Preparing for my final exam: The edited draft

Hey, guys.

I was very unhappy with the first draft after I had had some time to mull it over and sleep on it. I now give you the new and (hopefully) improved version. I can’t really tell because it’s very early in the morning now, and I haven’t slept since last night.

I have to warn you, straight off the bat, this is a long and jumbled text, but I’d really appreciate it if you took the time to read through and comment. I realize that this is not one of my better works, I lost track when the word count passed 2300, but I also found that this was the most constructive way for me to prepare. Not through writing notes or an article, but through my personal blog. I know this is a terribly long text, but I hope some of you will take the time to read through and comment, either on here or by email at siri.lovise88@gmail.com.

There will be no Guerlain posted today, and the new stuff Clarins’ got in store for us all will have to wait. You see, I handed in my dissertation a few weeks ago, but now I have to do a presentation for my final exam. Not one of my thesis, but on a subject that I may have touched upon briefely in my paper. Can’t really say I’m looking forward to that, because I always get extremely nervous when I know someone is going to grade and set a value on something I’ve done. To be completely honest, I’m even a bit nervous when I do someone’s makeup at work, because there is a chance that I might have misread them or misunderstood just what they’re after. Anyways, I’m going to have to do a 45 min lecture of sorts on the following theme:

Belfast

Define and exemplify informal and non-formal learning in a divided society. Discuss the relevance of this learning for content selection in formal education aiming at integration.

I find that with regards to the task I’ve been assigned, there is a need to clarify certain terms. During my work on my paper, I found that it is hard to explain what characterizes a divided society without first delving into the notion of ethnicity and ethnic groups. In my experience ethnic/ ethnicity is a word that is often tossed about when we are trying to emphasize that one person or a group of people are different from others.

Take for instance the shootings 22.07.11 in Norway. When it became clear that the perpetrator was not of foreign descent, the emphasis was that he was of “Norwegian ethnicity”. This statement fell under the consensus that the man was a member of the “white”, Norwegian majority, whose ancestry was shared by the rest of the majority population. Having said that, ethnicity might also be used as a descriptive word: ethnic headdresses, ethnic jewellery, ethnic cooking and so on.

A lot of these examples are more closely related to culture, in that they are expressions of culture, but what constitutes culture is the significance  we attribute to the way something is performed, perceived or experienced (Dahl, 2001). Simultaneously the significance seem to follow a pattern that is shared by several individuals . To quote myself: Culture refers to a common frame of reference within which the cultural forms of expression becomes significant for the many individuals that constitutes a community.

This gives us an idea of what ethnicity is not: The norms, codes, rules, symbols, ritual or the significance given to any of these by the individual members of a community, these are related to culture.

The thing about humans is that we like to say that we have our roots someplace. This expression, however, could not be further from the truth. Even though we might stay in one place for a long time, as if rooted, the reality is that we have feet, and when we use them we meet other people. Some, we find, are quite similar to ourselves. Some, we find, are not. This is when the question of ethnicity becomes relevant.

It is the subjectively perceived attributes that differentiates the group that we as individuals relate to the most from another group. In other words, ethnicity is based on the markers that in-group members ascribe to themselves and to “the others” (Eriksen and Sajjad, 2006).

It is the common denominators that sets the members of the in-group apart from the out-group. These might be the colour of your skin, hair texture, bone structure, language, religion, geographic origins or shared history and/or ancestry regardless of how obscure this might be.

As such, one can conclude that which qualities determining ethnicity is very much dependent on the context, and is only an issue when we meet someone whom we perceive to be different from ourselves – When we are trying to determine if an individual belongs to the in-group or the out-group. The question we are asking when negotiating ethnicity is basically “Are you like me or are you one of the others?” The reason I bring this up, is because the groups constituting a diverse society are often determined along the lines of ethnicity.

Most states are home to multiple ethnicities, and conflict is bound to arise as people of differing mind sets meet and interact. Though conflict in itself does not have to be an evil, because it can bring about change for the better, it can also take on a very negative direction, even erupting into violence. That said, conflict is part of all social relationships. What is important, however, is how we manage the conflicts as they arise.

As they are of lesser importance to the matter at hand I will not go into further detail on the different ways of managing the diverse society in this forum, though I find it necessary elaborate on the differences between a shared and a divided society.

There are certain characteristics to each that I would like to point out.

