Cosmopolitanism And Curriculum For Citizenship: Instructing Young People In The Aims Of The League Of Nations

Year: 2015

Author: Mcleod, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In Frank Moorhouse’s brilliant trilogy beginning with Grand Days, the central character Edith Berry Campbell arrives from Australia at the newly formed League of Nations in 1920s Geneva full of optimism about the League’s mission and her own imminent transformation into a citizen of the world. Over the course of the novels, she becomes less sanguine, more uncertain about the prospects for political and personal cosmopolitanism: ‘she thought of how she’d once hoped to become an internationalist and to shed her nationality. She’d had some notion that one day the Council [of the League] would call her up and declare her International, and relieve her of being Australian’. Edith’s journey, her exuberant faith and her unsettling ambivalence about the reach of internationalism and the authority of national identity, frames this paper’s exploration of cosmopolitanism, citizenship and curriculum history.
A key plank of the League of Nations was to promote international understanding through the education of young people. The ‘Youth question’ and how best to instruct young people in the aims of the League were the focus of numerous expert committees and publications, reflecting the League’s ambitious view of the person-formation role of education. Advice was distributed to member nations on reviewing school materials to promote the spirit of internationalism and to encourage education departments to host activities such as League of Nations days and international exchange programs for teachers and students. This was matched by extensive internal review of what a curriculum for international citizenship should involve. Similar ideas were debated by the Geneva-based International Bureau of Education, (established 1925); and they echoed throughout the child-centred internationalism of interwar progressive movements, such as the New Education Fellowship (e.g. Fuchs 2007; Hofstetter and Schneuwly 2013). Concerns with countering the risk of localism and parochial nationalism, and advancing new modes of knowledge and reasoning were accompanied by deliberations on pedagogical forms, the dispositions and rationalities of the ideal student, and emerging practices of citizenship. Who was the ideal new citizen? And who did not possess the capacity for educability in the new regimes of openness, reason and world-mindedness? The League’s extensive deliberations and publications on revision of school curricula (e.g. The Educational Survey) are examined in light of, first, related debates and curriculum textbooks in Australia (e.g. Hoy 1937); and second, questions about perceived differential capacities for citizenship, linked to hierarchies of educability, notably but not only in reference to Aboriginal children.
Fuchs, E. (2007) ‘The creation of new international networks in education. The League of Nations and educational organizations in the 1920s’, Paedagogica Historica, 43 (2), 199–209.
Hofstetter, R and Schneuwly, B. (2013) ‘The International Bureau of Education (1925-1968): a platform for designing a ‘chart of world aspirations for education’, European Educational Research Journal, 12 (2), 215-230.
Hoy, A. (1937) Civics for Australian Schools. Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company.
Julie McLeod is a Professor in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. She holds an ARC Future Fellowship (2012-2016), is Deputy Director of the Melbourne Social Equity Institute and co-Editor of Gender and Education. Her research is in the history and sociology of education, with a focus on curriculum, youth, gender, and inequality. Books include Rethinking Youth Wellbeing: Critical Perspectives, (2015); The Promise of the New and Genealogies of Educational Reform (2015); Researching Social Change: Qualitative Approaches (2009).