the best which has been said and thought” and never simply be focused on the mercantile needs of an industrial State: “The aim and office of instruction… is to enable a man to know himself and the world… To know himself, a man must know the capabilities and performances of the human spirit… [which is] the value of the humanities… but it is also a vital and formative knowledge to know the world, the laws which govern nature, and man as a part of nature.” So, self knowledge and knowledge of what is expected of you in playing your part in society is central.


In contemporary terms this surely requires a compact between educationalists, commerce and the State to produce graduates who connect with the wider needs of society.  This is especially true now that there is mass participation in university education. By educating for citizenship we will also be providing better graduates for business and employers and in forming agents for change.    Contrast the following two world views.

Nelson Mandela, having been incarcerated for 27 years, correctly observed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.


Elsewhere in Africa, in Nigeria, where elections have been underway this weekend, Boko Haram – which means eradicate Western education – also understands the power of education – which is why they abduct young girls to deny them an education and, in cold blood, murder sleeping student in their dormitories.

No one better understands the power of education, and more courageously articulates the first of those two world views, than the youngest Nobel laureate, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder after Malala spoke up for the right of girls to receive an education. As Malala says: One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

How right is the old Chinese proverb which states that if you want to plant for one season, you should plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, you should plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, you should give a young man or woman an education.

I passionately believe that; and believe that a rounded education will go beyond the mantra of reading, writing and arithmetic or the formulaic facts of Thomas Gradgrind.


Let me explain what I mean by suggesting a different formulation of another three Rs: Respect, Rights and Responsibilities.

1 First, Respect:


Education, and formation of the masses, must enrich the intellect, cultivate virtues and good tendencies, and engender a spontaneous uprightness of the will, shape instincts and conscience, and steer us towards respect for one another, especially respect for divergent beliefs and diversity – principles familiar to any Singaporean.

I was struck by, and agree with something which Chiam See Tong said while he was a member of the Singapore Parliament:

The most important thing is that you have to respect an individual, whether he’s got six Cs or six As and whether he’s a brain surgeon or a dustman. I think we should give him the same respect. If you don’t give respect to your own citizens, I think you condemn them forever.” 

But should respect trump all other considerations?

In 1644 John Milton, in the Areopagitica wrote:  “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience.” A passionate defence of free speech but nothing here about respect.

Free speech – and the right to argue according to conscience – is something to be greatly prized. People have died for the right to free speech but no right, including this one, can exist in a vacuum and without a suitable respect for another person’s beliefs or culture. If we always have the importance of respect in mind we will achieve better balance – and balance must always be struck.

All freedoms must be tempered by mutual respect – which is why hate-speak or the ridiculing, for instance, of deeply held religious beliefs can be become inflammatory and offensive – and, as we saw in Paris, may have fatal consequences.

Whipping up hated against minorities or against people who are simply different from you will inevitably disrupt the harmony and good order of society. Equally, imprisoning a young man for expressing on his Facebook site that he does not believe in God – as happened in Indonesia – is wholly disproportionate. Once again, a correct balance has not been struck.

If we are to be truly responsible citizens then, whatever our outlook, our beliefs, our profession or job, at all costs we must avoid a clash of blind fundamentalism, what Matthew Arnold, in his poem, “Dover Beach” described as a place “where ignorant armies clash by night.”

All of which underlines why, to avoid ignorance, and to ensure that our consciences are formed in a manner which enables us to make prudential judgements, we need appropriate forms of education.

At the heart of what we teach must be a respect for others and for law, and the placing of fetters on the unbounded autonomy of the individual, what Edmund Burke described as “order that keeps things fast in their place”. This must be a part of the formation of every citizen. Educating for citizenship will cultivate respect for the dignity of difference.

But can this be done in the school room or university lecture theatre alone?

There is an old African proverb that   – it needs everyone including, our educational institutions, the family, religious and secular leaders.  Everyone is born into a network of relationships – beginning with the family – and this is a partnership which must spread across generations.