The shared society:

  • a way of managing diversity that appears to acknowledge and recognize the diversity of its members in a manner that appears to (attempt to) equally benefit all those involved.
  • shared public space where conflicts might be negotiated peacefully
  • the existence of a single identity that the individual can claim, simultaneously with another (i.e. you can be both a Sami and Norwegian without conflict between these two identities)
  • low residential segregation

The divided society

  • multiple ethnic interests often conflicting with idea of an overarching common identity
  • contested space
  • conflict over the legitimacy of the state
  • segregated housing
  • separate cultural activities, sports, broadcasts, schools

Individuals might go their whole lives without meaningful interaction with a person from the other community.

I also find it necessary to define the forms of learning, before further addressing their implications with regards to an education aiming at integration.

Formal learning is a mandatory, standardized, legitimate knowledge acquired within the formal education system with a curriculum aiming at a standardized qualification. Because the learning presented is thought to be the objective, legitimate truth, there is also a person, authorized by way of his or her own acquisition of learning and training in how to present this worldview. Thus, everyone who goes through the system shall have the same opportunity, at least in theory, to acquire the same knowledge.

I like to use the history curriculum of Northern Ireland as an example of this objective standardized learning, as up until 1993 there were two different curricula, one that was centred around the history of Britain, largely disregarding Ireland in the narrative. The other put a negative emphasis on the role of the British in Ireland. During the late 80s, however, members from both communities worked together to create a common curriculum that would not polarize one community or the other.

One might say, as Bell (2000, p.27):

“The past is not inherited but shaped for current usage: each generation gets the history not only that it deserves, but that it wants and writes.”

The non-formal learning takes place within a quite different context from that of the formal learning, though both are characterized by being structured and presented by an instructor. However the most distinctive differences are that the informal learning is based voluntary participation and the qualifications achieved are not standardized or recognized in the same way the formal learning is. A diploma after having completed a course in a volunteer organization might look good when applying for a job, but if you’re applying to institutions of higher learning you’re going to need the graded qualifications from the formal educational institutions.

Projects such as The Nerve Centre which collaborates with several other programmes internationally, in Derry or Peace Players International, an organization that brings together children through “neutral sports”. Catholics traditionally had gaelic, while rugby was associated with the Protestant community. (These days there are volunteer organizations working to introduce the respective sports to the other community.)

The activities taking place within the organizations can be of various natures, but the main focus is finding a neutral forum in which those involved are able to renegotiate ascribed and self-ascribed identity, and find that “the ground our fathers ploughed in, the soil is just the same. And the places where we say our prayers have just got different names. (Sands, 2005).

These kind of projects bring together community members that might otherwise never have met because their daily lives are very segregated. In Northern Ireland reports show that many children do not express negative out-group attitudes, as much as a strong in-group positivity. One might, however, wonder if this is more a result of being so enveloped in their own community, in their own ethnic group, that “the others” are not even of a relevance to them.

Finally, there is a form of learning that does not follow a structure, that is not organized and does not grant any officially recognized qualifications. Even so, it is perhaps the learning that shapes the individual the most, taking place in the social interaction between humans and through the most mundane of practices. It is learning the social code within the home and the community one belongs to, as well as how to carry oneself within the society at large. It is learning the language appropriate when engaging in leisurely activities in the home, but also in the workplace or the formal educational institution. It is learning to get dressed as well as how to dress, how to read the social cues informing you whether you are in the right or in the wrong, in other words, learning through discourses. As such I find it to be closely related to Bourdieu’s term habitus, which is the dominant culture and the individual’s dispositions incorporated in the individual.

The division of society has an impact on the sense of identity in the dialectical struggle that takes place in the meeting between those involved as they negotiate ethnicities. What we’ve seen in Northern Ireland is that even at an early age, children in Northern Ireland have learned to decipher codes that identify members of their own community and members of the other community. Clues range from name to school, dialect and maybe even clothing. The informal learning taking place within the separate communities of divided societies

I would like to point out that informal learning doesn’t necessitate the presence of an “authority”, it might as well and does happen in the exchange between peers. That said, an important characteristic of informal learning that sets it apart from the others, is that it is not planned, whereas both formal and non-formal learning are.

Given that the theme of the trial lecture relates to my paper, I here understand integration to refer to the bringing together of people of different ethnicities, the implication being that there exists a cleavage between the communities involved. In the case of Northern Ireland there is a conflict over, not so much faith, though an individual’s respective belief often seems to coincide with a certain stance with regards to the conflict, but inequalities and the legitimacy of the state. The divisions might have been further deepened by painful experiences. Lebanon, South Africa, the Middle-East are other examples of this.

