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Teaching Empathy? It’s a Process: Drama in the Primary Classroom September 6, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Uncategorized.
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By Rachael Jacobs

Recently a lesson on the Stolen Generations, conducted at a Sydney school, went horribly wrong. Year 4 students were engaged in a day long ‘role-play’ in which they were told they would be removed from their families.

According to reports , a nun entered the classroom in the morning, with a letter from the Prime Minister, and told the class they would be taken away from their parents, as they weren’t being looked after properly. The exercise continued for five hours until the end of the school day when students were informed that this was a lesson on the Stolen Generations, and were asked how it made them feel.

While there was extreme concern expressed from the media and parents, Drama teachers all over watched this episode aghast, wondering how such a potentially powerful lesson had gone so wrong.

It seems an attempt was made to use the drama conventions of teacher-in-role and role play. These are two strategies found in the beautiful and transformative pedagogy of ‘Process Drama’.  Process Drama is a powerful teaching tool when used ethically, but it seems it wasn’t employed carefully in this instance. This lesson seemed much more like ‘invisible theatre’ where the participants did not know that they were in a fictional context or that the teacher was in role.

Invisible theatre is more commonly used with adults, whereas Process Drama has a pedagogy of care built in. In Process Drama, students know they are in the drama and in the fiction.  Students and the teacher move in and out of role; they don’t play themselves, rather they take on the roles of other people. At the end of a particular strategy or moment in the class, students may need to de-role (get out of role) and discuss and debrief the moments when they were in role. It’s a process students are familiar with. We see small children playing and going in and out of role all the time. When educators use drama in this way, they are protecting their students in role. Through role, we avoid the manipulation of ‘psycho-drama’ and can explore the space where the real world and the fictional world overlaps.

The teachers in the school concerned were acting with the best of intentions. They may have seen highly transformative learning experiences, such as Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment  and attempted to replicate these lessons.  It should be noted that the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes lesson sparked outrage at the time, but is now considered a watershed moment in addressing racism in schools.

However, there are limits to Process Drama’s reach. Process Drama has been critiqued for its attempt to replicate the experiences of disadvantaged people at critical times in history. Can we really ever understand what it’s like to be part of the Stolen Generations, and is it offensive to suggest that we can replicate those experiences?  Indigenous children’s writer, Trina Saffioti, whose books were used to inspire the school’s lessons, was deeply uncomfortable with the exercise, stating that it almost cheapens the experience .

While it’s true that we can never truly understand what it was like to be a part of the Stolen Generations, the ability to see life from another’s perspective may be the most important lessons that one can ever learn.

It is abundantly clear that those facilitating these lessons were ill prepared for the nuances of this delicate teaching strategy. The transformative power of drama is still largely misunderstood in schools. New teachers can have as little as two hours training in Drama in their teacher preparation courses and this is a failure of our system . Many teachers would like to use drama to enhance empathy, challenge students’ worldviews, and to facilitate deep and critical thinking, but often don’t know where to start. If teachers make a misguided attempt, or no attempt at all, we deny our students the opportunity for them to engage with complex issues through an incredibly powerful pedagogy.

Lessons that are uncomfortable are not always bad, in fact learning itself is a dangerous act. Students cloaked in safety and shielded from discomfort will not be able to reach their potential, both as learners and active citizens. The Stolen Generations are also a dark part of Australian history which must be recognised by all members of our community if reconciliation is to occur. Students and schools are not exempt from this. Far from being too young, these students are in a prime position to discern racism, prejudice and injustice.

The school and Catholic Diocese have bravely said that these lessons will continue, albeit in another form, emphasising that the intentions were sound, but the execution was flawed. We need educators who are risk-takers, willing to tackle big issues, particularly our shameful treatment of indigenous Australians.

It would be incredibly sad if this isolated incident prevented teachers from being creative and using drama effectively in their classrooms.

 

Dr Rachael Jacobs is an Arts Education lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia.

 

 

What can education do in response to fear of strangers? July 19, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Carol Reid

Today we hear growing anti-Islamic slogans related to dress practices, religion and citizenship. Saying it is wrong to do this is only part of the struggle to resist this simple rhetoric. Examining why it is wrong might be marginally better, but where that leads us is often into a tricky path of us/them and a focus on difference. Better still might be a focus on the values of a civil, cosmopolitan society that we want to sustain.

