AIE-China 2015 Shanghai
It was nice to be back in Shanghai again after a couple of years.
It is a fabulous city, and to stroll from People's Square, down Nanjing Dong Lu, to the Bund, and its view of Pudong over the Huangpu is an evening well spent.
The theme of the conference this year was "ENGAGING WITH DIFFERENCE - Finding Ways Forward" which lead to a really interesting variety of responses.
Mike Izzard's "Future-Proofing our Students" sessions were, as he always is, excellent. I like his idea about "organising learning" as being distinct from "teaching".
He also asked the provocative: " Are the standards we are using to guide our students' education today meeting the needs of the world we live in?"
One presenter showed Taiye Selasi's engaging TEDGlobal 2014 "Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local" - a refreshingly alternative way of looking at how we identify ourselves.
All the papers from the conference should be up on the official website soon: http://www.aie.org.cn/2015.htm
In the mean time, here is mine (also attached to the side as file plus hand-out):
“What difference? Which way IS forward?”
With what differences do we need to engage? Which way IS forward? With ever-widening global awareness, advances in technology (especially in social media) and the Syrian refugee crisis becoming a hot issue, I would like to consider what is meant by the terms “global citizen” and “globally aware”; and why we need to change “globally aware” to “globally engaged”.
The IBDP Global Politics Subject Guide has this to say: “The twenty-first century is characterized by rapid change and increasing interconnectedness, impacting people in unprecedented ways and creating complex global political challenges. The study of global politics enables students to critically engage with new perspectives and approaches to politics, in order to better make sense of this changing world and their role in it as active citizens.”
However, I would like to speak more about what we should be teaching than looking at the mechanics of how. This presentation is based on my own teaching experiences and developing ideas, speaking with colleagues around the world, parents, and - most importantly - students, especially over the past few years of teaching the IBDP Global Politics course.
Priority number three of the UN Secretary-General’s “Global Education First” initiative is: “Foster Global Citizenship”. In looking at the barriers to achieving that, Ban-Ki Moon notes:
“The Legacy of the current education system. Schools have traditionally prepared people to pass exams, proceed to the next level and graduate into the workplace. We now face the much greater challenge of raising global citizens … this entails changing the way education is organized … We must rethink the purpose of education and prepare students for life, not exams alone.”
THAT is what all the sessions of this conference are addressing, in one way or another. Fundamental changes are needed: we have done little more than politely nudge educational paradigms since the early 19th Century.
The report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developments "Students, Computers, and Learning" - published in September this year (2015) - says: "... a significant problem still remains. Even if we combine 21st-century technologies with 21st-century teaching practices, we are still stuck with a form of assessment born in the 19th and 20th centuries - the written exam."
Over the years I have become a little disillusioned with the structure of an education system in which if students don’t take an exam, and don’t have a grade, then it never happened. A system in which the best we can offer students by way of real-world skills is often CAS – which has, despite the amazing work done in some places, in too many school become little more than a box-ticking exercise for students.
In his rightly praised TED Talk on creativity in schools in 2006, Sir Ken Robinson joked about the purpose of education being to produce university professors. It’s 2015, and we obviously need something better than that – but it is the professors who perhaps need to understand the need for the necessary change. And parents, who were educated in a system that they might not understand needs changing.
We are not actually going to make that huge change in the over-arching education system any time soon. However, what we as teacher can do in our own schools is to start making changes in what we teach – what we show our students as being important, and which will get them engaged with the real world.
Taking a broad view of the conference title, “ENGAGING WITH DIFFERENCE - Finding Ways Forward”, I am going to be speaking about two particular real-world subjects: politics, and religion, and why we should be taking them more seriously in our schools.
It is often said that polite conversation should not be about either politics or religion – however, I think that such a view is dangerously limiting, and stops us engaging with our students on two fundamentally important aspects of global life.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I think I should start by explaining my own stance.
Politically, I am a socialist libertarian - if you imagine US Senator Ted Cruz, or former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the top-right-hand corner of a square, then I am way down in the bottom left. Please take a look at the back page of the hand-out (or at the bottom of this webpage), and you will see me nestling in the beard of the anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin. politicalcompass.org will help you place yourself. Religiously, I am a Humanist atheist coming from an Anglican background.
It might seem odd that a person who has just described himself as an atheist should then go on to talk about religion. I might not have a religious belief, but I acknowledge its importance to others – and therefore to the world. We only have to look at the events happening in Jerusalem to see how religion and politics connect in a very significant way.