The African concept of Ubuntu – which is sometime translated as “humanity towards others” – might well inform the sort of questions which the whole tribe should be asking itself about what it stands for; and whether right balances are being struck.

What sort of questions, then, might we be asking ourselves? Here are a few that have been suggested.

Do we respect one another; do we respect our parents and families; do we respect our civic institutions; do we respect those who are different – perhaps for reasons of race, religion, class, gender or orientation?

How do we ensure that vulnerable groups are not made more vulnerable or stigmatised – especially engendering respect for people with disabilities or the elderly?

Do we respect the finite resources entrusted to us?

Do we use them in a sustainable way?

Do we respect our environment – from the streets and neighbourhoods where we live to respect for the natural world?

Do we actually bother to ask what creates respectful and good communities?

Do we understand the importance of respectful relationships in sustaining society?

And do we ask how can we strengthen that which is local and unleash the power of creative citizenship?

How might we use the markets and our economies to re-order priorities, to reduce the sense of alienation, to encourage mutual respect?

Are we going to turn our fire on the weapons of mass consumption, our addiction to hedonism, materialism and affluent barbarism?

The Jewish sage Hillel was right when he said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”


Or, as Dr.Seet I Mee said in 2011: “Life is not just about shoes and mobile phones.”

Are we only for ourselves; just for our possessions? Or are we educated to ask ourselves how we will use our gifts, our wealth, our time, in an outpouring for the common good?

Do we appreciate the privileges and liberties which we enjoy and how do we create a tolerant, inclusive and respectful civil society.

It was Edmund Burke who once observed: “It is easy to give power, but difficult to give wisdom.” How, then, can a civic education help in cultivating wisdom and virtue? How can it help us strike an appropriate balance between respecting others whilst seeking to uphold our own rights? And what do we mean by rights – the second of my three “Rs”?

  1. Rights


In modern politics the language of rights and choice has become a mantra. In “After Virtue” Alasdair MacIntyre demolishes the idea that rights themselves can replace the richer language of personal and civic virtue.

Civil society has become uncivil as modern citizenship has been perceived in terms of rights alone. An exaggerated emphasis on rights shorn of duties breaks a delicate balance and creates a chronically disordered society.

John Stuart Mill saw rights as a scaffold erected by society, on which we can hang the things which permit human and societal development. The contrary view of rights is that they are not created by law but that they exist for themselves and that the law simply places them on a legal footing.  This argument can be circular and, rather than arguing about the origins of rights, we would be better served by simply identifying the rights which best serve us – and which best serve the common good.

In educating for citizenship I would frame the debate about rights in the context of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and which had its genesis in the experiences of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and atrocities committed here in the East at the hands of their allies.

During the Second World War the Allies adopted four basic war aims: freedom from fear; freedom from want; freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Article 18, which uphold the right to believe, to change belief, or not to believe, is honoured in its breach but this “orphaned right”  desperately needs to be upheld in areas of conflict the world over.

The 1948 Declaration was the first global expression of rights to which every human being is entitled – 30 Articles which adumbrates the right to life, and rights of conscience, freedom of speech, religious liberty and many others.

Many of the Articles have subsequently been incorporated in international treaties, national constitutions, and many diverse legal instruments – and form the bedrock of organisations such as the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth.

The Charter of the United Nations “reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and the dignity and worth of the human person.” The Charter required its signatories to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

Like civil society at a local community level or at national level, imperfect institutions like the United Nations will only ever be as good as their component parts – but all of them are indispensable to good order.

One of the UN’s greatest Secretary Generals, Dag Hammarskjold said “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.”

Hammarskjold understood the fine balance which must always be struck between the rights we cherish and our commensurate civic obligations as citizens:

“The health and strength of a community depends on every citizen’s felling of solidarity with other citizens and on their willingness in the name of this solidarity to shoulder their part of the burdens and responsibilities of the community. The same is, of course, true of humanity as a whole.”

