Australian Geography Teachers' Association

South Australia

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AGTA Celebrating Democracy in South Australia

Date of Forum: 31 October 2002 4.30 – 7.30 pm
Global Education Centre, Adelaide
Topic: Visions and Values in a Democratic Society: Teaching for Responsible Citizenship
Guest Speaker: Associate Professor Peter Mayer, Lecturer in Politics, The University of Adelaide

Note:  Boxed sections in blue added by AFSSSE Project Officer.

AFSSSE suggests the following address could be used for discussion at teacher professional development meetings or as stimulus for students investigating the history and nature of democracy.


  1. How does the speaker’s address link with our current teaching for responsible citizenship?

  2. What values of responsible citizenship might we apply from the address?

  3. What are the future possibilities for using the Discovering Democracy resources to explore responsible citizenship?

1. Summary Of Speaker’s Address

Teachers are encouraged to access the Australian Readers –Upper Secondary Collection for stimulus material to link to this address.

Recent Research on the Nexus Between Democracy, Good Governance and Levels of Social Capital.

Address by Dr. Peter Mayer (Associate Professor in Politics, University of Adelaide.) on 31/10/02 at Global Education Centre for AFSSSE’s Discovering Democracy Week forum on "Visions and Values in a Democratic Society: Teaching For Responsible Citizenship.

Two seminal books in this field were Robert Putnam’s Making Democracy Work and Bowling Alone. Looking primarily at the case of Italy, Putnam examined the devolution of power to the regions and the effectiveness of local government. He measured the responsiveness of the bureaucracy by developing objective measures and subjective measures such as How satisfied are you with your local government, and How well is it performing? In Bowling Alone, he described the relentless retreat from association and involvement in American society.

Dr. Mayer then spent some twenty minutes describing how his own research in India and Australia helps to verify the central findings in Putnam’s two books. For example. ABS surveys indicate that fewer people are involved in voluntary activity than was the case five years ago. Yet societies with high social capital have better government and economic benefits such as lower taxation, lower insurance rates, and less crime. This led to his major theme for the evening:

If Putnam is right and we in Australia also have decreasing levels of civic association/trust/ good governance (i.e: Social Capital), then we face a looming crisis. Will we be able to sustain our current levels of good governance when faced with these corrosive processes over time?

As always in Australia when a crisis looms, we turn to our teachers and ask Why? Why do we see cynicism about our political processes, and lack of involvement in public life, and what can we do about it?

Our challenge is to invent helpful and enticing ways of increasing civic engagement for children who will come of age in the 21st Century.

2. Summary of Discussion of Three Focus Questions


Shane Burville, secondary teacher; Margaret Calder, Global Education Management Committee and former lecturer in Social Education, Flinders University; Jennifer Buckley, Planning SA and author of The Art of Governance: A Curriculum Resource for Secondary Teachers, David Butler, Policy Officer Society and Environment, Department of Education and Children’s Services.

How does the speaker’s address link with our current teaching for responsible citizenship?):

The speaker’s address reinforces the strong interdependence between a strong civil society and good government and is a timely reminder of the importance of finding ways incorporating concepts of civics and citizenship across the curriculum. The SACSA framework can help teachers to find these linkages. Teachers are already promoting student participation and leadership both within the school and via extra-curricula activities and we need to expand these opportunities.

What values of responsible citizenship might we apply from this address?

A society has high levels of social capital when relationships between people are based on values such as trust, equality, mutual respect and mutual assistance. These in turn are the values we need to model for our students. Also, we were reminded that an educated society is more likely have high social capital, high levels of participation and better government. Teachers play a role in empowering students, helping them to become informed and socially aware. Interested teachers can find these ideas elaborated in The Art of Governance pages 47 and 63.

What are the future possibilities for exploring responsible citizenship?

It is exciting to realise that teachers play an important role in influencing fine students such as Sean. As a relatively young teacher, it is also challenging to think that I will be involved for many years to come in finding new ways to nurture and engage my students to become responsible and aware citizens. We need to find opportunities to give students experience of leadership and participation, both in the school, through debates and forums and other forms of student participation, and outside the school in real-life community involvement. The challenge is to do this in the high school environment where it is not seen as ‘cool’ to be a ‘joiner’ (of clubs, associations, SRC etc.) Other teachers in the audience agreed that this is a great challenge, but nevertheless vital for us to model for students the importance of agitating for change.

© Commonwealth of Australia [2003]
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