While we have been a successful multicultural society this is often understood in demographic terms, in simple numbers. For others it means celebrating different ways of being – food, lifestyle, customs, dances, languages and so on. In education in particular, the approach has often failed to respond adequately to a fear of strangers. The approach has been called liberal plural multiculturalism, a celebration of difference, which is much better than assimilation but isn’t helping us deal with the global reach of ideas, instant communication of terror and increasing mobilities of people.

I argue, as do others in Europe, Canada and elsewhere who are thinking about new ways to live in this globalising world, that we need more than a return to the old model of multiculturalism. We need what has been called an ‘agonistic’ approach or cosmopolitan thinking (Todd, 2010), the idea that to deal with difference at a deeper level might mean that we don’t end up with consensus. We see this anyway in our election result, in the politics around Brexit in the UK and Trump in the USA. It is the way of the world, this expression of difference. But how do we live with it?

The model of multiculturalism we have built our success on was about one-way integration, helping people to integrate, recognising their unique languages and cultures while committing to the nation. In practice the mainstream culture did change, and has become what has been called everyday multiculturalism, but just under the surface there are cracks.

Our nation, Australia, like many other nations, is now more open, whether we like it or not, and thus the call for a return to closed borders, a singular national identity on the part of citizens, and backward-looking protectionism is not achievable. Just listen to the fallout of Brexit. Teachers know that young people in our classrooms come and go (Reid and Watson, 2016). They return to countries where relatives still live, and they come back. Connections are global. For Aboriginal students this has always been the case so in many ways they are our first cosmopolitans, transforming their lives through trade and mobility (Forte, 2010). They have done so through what has been called ‘cultural translation’ – comprehending, connecting and evaluating to create new ways of living (Papastergiadis, 2011).

What to do in schools then? The first step is to offer no recipes, no prescriptions about practice that remove the judgement of teachers in often complex situations. This also means that applying universal principles of what constitutes human rights might not be a simple thing to do. Applying and following rules without thinking leads to problems. Hannah Arendt has argued it was one explanation for the rise of fascism in Germany (Arendt, 1994 cited in Todd, 2010). Human rights, for example, can be about listening to all the explanations about why cultural practices are valued while accepting that some will be shared and others not. Appiah has called this being ‘partial cosmopolitans’ (2007).  The point is that we cannot really know our students through a set of cultural attributes that are static because the practice of living is a dynamic process that teachers engage in every second of the day. This cannot be prescribed in professional knowledge lists as a set of competencies to be measured. It is practiced through the development of reflexivity; the idea that all our viewpoints are culturally conditioned, yet keeping an eye on inequality.

A call to a set of rules about how to live, such as those currently being trumpeted across the globe, are a reflection of where we are today. It is a wakeup call for those of us involved in teacher education to engage with how teachers’ judgement is being taken away with increasing lists of competencies. Facing the complexities of the world we live in will require more than rules. It will require a cosmopolitan disposition and thinking.

 

References:

Appiah, A. (2007). Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. New York London W. W. Norton.

Arendt, H. (1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York. Harcourt.

Forte, M. C. (Ed.). (2010). Indigenous Cosmopolitans: Transnational and Transcultural Indigeneity in the Twenty-First Century (First ed.). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Papastergiadis, N. (2011). Cultural translation and cosmopolitanism. In K. Jacobs & J. Malpas (Eds.), Ocean to outback: cosmopolitanism in contemporary Australia (pp. 68-95). Crawley, W.A.: UWA Pub.

Reid, C. & Watson, K.  (2016).  Compulsory schooling in Australia : perspectives from students, parents, and educators.  Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Todd, S. (2010). Living in a Dissonant World: Toward an Agonistic Cosmopolitics for Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29(2), 213-228.

Professor Carol Reid is a member of the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia, and a senior researcher in the university’s Centre for Educational Research.

 

Online and out there: how children view privacy differently from adults July 14, 2015

Posted by sethuws in Early Childhood Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Role of the family, Secondary Education.
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from Joanne Orlando

Children growing up in a world of social media are developing a very different conception of privacy to that of their parents. Ed Ivanushkin/Flickr, CC BY-SA

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Have you seen the how-to video of a teenage girl styling her hair that went disastrously wrong? She was obviously very disturbed by what happened, yet still uploaded the footage onto YouTube. Do you think a 45 or 50 year-old would upload an equivalent video of themselves?

