Camino and good energy

10 Oct

I’ve just returned from a trip to spain where I walked part of the Camino de Santiago. I did it to get some space in my life to think about what I really wanted to do, why am I here? On one of the days walking someone had left a trail of inspirational quotes and questions. I used to think those quotes were a bit cheesy but actually they really helped me clarify my thoughts. I’ve always been very good at asking people questions to help them think clearly and constructively about something they are struggling with, but no one has ever quite managed to ask me the right questions to help me. When I talk about a problem I’m having people are quick to draw a conclusion of their own, help me blame someone else but myself. But really by asking a few fundamental questions, nothing special but the who, why, where, how etc, can lead to more critical thought on a situation and actually lead to bettering. 

While walking in a hill top woodland at about 7am the series of questions and quotes were fillling me with positive energy, then like a blow to the chest.. “What do you want?”. That shut me up for a while as I meticulously went through what I have, is it right for me, could I do better. It took a long time and there was only one thing I was sure of. I want peace. 

I’ve been working on a project at work with a group of young people in Brixton. I am facilitating them making films about the history and future of uprisings, how people can more effectively have their voices heard. In a debate about how riots could be avoided in the future their instant reply was “Give young people what they want”. Ok, “What do you want”. Well they weren’t the easiest bunch to get chatting in the first place but this questions really brought silence on the group. I think its one of the hardest questions to face. And you don’t want to get it wrong.

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“He who dares not grasp …

10 Oct

“He who dares not grasp the thorn
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15 Jul

Critical Dialogue, Identity and the Role of Art in Establishing Identity

5 Jul

Following on from my last thesis post (HERE) I will discuss Freire’s concepts of critical dialogue, and my interpretation of this in relation to Mark Levine’s psychological studies of identity and our desire to help other people. I will then discuss the role art plays in establishing and communicating identity. In doing so I will highlight the need for creative intervention in learning situations where the outcome is focused on global citizenship.

Critical Dialogue

When tackling issues such as human rights injustice and education for change, the standard “unsatisfactory, very passive learning, known as ‘chalk and talk’”[1] education seems inappropriate and almost detrimental to true understanding. This method of education relates to Freire’s interpretation of Assistencialism, an example of which could be foreign aid. Foreign aid, in the same way as a chalk and talk education system, drip feeds individuals until they become passive and reliant on the source. It suggests the recipient is incapable of participating in the process of his own recuperation.  A BBC news article Can aid do more harm than good? Looks at how foreign aid floods markets and drives down prices, and suggests an Aid “bonanza (will) often undermine self-reliance”. Assistencialism of this kind is as dangerous in the learning space as in the larger scheme of justice because of the violence of its anti-dialogue. Freire criticizes the laissez-faire, “it is how it is” understanding which “leads men to fold their arms, resigned to the impossibility of resisting the power of facts.”[2] This proves the importance of critical understanding because “once man perceives a challenge, understands it, and recognises the possibilities of response, he acts”. Imposing silence and passivity denies men conditions likely to develop their consciousness.[3] Achieving a critical consciousness could be an essential step towards global citizenship, evidenced in my own transition. I found the linchpin of critical thought to be the process of evaluating and re-evaluating constantly. In community arts education this would have to be at the centre of the artwork. Participants, as well as producing a visual outcome, need to “perceive themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality.” In this way “education could help men to assume an increasingly critical attitude toward the world and so transform it.”[4]

Freire suggests that, in order for learners to move from naïve to critical understanding, educators need to instigate an active, dialogical, critical and criticism-stimulating method; change the program content of education and the use of techniques like the thematic breakdown and codification[5]. This relates to my concept of knowledge resources, which I will discuss later, I feel that in order to engage in critical and criticism-stimulating methods, participants need to be exposed to a variety of agenda-full information. So for example, if learning about campaigning for social justice, participants would have access to raw footage of interviews with victims, newspaper articles, photographs by artists, documents relating to government policies, profiles of abusers, etc in relation to the specific topic. This has the potential to encourage participants to criticise elements of the research with a well-rounded perspective against a background of a specific art form. The specific art form will be the basis for the breakdown and codification of the topic; this could be in the form of visual art, sculpture, performance or film for example. These methods bring not only varying types of knowledge of the topic to the participants but also allow the knowledge they extract from themselves to be integrated in learning. They will inevitably have some emotional response to the material, subsequent to understanding their identity, and a dialogue will be initiated. These methods “recognise confrontation with the world as the true source of knowledge with its different levels and phases.”[6]

