Thursday 7 April 2016

Prevent and critical pedagogy

As an educator who aims to work affirmatively and openly, Prevent has been a challenge. I've started writing about the topic on a number of occasions and given up (perhaps the very word 'Prevent' itself has had this effect?)  My views on the agenda will be clear to anyone who follows me on Twitter or reads my blogs, but I have been desperately trying to take a stance that opens up rather than closes down debate - that 'problematises' it in the Freirian sense; knowing also that the legal duty applies to me as an educator and public servant. 

Hearing and exploring diverse and oppositional views is vital. In a world of lesson planning that currently advocates 'Haynes manual' approaches, speedy bite-size and chunked sessions that tick all the Ofsted boxes, there is little room for debate and discussion (unless scheduled in).  In this world we do not like uncertainty either; yet Prevent itself is an area for fear, confusion and misunderstanding, where people are scared to open up and spaces are no longer safe. The 'fundamental British values' appear sound yet can also be divisive.  I use Twitter* to surround myself as much as possible with diversity - of opinion, culture, race and thinking and am following with interest the stance taken by University of Warwick and the NUT; organisations wishing to distance themselves from the agenda as much as possible.   My dilemma as a teacher educator has been whether to subvert, resist, or facilitate debate, but my biggest feeling at the moment is one of responsibility for my own students  who will be going out into the world needing clarity and having had the chance to think all of this through.

It is always worth going back to the source when discussing policies and regulations, so as a reminder here is a link to the updated Prevent duty:

Of course, if you teach you will no doubt have already been trained in Prevent; perhaps going on the government's WRAP training course (Workshop Raising Awareness of Prevent), or working through one of the many e-learning courses (mandatory, in many organisations).  These courses provide basic information about the policy and 'fundamental British values', as defined, not by British people, in actual fact, but by the government.  What these courses do not allow much room for is any discussion of the policy or issues it raises.  I felt it was imperative that I allowed room for this within my own teaching, but struggled for a while with how to do this, and what kind of session to run.  I was also extremely wary of imposing my own values and views but wanted to allow discussion through principles of critical pedagogy.**

Enter community philosophy.

This practice is essentially an enquiry-based process that explores and unpicks language; connects ideas and philosophical concepts; challenges hegemonic practice and assumptions; and collaboratively builds new knowledge.  Much of this is based around the Freirian concept of 'conscientization'; the process of developing a critical awareness of one's social reality through reflection and action.. I love many things about CP but perhaps the best thing in my view is that individuals and groups create their own questions. Sessions usually start with the introduction of a stimulus; a photo, newspaper article, poem, activity - anything really. In responding to the stimulus, groups come up with their own question which they then discuss.

What's philosophical about this? Well, discussion tends to centre around concepts - so that a question around 'community' may lead to debate around society, identity, respect, even love.  There is something very empowering about deconstructing these terms we hear bandied about and lazily used in everyday language ('shirkers', anyone?!). Try exploring and questioning the concept of 'health' or 'radical' to see that interpretations are culturally-informed and complex.  Community philosophy is a positive activity however, so doesn't leave a group feeling threatened by this exploration - as well as deconstructing concepts, groups build new concepts with real meaning and value. Sessions end with a period of reflection, to discuss and take action - where do we go next?

You can see the relevance of this tool for exploring a topic like Prevent; and so I am in the process of running a number of Community Philosophy sessions that allow trainee teachers and teacher educators to enquire into the topic and create their own questions.  So far these questions have been important and far-reaching, including:

- How can we foster a sense of belonging in our classrooms?
- Is Prevent racist?
- What does it mean, to be 'radical'?

Philosophical enquiries always end with a call to action, and for many of my students these have included:

 - re-reading and analysing the original Government guidance
- following diverse voices on Twitter and joining campaigns
- learning more about other cultures and religions
- researching 'non-violent communication'*** as means of facilitating respectful debate
- running a philosophical enquiry on British Values with their own classes
- doing Identity and values work with their own groups
- using Restorative Practice approaches to build classroom communities.

I'm not sure that teachers (and their students) have safe spaces in the way that they did before, but I'm convinced that using community philosophy for critical thinking can help to give educators room to explore their own views and work towards positive action.  And perhaps it is time to reclaim the word 'radical'; as Paulo Freire said:

"The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side."

*Useful Twitter accounts to follow:
@rapclassroom (Darren Chetty)
@writersofcolour (Media Diversified)
@DiLeed (Di Leedham)
@totallywired77 (Tait Coles)

** For more on critical pedagogy, take a look at this article by Tait Coles

*** Rosenberg, M.B. (2003). Nonviolent Communication; A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin Books.


  1. Thank you. This is a blast of fresh air. Good teaching expands consciousness it doesnt seek to prevent, restrain, compress, restict. When I am prevented I want to do it more. Its a bad feeling. When I am learning and making friends and being productive and creative I just want to carry on - it feels good

    1. Thanks Sandra, I completely agree about use of the word Prevent. Language is so important I think, and the emphasis on negativity makes the agenda very difficult to engage with in an affirmative way x

  2. Hi Kay
    Thanks for this great blog post. It it ok if I put a link to it on our VLE?