To be explicitly clear: I am not talking about preaching any specific religion, nor promoting any specific political ideology, but TEACHING our students about what those things are, and about why they are important. In the hyper-connected global setting in which we live, knowing what others think and believe, and understanding why they act the way they sometimes do, is of over-whelming importance.
To not do so, is a great disservice to the young people in our care, and is sending them out into the world unprepared to engage with it in a productive way – as citizens and voters - either within their own country, or globally. To not give young people even a basic understanding of how politics and religion interact in the 21st Century is rather like sending them behind the bike-sheds to learn about sex. They will learn something, but not necessarily what they need to know.
With the vast majority of my students, and other young people I meet, I am always impressed by the depth of compassion and empathy of which they are capable. I have found, as I am sure you have, that many of my students often have a powerful understanding of the concept of Human Rights – what is innately important about being human – but lack the vocabulary with which to discuss it.
A few years ago, I had a Year 8 class (ages 12-13) reading a novel about homelessness. In an early lesson, having never heard of it, they reconstructed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from scratch, in about thirty minutes, with my only contribution being the prompts: “what do people need?”, “what next?”, “does anything need to come before that?”
Three separate cohorts of Global Politics students, when asked: “What are the essentials that a country needs before it can legitimately call itself ‘developed’?” created lists that took human rights as a given: free health-care, free education and so on. In fact, each group saw creating a society in which everybody got the chance to get to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy – self-actualisation – as a fundamental requirement.
Of course, we then have to go on to discuss why this is made next to impossible by many of our politicians (from whichever country we come), and their list of what is essential.
“Global awareness” is now a well-used catchphrase; however, in order to engage with the differences we find in the world, and in order to find our way forward to developing genuinely globally engaged people, we all need to understand what those differences are: because being “aware” and “understanding” are not the same thing.
Let me give one example from the first Global Politics class I taught. In that class was an American girl: politically very right-wing; religiously very Mormon. If we go back to the square in which Ted Cruz and I occupy diagonally opposed corners, Sydney was even closer to the top-right corner than Cruz.
After two years in my class, I am very proud to say that … I had not changed a single one of her fundamental political or religious opinions. However, I am even more proud to say that she left my class with a much clearer understanding of what she believed and why, the language with which to discuss her beliefs clearly, and the confidence to do so.
It’s my belief that ALL our students should be leaving secondary education, at the time when most of them are also leaving home and going out into the world, with that same kind of understanding and confidence. Far too many young people are reaching the age at which they are eligible to vote in elections, without having had any opportunity to learn what politics is, and their role in it – on the national and global stage. To use another analogy, allowing that to happen is like giving a teenager the keys to a car, and assuming that they will work out how to drive it as they go along.
Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist, and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. A few years ago he and two colleagues, Jesse Graham and Brian Nozek, devised a theory about what they call the “Five Foundations of Morality”. Haidt gave a TED Talk on the subject in 2008, and if you go to yourmorals.org you can complete a questionnaire that will explain your own moral perspectives in those areas.
The five are:
They found that there is a fairly direct correlation between which of the five foundations one sees as being moral issues, and one’s basic political standpoint. Put simply, right-wing conservatives see all five foundations as being of more or less equal moral concern, whilst left-wing liberals see only two, Harm/Care, and Fairness/Reciprocity, as being moral matters. This does not mean that conservatives are more moral than liberals (although that is what they would have you believe) but simply that they simply see more things as having a moral basis. So in any discussion a liberal and a conservative might have about anything that is covered by the last three, each of them will have a very different frame of moral reference.
What then of religion? Why have I said that religion should be a subject in our schools?
Well, whatever our own personal beliefs and faith, whichever particular religion we choose to follow - or not – we cannot ignore the huge role religion plays in all aspects of modern life, inextricably linked to politics.
There is, many people tell us – repeatedly – an open war in the world between Christianity and Islam. Certainly ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Shabbab say they are waging war of behalf of Islam. Now, whether or not that is true from an Islamic point of view – and a great many Muslims would say it is not - that is their declared stance. As a result, there is now a great deal of anti-Islamic feeling in many parts of the western world – only a few days ago, in the UK, a British woman was filmed on a public bus, screaming abuse at two respectable looking women – complete strangers – simply because they were wearing hijabs. Amongst far right-wing politicians and voters this kind of attitude is all too often the default reaction to Muslims. However, the question: “what do you know about Islam?” will be met with either silence, or a protest that they do not need to know anything about it.
