'They're out to line their own pockets!': can the teaching of political literacy counter the democratic deficit?; the experience of Modern Studies in Scotland

Henry Maitles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Nearly a decade into the new millennium, the teaching of political literacy as a strand of education for citizenship has taken on a new urgency throughout much of the world. In most developed countries there is now a feeling that young people need to develop a healthy respect for democratic procedures and consequent methods of participating to shape modern society and an understanding that real political literacy means moving beyond the strictures of traditional civics courses. The introduction into places as far apart as Scotland and Hong Kong of aspects of political education in primary schools (Cheung & Leung 1998; Maitles 2005) has itself reflected a worry (almost a moral panic) in government circles about youth alienation, albeit with some debate as to whether schools should be the places where this is developed. This paper examines the attitudes of young people towards politics, explains some peculiarities of education in Scotland and reports on research into the knowledge, interest, cynicism/trust and values/attitudes of approximately 1600 pupils - 50% of whom study Modern Studies whilst the others study history or geography. The paper explores whether those pupils studying Modern Studies have a stronger basis in some elements of political literacy than those who do not study it. The results suggest that Modern Studies students have more knowledge, greater interest and are less cynical but, that in terms of values, there is no discernible difference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-61
Number of pages15
JournalScottish Educational Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • teaching
  • modern studies
  • Scotland
  • Scottish schools
  • political literacy

Cite this