Humanity as a whole, through the small platoons of civil society – starting with the family – must learn the art of shouldering their responsibilities.

Whether we are talking about our duties to our family and neighbours or our duty as nations, we need to teach and assert that with every right comes a responsibility, a duty and an obligation. So, in moving from rights to the third of my the “Rs” I would argue that rights must be balanced by responsibilities.

3. Responsibilities


Aristotle believed that the requirements for a “good” city, a “good” society or a “good” person all stemmed from the belief that we are all “social animals” – and interdependent: “not solitary pieces in a game of chequers”. It is for each of us to work out what responsibilites this places on us as we try to discover what it means to be fully human and in deciding how we cultivate a common life together. But that is also where education and formation is so fundamental.

Do we teach citizens to balance claimed rights by embracing our responsibilities, our duties, our obligations to one another? Do we teach them to play their part – not to opt out.

Cicero, in his work “On Duty” said that “the whole glory of virtue is in activity”. What was true for the Romans is true, also, for us: by actively participating in voluntary organisations, charities, philanthropy – an example of which we saw here at the outset of this evening’s lecture – and civil society – in the small platoons – we learn a practical wisdom and in doing so we become better, more virtuous people.

In 2005, a formidable American academic, Mary Ann Glendon coined the pithy phrase ‘Traditions in Turmoil’ as the title for her analysis of the jettisoning of the ties which bind and the abandonment of duties.

Consider for a moment the consequences of discarding values and virtues once taught by parents and re-enforced by educationalist and by civil society, and simply replacing them with the flaccid language of rights and entitlements.


If we are to educate for citizenship, we need a richer language of responsibilities, duties and obligations – a language which comes with the privilege of sharing in the common life of a nation or community. Educating for citizenship is educating us to know ourselves. Let me give a couple of examples.

Singapore has always had strict laws, strongly enforced, against corruption. That is to be admired.

But beyond being told that corruption, stealing or lying is wrong, we also need to know what it is about them that makes them unacceptable. Rules must genuinely serve the development of judgement.  As G.K.Chesterton once remarked: To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it” – we need the judgement to know the difference.
Or, take science. All of us celebrate the extraordinary achievements of science – but we know that a scientist devoid of ethics, just like an entrepreneur devoid of a sense of responsibility to his employees, consumers, or shareholders, can become a danger to us all.

If I can paraphrase Albert Einstein, science that is devoid of ethics is lame; but, equally, ethics or philosophy without an understanding of science is blind.

Science – just like commerce – must be guided by a civic sense of working for all, not just for oneself.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s very easy to be corrupted.

Manifestly, science operating in an ethical void carries huge risks for any society. The writer, H. G. Wells, understood what would happen if we fail to appreciate the role of education in fostering a civilised society, where personal civic responsibility is cultivated in each person, insisting that “Maintaining civilisation is a constant race between education and catastrophe”.

To avoid catastrophe, then, we must educate and always educate for virtue, for virtuous citizenship. This principle must be applied across the piece – always encouraging us to ask the right questions about what we are doing and our motive for doing it.

Making money and enjoying it, for instance is clearly not in itself wrong – but has it become an end in itself?

A civic education would encourage us to consider the role of individual and corporate philanthropy, the duty to support the widow, the orphan, the disadvantaged. It would encourage us to develop and examine our conscience. It was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

If we were to educate for citizenship we would enshrine the responsibilities of each person: to live peaceably; to participate in civic institutions and the processes of local and national government; to contribute to the resourcing of commonly beneficial institutions; to acquire knowledge and to encourage the pursuit of knowledge in children; to learn respect for the needs of others; to behave ethically; and to appreciate how legitimate rights have been acquired; to cherish them; and to lear how to strike balances.

We would cultivate a respect for customs, laws and institutions which serve the common good and harmony of society; we would cultivate a belief in the supreme importance of the rule of law; we would share our stories and shared histories and memorialise the lives which bequeathed our liberties; and we would cultivate a reverence for the impulses and altruistic outpouring which can accompany the religious faiths which animate billions of people throughout the world.