The majority of young people now share lots of things online that many adults question and feel uncomfortable about: their likes, dislikes, personal views, who they’re in a relationship with, where they are, images of themselves and others doing things they should or maybe shouldn’t be doing.

In fact, a study undertaken in the US by Pew Research found that 91% of 12-to-17-year-olds posted selfies online, 24% posted videos of themselves. Another 91% were happy posting their real name, 82% their birthday, 71% where they live and the school they attend, 53% their email address and 20% their mobile phone number.

Overstepping

Children’s fondness for online sharing is a global phenomenon, and in response governments internationally have initiated awareness campaigns that aim to ensure children are more private online.

In the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recently launched a Share Aware campaign. This includes the recent TV advertisement, called I saw your willy, which depicts the ill-fated consequences of a young boy who as a joke, texts a photo of his penis to his friend.

The ad emphasises to children the need to keep personal information about themselves offline and private.

Similarly the Australian Federal Police have launched Cyber safety and ThinkUKnow presentations for school students, which highlights the social problems that can arise when you’re having fun online.

Adults often interpret children’s constant online sharing to mean that they don’t care about privacy and/or don’t understand the potential longer-term issues. There is some truth to this perspective. But simply labeling children as either disobedient or naïve is too simplistic. There is an important need to understand why children are overstepping adult-defined marks of privacy online.

Shifting attitudes

In the words of Facebook, our relationship status with privacy can be summed up as: it’s complicated.

Part of the complexity comes down to how privacy is defined. Many adults understand privacy to mean being selective about what one reveals about themselves so as not to reveal too much personal information. We often assume that children will adopt the same conceptualisation, but should we?

Privacy is a fluid notion. Think of Victorian times and the imperative for women to keep their ankles hidden. Part of the reason its definition is shaped and reshaped is due to the changing social environment in which we live. This idea is useful for thinking about why children divulge so much information online.

Children are growing up in public (not private) times, in which people freely and constantly reveal themselves on their screens. This is not solely associated with physical nudity and the stream of semi-clad women that constantly inhabit advertisements, music videos and the like. An environment that idolises nudity certainly contributes to children seeing such behaviour as the norm. Privacy, however, is not just about nudity and sex.

Given the exponential growth of reality shows and social media, children now have unprecedented access to the inner thoughts and personal actions of others. Children are growing up watching real people freely share their deep personal ideas, experiences, opinions and actions. The very purpose of these mediums is to encourage such sharing of information!

Children watch everyday people in the Big Brother house openly discuss their sexual experiences, develop friendships, go to the toilet, get ready after their morning shower and, explain deep personal childhood issues.

Similarly, they watch Survivor and The Bachelor where people can reveal the darker side of their ambitions, world-views and ways of dealing with others. Their revelations are under the guise of competition however they offer subliminal messages about what we can and should share publicly share.

Consistently watching others reveal themselves on screen feeds children’s understanding of what is private information and what isn’t. Its impact is strengthened because children watch these revelations on their personal screen such as their tablet or mobile, which can make it more of an intimate, one to one connection for the child.

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Children are growing up in a world saturated in social media, and their notion of privacy is adapting in response. Jim Sneddon/Flickr

Generation gap

Add to this, the dynamic stage in life young people are at, which is characterised by risk-taking behaviour. This combination results in the understanding that sharing what many adults might consider to be private ideas, is really just part of life.

In previous generations it was assumed that the average person wouldn’t want to give up privacy. But for this generation, giving up privacy for a social life, fame (or infamy for some), easy access to shopping and studying or working from home is the norm.

Children’s penchant for online sharing is a much larger cultural transformation than it’s given credit for. The whole idea of what is private and what is public is being disrupted and reshaped by new screen-driven interests and activities.

There is a need to move away from simply judging and reprimanding for their online sharing habits. There is always a need for safety and awareness campaigns, although it is also important to move beyond older and outmoded views of privacy so that we can actually understand young people’s privacy negotiations.

In this way we might have more of a chance to meaningfully support negotiations that are transparent, equitable and foster children’s well-being.

 

This post was previously published on The Conversation.

 

Dr Joanne Orlando is a senior lecturer in the School of Education and an early career researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

 

There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Associate Professor Sue Roffey

Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.

The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?

Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.

The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense.  Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.

Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.

Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:

A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.

The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.

There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence  for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.

Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.

It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.

We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?

And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?

Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?

Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

A Geography of Hope. August 11, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Social Ecology.
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Dr Carol Birrell

 A few weeks ago when I was picking up my grandson from his pre-school, he was keen to show me their latest display on a large noticeboard in the centre of the indoor classroom. On it were posted pictures of extinct or near-extinct species of animals with accompanying statements listing surviving numbers and original numbers. It was enough to depress me in an instant! However, what dominated my thoughts was the impact on these young children of such devastating information. I had to ask myself, how do they manage such information, if it is barely possible for me as a mature adult to manage it?

Educator David Sobel has a solid critique of education that may do more harm than good:

 Lurking underneath ‘environmentally correct’ curricula is the assumption that if children see the horrible things that are happening, then they too will be motivated to make a difference. But those images can have an insidious, nightmarish effect on young children whose sense of time, place and self are still forming… what’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds[1].

 In this contemporary world of impending planetary disaster, of economic and political collapse, of rampant fears around health, disease, invasion and war, to list just a few, we are immersed, in fact, in a culture of ‘doom and gloom’. No person is immune to it.

  I came across an expression in relation to this, but in fact its antithesis, that resonated deeply and that I wish to explore further, called ‘A Geography of Hope’. Wallace Stegner, an American author, coined the expression to address the value of ‘hope’ as an idea as well as a place.[2]

 I initially trained as a Geographer and taught this subject in high schools and primary schools for over 20 years. However, I am not sure of the shape of A Geography of Hope, of its look or feel, but I know it is something I need, both as a teacher and more generally, in my life. In the face of this powerful statement, I wish to explore it as an antidote to the pervasive negativity that infects all of us, our students included. And I want to ask the question,

 ‘How do we cultivate A Geography of Hope in our classrooms?’

 I believe this is crucial in our education systems in this moment of time. It demands a shift from negativity, of despair and disempowerment, to a vision of hope that can be owned and embodied in our classes. It is not a positioning that is trying to avoid the truth, to disguise reality under some sort of ‘Pollyanna’ ruse. It may be seen as essential to our mental/physical/emotional/spiritual health and hence to our learning and pedagogical practices.

 David Orr gives us some pointers here:

  ‘The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.’[3]

Take one example of what I would incorporate under the notion of A Geography of Hope: that of the fostering and understanding of beauty in our lives. How could we bring ‘beauty’ more into our classrooms? Of course, we could have more living plants, creatures, art works, images of beautiful natural scenes, poetry, music, planted in the everyday lives of our students (Alas! Far removed from university classrooms!!). It may also reside in our own beings, as a geographic location with its points of longitude and latitude clearly demarcated. If I can hold a map of beauty in my being, in the world, in others, in plants and animals, in the not-so beautiful, and hold that as a central fulcrum in my classes, then it has a tangible presence and can exert influence. It is the ‘still point of the turning world’ in T.S. Eliot’s poem from which waves continue to move outwards[4]. Beauty gives us hope.  

Some recent research in Finland inspired me. People were encouraged to write letters to friends about beauty in their everyday lives- this took place in a small Arctic village over one year. The researcher states:

 ‘Beauty, in these letters, became as if a verb: a continuous, open-ended process of articulating the ways in which one is interwoven with and conditioned by one’s surrounding environment. Articulating beauty in everyday life was proven a practice that sustains sensory attentiveness, openness and imaginative interest towards the material world [5].

Imagine if that kindy noticeboard took beauty as its environmental theme!

 My grandson Sam stops me to take in a particularly stunning sunset, a softly rounded smooth rock, a mosquito on his arm, a strange word that tickles his fancy. He continues to cultivate in me, this notion of beauty and through it, unmistakably, a notion of hope.

 When I begin to contemplate the contours of A Geography of Hope, I am thinking about love, joy, awe, friendship and beauty. I want a classroom brimming with these! Is it possible? I can only hope!   

 

[1] Sobel, D. (1996) Beyond Ecophobia, The Orion Society, Great Barrington, MA

2 Stegner, W. http://www.angelfire.com/journal/worldtour99/hope.html accessed 5/8/13

3Orr, D (2004). Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, USA.

4 Elliott, T.S. Four Quartets http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html accessed 8/8/13

5 Rautio, P. (2013)  Children who carry stones in their pockets. Children’s Geographies, DOI:10.1080/14733285.2013.812278


Dr Carol Birrell in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

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