Teaching about the past in Northern Ireland: Avoidance, neutrality, and active deliberation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Citizenship education has been a feature of the school curricula in many western democracies since the 1990s. Consequently, there is a proliferation of research which explores its efficacy in instilling political literacy and encouraging democratic engagement amongst pupils. Less is known however about how citizenship is taught in societies emerging from conflicts which are [at least in part] motivated by competing narratives around citizenship. This paper examines this issue within the context of Northern Ireland. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 18 post-primary citizenship teachers, it argues that whilst the curricular text for citizenship education has encouraged teachers to discuss ‘the past’ in Northern Ireland only a minority of teachers do so. The paper suggests that teachers are constrained in their attempts to explore the past by a complex interplay of factors including cultural norms of avoidance and their interpretation
of the current socio-political context. The paper argues that it cannot be
assumed that teachers themselves possess the critical capacities that they are expected to nurture in pupils, yet, where efforts are made to harness such professional criticality, teachers are more likely to display the confidence and skill to discuss contentious issues related to the past.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Educational Studies
Publication statusAccepted - 30 Jun 2020


  • citizenship education, teachers, post-conflict, Northern Ireland, avoidance

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