Identity

The establishment of identity, I believe, complements these methods in education, in order to encourage empathy and therefore a drive towards change. Mark Levine has focused his research on investigating the science behind our choices when helping people we do not know. Levine’s studies suggest that there is always a relationship between those providing and those receiving help through the act of giving. “When (and to the extent that) these relationships are grounded in, or help to build, a mutual sense of common group membership (i.e., shared social identity) then support has a greater chance both of being provided and of being effective. Indeed, when parties to the support process share (or come to share) identity, the process can be almost heavenly.”[7]

Levine’s experiments directly link to my own separate realisation that once we can identify with people we are more likely to want to take action towards change that benefits the lives of victims. I also felt that people receiving the ‘help’ would be likely to feel more comfortable accepting it from someone they can identify with. Levine’s theory supports this hypothesis, “one of the theory’s important predictions is that social support will tend to be expressed and experienced much more positively if those who are party to the process define themselves as members of same social self-category (i.e., if they see themselves to share social identity as members of the same ingroup, “us”)[8].

As I explained in the introduction, my initial response to a story of injustice is to imagine it were me, to put the victims story in the way of my plans and picture my life. It is easier for me to do this when I actively expose myself to stories of young women; I share a social identity with them. I do this, for example, by choosing to watch films that focus on the stories of women. Kim Longinotto, in relation to the injustice of rape highlights that we are all likely to have suffered some painful or distressful sexual experience, and therefore may be able to gain some insight into the extent of how physically painful rape can be. This is merely one aspect. I was inspired by Longinotto’s notion of people identifying with other people through shared joy as opposed to shared pain. Mark Levine adds, “Shared identity provides a basis for shared expectations and shared emotion (i.e., empathy), as well as for mutual trust and respect”[9]. I can empathise and I think this is imperative in developing changed relationships between people.

The studies suggest that the more inclusive the identity group the more willing we are to help, which is surprising but very useful in terms of global citizenship. This theory was tested through an experiment with football fans. Manchester United fans were asked questions in order to make their support for the club salient. They were then exposed to an incident where an actor, wearing a Manchester United shirt or a Liverpool shirt tripped and fell near-by. The experiment was repeated but the participants were this time asked questions about their identity as football fans so to make that identity prominent. In the first instance, 92% of participants stopped to help the man in the Manchester United shirt, only 32% stopped to help the man in the Liverpool shirt. In the second instance, 80% stopped for the Manchester United fan, and 70% stopped for the Liverpool fan. So more people stopped to help the people they identified as football fans, the broader more inclusive identity.

So then how can this be translated into education for global citizenship? On a larger scale it is not straightforward, however I think this study gives a good starting point on which to base the development of a learning scheme.

It seems a deep understanding of your personal identity, your group and cultural identity is imperative. So, with a class of women I might make their identity as women, once established, salient, and combine this with my ideas of knowledge resources and Freire’s techniques of critical dialogue, in order to facilitate critical understanding of the situation and instil a desire to stand up for young women suffering injustice (if this is the result of dialogue). It is not the only way. I realise the importance of young men understanding the issues also, however, it is a vast topic and to break it down into a formula would be beneficial when finding a starting point. Of course it is not just gender this applies to, it applies to age and race. With young people under the age of 18, perhaps a relevant topic may be to consider the lives of child soldiers. A project designed to focus on their identity as young people may help them relate to stories told by other young people in war torn countries and to piece together a more realistic understanding of the situation than they would if they were only exposed to the mass media depictions. Alongside this, using the film War School may give the participants a further understanding of the issues and a dialogue could be facilitated around this knowledge.

“The question of knowledge is always also a question of identity.”[10] What is identity? Identity is a relationship with the world and with others in the world. It is a feature of ourselves or of elements of our lives that is recognisable in relation to other people. Stuart Hall defines Identification “as being constructed on the back of recognition of some common origin or shared characteristics with another person or group, or with an ideal and with the natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on the foundation.” In relation to this definition and that of critical understanding it may be possible to recognise a need for encouraging participants to establish their identities in order to deepen their perspective of the world in various contexts in a cross curriculum setting. This could place knowledge in a newer, deeper category of understanding.