But beyond these three Rs of Respect, Rights and Responsibilities, what more might we say – especially about educating for virtue?

What are some of the origins of these ideas? 

In the West, Aristotle’s ancient virtues continue to inform the debate about how we educate for good ethics and good citizenship. They are:








Prudence; and


These ideas, along with Judaeo-Christian ideals – faith hope and charity – are captured by Thomas Aquinas and continue to inform both religious and secular discourse.

In the East, Aristotle’s belief in the promotion of personal virtue sits well alongside the Confucian concept of ren: “compassion” or “loving others.” For Confucius, such concern for others is demonstrated through the practice of forms of The Golden Rule:

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others;”

“Since you yourself desire standing then help others achieve it; since you yourself desire success then help others attain it.”


Like Christ he teaches that such altruism can be accomplished only by those who have learned self-discipline.

He also says that “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right” – a pretty good prospectus for any educator.

If we are to be educated active citizens who wish to serve the common good we must begin with ourselves As Ghandi says: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”

Equally, in many places the Holy Qur’an makes it clear that everyone will be responsible for their own deed – and held accountable for what they did – an “upright society” beginning with the individual.

And the Buddha reminds us of the responsibility each of us has, to choose our words carefully and to recognise the effect that they and our actions have on wider society: “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influence by them for good or ill.”

The dasa-raja-dhamma sets out the basic framework of Buddhist ethics for those who govern and captures these ideas in ten words: 1 Dāna (charity); 2. Sīla (morality); 3. Pariccāga (altruism); 4. Ājjava (honesty); 5. Maddava (gentleness) 6. Tapa (self controlling; 7. Akkodha (non-anger); —8. Avihimsa (non-violence); 9. Khanti (forbearance); and 10. Avirodhana (uprightness)

And, from a humanist perspective, such virtues are well represented by the life and actions of nelson Mandela, who said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”


The virtues on which these ideas are based are acquired by practice. They are internal qualities perfecting the interior persona and, thus deeply affecting society as a whole. But they do not happen by accident; they have to be inculcated.

As I come to the end let me draw these thoughts about respect, rights and responsibilities together and reflect brieflky on some of the consequences when we fail to educate for citizenship.


If such indispensable civic virtues – which united East and West – are not passed from generation to generation, civic sinews will begin to deteriorate and atrophy. Let me remind you of a few manifestations of our disaggregated and dysfunctional society in the West.

During the height of the 2011 riots in Britain it was sickening to see a bleeding boy, attacked and robbed by those who first appeared to have come to his aid; or the 67-year-old killed because he tried to prevent arson; or the 11-year-old brought before the courts and convicted because, along with thousands of other looters, he exploited the breakdown in law and order.

Beyond our shock and anger we must also ask ourselves some deeper questions about the kind of society we have created and the kind of society which we want it to be. If we do not attend to the root problems, far worse will visit us in the future.

These same questions face all developed societies but let me briefly conclude by pointing to some of the consequences for my own country, the United Kingdom, in failing to educate for citizenship; failing to synthesise these 3 Rs of respect, rights and responsibilities.

I said our responsibilities begin with our children and our families. Britain is a country where family breakdown and the abandonment of children has led to 800,000 children having no contact with their fathers. In 2014 the Relationships Foundation estimated the economic cost of family breakdown at £46 billion.

The human costs are incalculable.

In 2014 there were 68,840 “looked after” children in care. One in ten children is severely neglected in childhood. In 2013 934,600 youngsters – aged 10-17 – were convicted of a crime.

According to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year. In 2012/13 14,863 children called Childline about suicide. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

More than 140,000 people try to commit suicide every year – many of them young. Suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Toxic loneliness leads to depression, despair and worse.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds. Also last year, 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed, which is a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million.

