Wednesday, 22 June 2016
I'm in the midst of a #brexit fuelled angst, caught between the highs of marking inspirational, transformative Cert Ed/PGCE work, the lows of despair about the death of Jo Cox and the image of Nigel Farage's face. It isn't a great place to be. When Jo was murdered last week I felt the rising of a deep anger and a desperation to continue doing whatever I can (little though it may be) to educate out the kind of hatred that kills an innocent woman; a woman of my age who worked so hard for the ward in which I lived for seven years.
'Educate out hate' is the phrase I keep returning to. It is present here today in this important New York Times piece by Henry Giroux, who writes about the 'violence of forgetting':
'..education is fundamental to democracy. No democratic society can survive without a formative culture which includes but is not limited to schools capable of producing citizens who are critical, self-reflexive, knowledgeable and willing to make moral judgements and act in a socially inclusive and responsible way. This is contrary to the forms of education that reduce learning to an instrumental logic that too often and too easily can be perverted to violent ends.'
In our lessons now the individual is king (or queen). Connecting with individual identity and experience, and differentiating effectively is vital of course, but in doing this we can overlook the social settings in which our students find themselves. Too often all dialogue goes only from an individual to a teacher, and back again. We need to use pro-social interventions that encourage students to talk to each other, to learn about each other's lives and experiences, to agree, disagree, and to celebrate difference. Tools such as philosophical inquiries can help; or simply a restorative circle or thinking council where interaction and understanding of difference are the order of the day.
For me, the Thinking Enviroment processes of Kline's work are a great place to start. An easy introduction is to start every class with a thinking round, where students take it in turns to answer a positive question. This is based on the principle that 'no-one has arrived in a room until they have spoken'; and even with a class of 20 plus, this doesn't have to take more than ten minutes. But you do have to enforce the rules of listening without interruption, paying absolute attention (keeping your eyes on the person who is speaking) and allowing students to speak for as long as they need to. It can take time for students to get used to this idea; we sadly live in a world that values extroversion and allows (or even encourages) people to talk over one another. For many, the chance to have their voice will be a new and perhaps difficult experience. Persist with it though, and you will teach people to really listen to each other - and what better 'functional skill' than that? (If, at this point you are concerned about what Ofsted might make of this approach, first ask yourself - what are you assuming, that makes you think they wouldn't get it?*)
So, how do you teach for social justice, for transformation, for a better world?** It may depend on your teaching context, but there will be many ways in which we all instigate positive change; not through what is dictated in the curriculum but by means of the processes we use. Perhaps like my student Jason you greet each student that enters your classroom with a handshake. Maybe, like my colleague Karol, you use restorative practice; regular circles and dialogues to resolve conflict or build relationships. There will be many things that you do, so please share ideas and techniques and make critical education an explicit part of your practice. By doing this we can begin to reclaim our pedagogy, and start to build a world that we and our students would really like to live in.
*I was inspected by Ofsted in two separate inspections last month. The Thinking Environment processes used in both classes were viewed as an excellent means of initial assessment and for promoting British values of democracy and respect.
**To focus our minds, the kind of questions to ask ourselves could include:
- What am I doing to foster a sense of belonging and community in my classes?
- How am I preparing my students to play a positive part in a globalised and diverse world?
- How am I enabling my students to express their views and respect the views of others?
- How am I helping students to gain 'cultural competence' and how secure is my own knowledge of people who are culturally different from myself?