Identity encompasses some of the following elements, for example, world cultures, languages, political points of view, art forms, oppressed and liberated peoples, grass roots communities, scientific minds, and so on. One could consider identity as being deeply linked to knowledge, in this sense it becomes imperative for education to firstly establish our identities. This concept bares special relevance to human rights education. Freire talks about knowledge as being deeply rooted inside us and the role of education is to nurture and extract that knowledge rather than to plant it inside us[11]. Freire’s technique for teaching literacy “does not involve memorising sentences, words or syllables – lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe – but rather an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self transformation producing a stance of interventions in ones context”[12]. He suggests that the educator’s role is to enter into dialogue with the learner so the learner can continue to teach himself to read and write. What example of this theory, when translated into community education, could be better than identity? I believe it is the language of social justice.

 

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.[13]

Art’s Role in Establishing Identity

The unique aspect of art’s ability to help understand and express our identities is that there is no wrong answer. Contemporary art breaks down the barrier of artistic skill and allows artists to freely express themselves, to represent their voices. However, contemporary art also exudes a sense of exclusivity. There is a sense that anyone can make art and I believe this is true. But not everyone will choose to express himself or herself through art because they are disengaged by this impression of superiority. The use of contemporary art and media within a community setting opens up these boundaries so everybody can feel the benefit of art beyond the aesthetic. The art of participation tends to be allied with the following agendas.

“The desire to create an active subject, one who will be empowered by the experience of physical or symbolic participation. The hope is that the newly emancipated subjects of participation will find themselves able to determine their own social and political reality… Collaborative creativity is understood both to emerge from and to produce, a more positive and non-hierarchal social model… One of the main impetuses behind participatory art has therefore been a restoration of the social bond through a collective elaboration of meaning.”[14]

A visual or creative outcome also gives participants something they can discuss and analyse against others in their group or others, around the world, who have performed the same process. “Art and creative expression can unleash a whirlwind of emotion; it can say what words cannot.”[15] For example, if young people in the Western Sahara make a short film as a result of workshops addressing identity and the same project is run with young people in the UK, both groups will have an understanding of the processes participants went through previous to watching the other group’s film, therefore each will gain a deeper insight into the identities and lives of the other group. They will go beyond an Internet search revealing the statistical situation in each place and begin humanising the issues faced in varying communities. I think young people should speak to each other. I think a project like this would benefit both sides of the exchange, beyond the obvious therapeutic nature of understanding identity and hard skills in filmmaking. In the UK for example the project would compliment studies in geography and sociology with an underlying thread of increased awareness of the human aspect of injustice, and therefore global citizenship. For the Saharawi’s the project will bring other cultures to education, in the UK we are privileged to be surrounded by so many cultures. They will be able to put their stories in perspective with others and be able to join in the conversation with young people around the world which we in the UK, through the Internet, take for granted.

A combination of education theories and psychological studies underpinning participatory arts intervention proves the essential responsibility art has in educating for global citizenship. Art has a power to establish identity, it facilitates visual as well as dialogical conversation and is engaging in various learning situations. Being open to many practices in art, for example, filmmaking, crafts, sculptural and performance allows for individual needs of learners and places them in the driving seat of learning as opposed to being drip-fed information. There are no wrong answers in this form of learning, this in itself is empowering.


[1] Meredith, 2010

[2] Freire, 1976, pg 44

[3] Freire, 1976, pg 15

[4] Freire, 1976, pg 34

[5] Freire, 1976, pg 45

[6] Freire, 1977, pg 98

[7] Levin et al, 2011, pg 5

[8] Levin et al, 2011, pg 7

[9] Foddy et al, 2009, pg 419-422

[10] Charlot et al, 1992, pg 73

[11] Freire, 1976, pg 88

[12] Freire, 1976, pg 48

[13] UN Declaration of human Rights

[14] Bishop, 2006, pg 12

[15] Thomas, 2011, pg 9

Out of the Ordinary

2 Mar

I showed this gem of a short horror film to a group of young refugees I’m working with on a film exhibition project. It’s a great example of the horror genre and seeing though I’m teaching the group about the elements that make up a good film this little adventure into the sleepless psyche lent itself nicely to an in depth conversation about how fearsome the unknown can be. They picked up instantly the reason the film was so scary to them was the fact that they couldn’t quite make out what was going on. They shifted the screen around, moved closer, then further away again, they turned the light off … but still the mystery remained. It was fun to watch! It was a nice moment in the project, it was the first time I saw the penny drop, and the group were able to talk in depth about the film and others I showed them. Not even once did they stray onto playing with PhotoBooth!! Which is saying something when working with hard to reach young people.

The group are working towards programming a film screening for the general public as part of the Wandsworth Arts Festival. For more information on the project visit http://www.chocolatefilms.com

8 Feb

Photograph by Jess Gough