The twenty first century is fast becoming a century of toxic loneliness – and any number of computer terminals and virtual reality friends on social networking sites are no substitute for human commerce and human kindness. The levels of loneliness, despair and depression are the backdrop against which we are living.

An estimated 1 million elderly people do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week; 7 million people are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history. 26% of households comprising just one and on present trends by 2016 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person.

Many families and communities face indebtedness on an unparalleled scale. Total personal debt in the UK has reached £1.43 trillion – not far short of the level of national debt ($1.47 trillion). Indebtedness on this scale is “intergenerational theft” and is unsustainable. It is also a reflection of our failure to educate for citizenship – both in terms of individual as well as collective responsibility.

To reverse these sort of trends will involve more than the General election now underway in the UK. It will require  the renewal of our battered and compromised institutions and require us to reassess how we see ourselves as citizens and how we see our obligations and duties, our responsibilities as well as our rights. This will need our practical actions as well as a different way of thinking.

Although, during my time in the House of Commons I was not a member of her political party, I agreed with Margaret Thatcher’s observation, while she was Prime Minister, that: “We are not in politics to ignore people’s worries: we are in politics to deal with them”

Over seventy years ago, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, having described the fall of Singapore as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history” would weep when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment.

Perhaps, in this context of the litany of indicators which provide the contours of our social ecology, we should shed a few tears ourselves. And to put the maladies right will require the wisdom and the actions of the whole tribe.

Churchill understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause: ‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope’.

These are all words which our society needs today.

It is sometimes said that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago but that the second-best time is now. We can despair at the civic deficit or we can do something about it. And civic education is the key. As to how we teach it. I’m with the American writer, Mark Twain, who said that “Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire.”


 Let’s not turn it merely into dry as dust studies of constitutions or Bills of Rights. Educating for citizenship is not a spectator sport or the preserve of a few well-meaning academics or specialists. It is the concern of us all and should be experienced as well as taught. Citizenship awards, like those promoted by my university in Liverpool, “service learning”, community endeavour all have their part to play – along with systematic teaching, across many different subjects, about what is expected of the citizen in a democratic society: about the formation of men and women for others.

When she was completing her tour of duty in London, a former Chinese Ambassador, Madam Fu Ying, told me that one of the memories which she would always treasure was when a young boy called Isaac, walked from his home in Wales to present a cheque for money he had raised for the earthquake disaster victims in Sichuan: “An ambassador will never forget that” she said. For me, it was an example of a young man who had been educated in what it truly means to be a citizen.

 Let me end now with a story from ancient China about a man named Bian. Some of you will doubtless know the story already.

One day Bian found a large stone. It was actually an unpolished piece of the precious and highly valued stone, jade.

Bian was so excited by his discovery that he resolved to present the unpolished stone as a gift to the Emperor of China.

Unfortunately for Bian, when he received it the Emperor saw nothing except a large stone with its rough and disfigured surfaces.

Believing that Bian was trying to make a fool of him the Emperor angrily ordered Bian’s left foot to be amputated.

The Emperor died and Bian tried again – presenting the large stone to the new Emperor. Once again, the potentate reacted angrily, and seeing only the exterior of the unpolished stone, he ordered that Bian’s right foot should also be amputated.

Now a third emperor ascended the throne.  The cruelly mutilated Bian asked to be brought to the Palace. For three days and nights he lay outside, clenching the jade in his arms.

This new emperor, exasperated but also intrigued, sent one of his courtiers to investigate and then ordered that the stone be polished to see what it concealed. This was when they discovered a stunning and beautiful jade hidden beneath the rough and ugly exterior.


A failure to cultivate what I have called the three Rs of Respect, Rights and Responsibilities will disfigure our society, just as Bian, in this tale, was disfigured.

By contrast, if we commit ourselves to educate for citizenship we, too, will be rewarded with a beautiful jade. We simply need to commit ourselves to do it.

Thank you again for inviting me to address you at SMU.

David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and is Director of their Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship



Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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