How can we legitimately disagree with something about which we know nothing? How can we understand the motivation of people directed by their faith if we don’t know on what that faith is based? How can we not give our students that knowledge?
Some examples: Can we understand Islam without knowing that, despite it being an Abrahamic religion, it has an entirely different philosophical base from either of the other two “Peoples of the Book” – it is based on the idea of submission to Allah, and not the need for personal salvation that underpins Christianity; or the Jewish need to return to their proper relationship with God?
Can we understand political Israel until we understand Judaism – with it’s underpinning of exile from, and the powerful need to return to, both God and their homeland?
Or can we fully understand the determination of a powerful section of political USA to continue to support Israel without knowing that a large number of Evangelical Christians believe that a Jewish Israel is an essential criterion for the Second Coming of Christ?
What is happening in Syria and Europe at the moment is telling us that we no longer live in a global village: we live in a global refugee camp. The refugees – fleeing a war that has both political and religious motivations - are quite literally voting with their feet, and moving into and across Europe – and in doing so, perhaps they are the greatest challenge to the concept of state sovereignty that has dominated the political view of the world for so long. This is a good thing. All sorts of paradigms are being shifted.
And if we are not talking to our students about this – ALL our students - if we are not giving them the knowledge they need, and if we are not getting them engaged intellectually with what is happening in the wider world, and what is going to continue to happen, then we are doing them a grave disservice. To be realistic about it: they are going to be living in the 21st century a lot longer than any of us in this room. And we have created a lot of problems that they will have to solve.
In the cover article for the September issue of The Atlantic, Jonathan Haidt – whom I mentioned earlier – and Greg Lukianoff, who is president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, expressed concern about a problem besetting many American universities: “Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense”.
This is the growing culture of “micro-aggressions” and “Trigger Warnings” – of people who actively fear things which disturb their own sense of what is right and allowable.
Now, that is not just a problem for the USA: around the world, students are leaving school – leaving our schools – with little or no genuine understanding of the wider world, with no understanding of how they can engage with the differences they will encounter at every turn.
Another of the barriers Ban-Ki Moon saw standing in the way of priority number three in his “Global Education First” initiative is the “Lack of leadership on Global Citizenship.” We must, he says, “create a generation that values the common good, we must understand how young people see the world today—and our schools must find ways to foster a broader vision.”
How can we – us, the teachers in this room – help our students to get to that broader vision? How can we help them do the necessary work that will allow them to Engage With Difference – whether it is political, or religious – unless we give them the opportunity to learn and understand what is the nature of those differences? How can we help them understand that speaking with, engaging with, listening to, people who hold fundamentally different views is actually a very good and necessary thing to do.
Last year I had the privilege of hearing His Excellency, Matan Vilnai – Israeli ambassador to China - speak every movingly about his meeting with the Palestinian officer to whom he was handing over military control of the Gaza Strip. Of how he saw, for the first time, over a cup of coffee, the humanity of a man who represented everything he had hated and had fought against his whole life. A very real engaging with difference.
Being able to think in the terms of, in the context of, from the point of view of another human being is probably the single most important inter-personal skill we need. And it is a skill that seems sadly lacking in the wider world, and which is perhaps even seen as dangerous - certainly when political and religious ideas are being considered: listening to that demonic other who is our enemy. However, as that great political philosopher, Erykah Badu, once said "you don't have to believe everything you think".
How can we – us, the teachers in this room – help our students become “global citizens” and to move from being “globally aware” to being “globally engaged”. How can we help them find their way forward into THEIR future?
Questions for Further Thought - Beyond Religion and Politics:
1. What do you understand by the term “Global Citizen”?
2. What do you think your students understand by it?
3. How well do you think the curricula you are teaching (and what is taught in universities) prepare our students for the future - especially as many will be working in occupations that don’t currently exist?
4. What do you think we should be teaching as life skills – beyond academic subjects – to our students?
5. What do you think education should be like? Subjects? Methods of instruction? If you could control the curriculum, and how your school day was organised how different would they be from what you have and do now?
Richard T. Antoun: Understanding Fundamentalism, Rowman & Littlefield (2008)
Stephen Prothero: Religious Literacy, HarperOne (2008)
Stehen Prothero: God is Not One, HarperOne (2011)
John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed: Who Speaks For Islam? Gallup Press (2008)
ISBN-10:1595620176 ISBN-13: 978-1595620170
TED Playlist: eight talks to restore your faith in politics (including another great talk by Haidt):