I was once told a story from a divided society. A young Palestinian girl, who were stopped on her way from school at an Israeli control post. It was manned by two young boys holding weapons. The boys bullied her, and took her backpack from her. In front of the young girls eyes they shot it through with bullets, before handing it back. Though terrified, the girl was happy merely to be able to return home, and be able to tell her story.

Though there are organizations within the divided communities whose work goes towards bridging the divisions, there might also be organizations that operates in manners that emphasizes the divide.

A testament to the communities in Northern Ireland still being under paramilitary influence is that anyone intending to redesign murals need the respective organization’s permission to do so. In the past, many murals have depicted the adversary as inferior, evil or dehumanized in some way or other, supporting negative out-group sentiments. I’m bringing this up, because even the symbolic landscape provides a medium for informal learning.

The knowing of what is different between “us” and “them”, thus what is safe or what is threatening is acquired through a process of informal learning. New generations are socialized into this learning by members of the family and the local community (McAlister et al., 2014). Because of that, along with many young people growing up without personal, meaningful inter-communal contact, the concept of the others becomes stagnant. If there is a strong sense of in-group solidarity, there might also be a strong sense of distrust and even hostility or fear of hostility with regards to the other community. That which is different from “us” becomes threatening, even if these differences are obscure.

An example of out-group prejudice is expressed in the following quote

It might get better but it could get far worse. Some of what you see is only the beginning. Catholics down here get everything and that’s not right. Young people 16-21 (McAlister et al, p. 307)

At times the in-group identity as a whole might feel threatened. This might in turn result in a struggle to reaffirm identity. That was the sense I got, when walking through an area decorated in the Unionist colours of red, white and blue, and that, perhaps is also the reason why Unionists gather in front of Belfast City Hall every Saturday to protest against the removal of the union flag, except on designated days (McAllister, 2014). This too, is part of the informal learning children and young people are socialized into.

In the example Northern Ireland participants from different ethnic groups are given opportunity to share experiences and make “safe” contact with members of the other community through cross-community organizations. The non-formal learning taking place within organizations aiming towards an integrated society is often based around the idea that inter-community contact might impede the negative attitudes towards the other community. But mere contact alone is not enough, it must be of a meaningful nature, it must be consistent and it must be positive

Even if these factors are present it might not be enough, as the participants return to their respective communities where there is little room for consolidating the experience, and where the symbolic landscape and attitudes, for now at least, remain unchanged.

Because the new generations are socialized into a specific understanding of the world, through intergenerational transmission of stories and beliefs, the symbolic landscape, cultural identities, beliefs and attitudes are maintained and reproduced.

This is where the children are coming from as they enter the formal educational institutions of the divided society.

This provides the formal education with several challenges with regards to content selection. In the context of Northern Ireland the most common practice within the formal educational institutions have been avoidance of the issues (McCully, 2005), relying heavily on the non-formal and informal channels to foster cross-community contact and good relations. But there are weaknesses to this approach that could be amended through the formal institutions.

  • The influence of so-called hardliners and paramilitary organizations is less likely to be present
  • Mandatory vs. voluntary
  • A forum in which cross-community experiences can be consolidated and discussed
  • Informal learning comes with socializing and social exchange →In-classroom informal learning

Within this context controversial issues should be understood as issues emanating from the conflict at the root of the division (McCully, 2005)

Teaching controversial issues is a far greater challenge than for instance mathematics or literacy, because it must be balanced between the emotional and the rationale. Nevertheless, it should be as much a part of the formal education. As is stated in the UNCRC:

Article 29 of the Convention of the Rights of the child states that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

This is not limited to teaching respect for someone living in a far-off place, who are perhaps worse off economically, who for some reason or other don’t have access to education, who is disabled or view the world differently. It also extends to those living in the same society, even if they belong to a different community.

Therefore, not teaching controversial issues related to the divided society is neglecting part of a convention that constitutes the foundations for many curricula.

An education aiming at integration must deal with the prejudices between the respective groups as well as the underlying reasons. Though the work might be made more difficult by the local community mitigating further meaningful cross-community contact outside of the respective institution, research lends strength to the idea that for inter-communal contact to be profitable, there is a need for consistency in the socializing process.

At the same time, these are issues that might bring out powerful emotional responses. Meaning that ways of discussing these themes must be found that can keep the discussion at a constructive level, where neither politeness and courtesy takes over to undermine emotion, nor strong feelings are allowed to mitigate the sustainability of the discussion.

What is more, is that the teachers themselves are not likely to be unmoved by the conflict, and might not feel that they can be objective, or that they are unqualified for handling possible outcomes.

As things stand in Northern Ireland young people are brought up listening to stories of how family, friends and property was lost to the conflict. How injury was caused unprovoked by the other side. Prejudices, blame and resentment being passed down in the communities, while at the same time the older generations don’t understand why the conflict is reproduced (McAlister et al., 2014).

Think about it: Say, you and I have spent our lives trying to avoid one another because there’s just something about each other we can’t pinpoint, but I’ve been told all sorts of things about your lot and vice versa. . Now we are sharing a classroom – neutral ground – and we’re stuck with each other. From that moment we start learning things that may contradict some prejudices, confirm others, and we will have the opportunity to discuss our differences. Not to mention actually meet and interact under “safe” circumstances. In the end we might gain new understanding of each other.

There is a difference between what is and how we wish/believe/think it should be.  Because the non-formal sites of learning are based on voluntary participation, those responsible for content selection within formal education cannot assume that children and young people are going to attend. Understanding and reconciliation in communities where ethnicity and beliefs are transferred between generations is not going to happen on its own.

In some societies the distrust and fear of the other community is so inherent that they cannot tell you why they are negatively disposed towards the other, or where the prejudices, stereotypes and fear comes from.

It is very difficult to learn to respect one’s own identity and culture as well as respecting that of the other if one does never learn to know the ways we are dissimilar and the ways we are alike? How can a human be expected to exhibit tolerance and understanding, if these are never challenged?

Having myself seen these prejudices manifest on the face of a person I was talking to, though this individual proposed that he had no issues with the other side, there is often an implicit distrust of the other in the informal learning within the communities. One can assume that the teachers in divided societies are not unaffected themselves, making it even more difficult to keep the discussion at a constructive level. That said, these are deeply emotional issues that should not be breached lightly, and therefore any approach must be balanced between the rational and the emotional (McCully).

Simultaneously there is another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration, and that is how the educational system is a medium for the reproduction of the dominant culture, and any educational programme aiming at integration needs to consider how to provide a curriculum that reflects the culture of all those involved.

Within the classroom of a school there is also a community and a forum for informal learning. If we choose curricula based on an idea that learners from different backgrounds cannot discuss their differences and similarities within the frames of that community, how can we expect them to reconcile with each other outside the classroom, where they are socialized to, at best, avoid one another to avoid conflict? Furthermore, is it not the role of the educational institutions to nurture the formation of responsible, reflected and understanding individuals?

In the end, one must ask the question of which is more beneficial towards the aim of moving from a divided to an integrated society.

Yes, it is difficult to teach controversial issues, because the outcomes might be unexpected, and it can take a heavy emotional toll on both teacher and learner, it might upset teachers, learners and parents equally, and some parents might not even support such an approach.

Even so, a part of the purpose of the school is to educate children and young people to become responsible participants and citizens of the society, and as such must be encouraged to develop their communication skills and express views and learn to respect the views of others even though they might disagree. Furthermore, they will be better equipped for handling future disagreement and resolve conflict, as they through discussing controversial issues have a better understanding of their own biography and a deeper understanding of the society as a whole.

References:

Bell, J. B. (2000). The IRA 1968-2000: Analysis of a secret army (D. C. Rapoport Ed. 2 ed.).
Oxon: Frank Cass Publishers.

Council for the curriculum, examinations and assessment (2015): Teaching controversial issues at key stage 3, CCEA, Belfast.

Dahl, Ø. (2001). Møter mellom mennesker: Interkulturell kommunikasjon. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Eriksen & Sajjad (2006): Kulturforskjeller i praksis (4.ed). Oslo, Gyldendal Akademisk.

McAlister, Scraton, Haydon (2014): Childhood in transition: growing up in “post conflict” Northern Ireland, in Children’s Geographies, 12:3, 297-311.

McCully, Alan (2005) Teaching Controversial Issues in a Divided Society: Learning from Northern Ireland. Prospero, 11 (4). pp. 38-46.

Nagle, J., & Clancy, M.-A. C. (2010). Shared society or benign apartheid? : understanding
peace-building in divided societies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

 

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne says:

    Spennande!! Sucks at eg kje kan komma å hørra på deg! Will be there in my thougths!!! du naile d!

    1. sirilovise says:

      But-but I don’t even know if I’ve answered their question yet?

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