Reflection theories and pedagogies: cross-disciplinary perspectives

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What is this series about?

[Download the full programme here]

What is reflection? How does it work? How do we apply it to our scholarly work and practice? What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner? What are key theories of reflection? How can these inform the way we teach and assess reflection to our students?

These, and many other questions such as these, will be explored in an exciting new seminar series organised by CLAD & Learning Spaces in 2016-17. We will host a number of scholars from Birmingham and beyond, who will discuss theoretical and practical aspects of reflective practice.

There are two types of contributions to this series – contributions attending to theory and contributions offering examples of practice.

The series considers key theoretical approaches to reflection on a chronological basis. This allows for a deeper understanding of the origin and development of the concept of reflection, and facilitates a considered examination of the different approaches to reflective practice.

The practice sessions will not always be linked to a particular theorist, though it is intended that the theories may guide the consideration of these examples.

There series offers an opportunity for those attending to take part in discussions and to share ideas and perspectives.

Is it for me?

This series is open to everyone, and will be of particular interest to:

  • Anyone interested in exploring the theoretical underpinnings of reflective practice, and diverse theoretical approaches to reflection
  • Anyone interested in hearing about good practice, and sharing their own
  • Anyone involved in teaching and assessing reflective practice
  • Anyone currently involved in reflective writing

For further information contact the organisers Petia Petrova [p.petrova@bham.ac.uk] and Marios Hadjianastasis [m.hadjianastasis@bham.ac.uk].

Venue

The series will take place at the Centre for Learning and Academic Development & Learning Spaces, Watson Building, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT.

Booking for this series

Given the nature of the series we recommend that you consider attending all of the seven seminars if practicable. To book, please e-mail pgcertcoursebookings@contacts.bham.ac.uk .

Violence as education in Cyprus

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Background

During my recent trip to Cyprus it occurred to me that recent generations, including mine, were brought up with the ever-present backdrop of violence. My generation, born during the 1974 conflict, had as its soundtrack the sirens and the sound of tanks in the background. I seem to remember child art from my time in nursery and early primary school depicting bombers, bombs, tanks, soldiers and death. We were, as children, fascinated by (our) soldiers, their helmets, weapons, bayonets and anything associated with them (and we were terrified by the ‘other’ soldiers). We played ‘war’ in the back yard and empty building plots in my neighbourhood. We made rifles out of bits of wood, helmets out of chicken wire, re-enacting conflict as leisure. We grew up with the ubiquitous military parades, hollow displays of power and bravado against the enemy. These still take place today, as a promise that ‘next time we’ll be better prepared’.

I’d always known of this of course: Cyprus had experienced conflict and violence, political, ethnic and (let’s not forget) that caused by organised crime during most of the twentieth century. These different kinds of violence were of course not mutually exclusive, and recent research suggests an overlap between them at times. Violence was experienced in terms of the nationalist movements of EOKA and TMT from the 1950s onwards; during the labour movement in the 1940s, where unionists and strike-breakers (and their families) were the victims of violence; during the periods of ethnic tensions and conflict, from the 1950s until the forced partition and population exchange in 1974; during the violent suppression of a communist movement by the British, EOKA and TMT, and the state and its affiliated paramilitary groups; during the period of ethnic conflict between the Greek Cypriot National Guard and other paramilitary groups against Turkish Cypriot enclaves; finally, the violence experienced during the 1974 Greek/Cypriot coup d’etat against President Makarios and the subsequent Turkish invasion, which affected most of the population of Cyprus.

This violence, experienced first hand by children and adults, has since been propagated and re-experienced in a number of ways. Here I will touch upon two: the education system and mass media. In terms of the education system, I can speak mostly for the Greek Cypriot case. The education system had until recently as its core mission to indoctrinate children with a nationalist-driven truth. The dominant narrative exposed children regularly to instances and examples of violence, offering vivid and often visual evidence to promote a message of victimhood and injustice against ‘our’ nation, endemic in our relationship with the ‘other’, but most notably the Turks. The need to pitch our ‘nation’ in a timeless struggle against the other has found the imagery of violence extremely useful in causing shock and horror. From the descriptions of Athanasios Diakos‘ impalement, to the executions of Cypriot higher clergy (both in 1821) and a long series of pictorial representations of violence hence, have been utilised in education from early years to drive home the dominant narrative of suffering.

Other notable examples for the Greek Cypriot side include: images from the deaths of EOKA fighters, such as Gregoris Afxentiou, Kyriakos Matsis and others. I remember vividly as a child being exposed to such imagery. Afxentiou’s charred remains, Matsis’ bloody body after the battle in which his hideout was blown up, the bloody remains of the four fighters at a stable in Liopetri. Such images, clearly unsuitable for children, were freely utilised to shock and horrify, and ultimately calcify the dominant narrative. A visit to the Mouseion Agonos (the museum for EOKA’s anti-colonial struggle) was a must, and exposed young children to images and physical remains of violence. These were followed up with visits to the state prison where the bodies of 9 EOKA fighters who were executed by the British were buried. Visits to these graves were part of the primary school curriculum when I was growing up, as was a visit to the room where the gallows stood, accompanied by a description of how a hanging actually worked, levers and trapdoors included.* Needless to say, EOKA’s other violence, against Greek and Turkish Cypriots, had until recently been conveniently neglected. In fact, EOKA murdered more Greek Cypriots (148) than British soldiers (105) during its four-year anti-British struggle. The former were mostly communists.

Such violence came to be complemented with that of the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and in particular their respective armed groups. The period between 1967 and 1974 were on the whole downplayed in terms of dominant message, as ‘our’ side had a plethora of imagery from the 1974 Turkish invasion which helped its narrative.** We have imagery from the fighting and bombing, including the photo of a dead man hanging out of a ruined Famagusta building. Such imagery was utilised throughout education as a lesson about ‘barbarism’ (associated with the quality of ‘other’).

Alongside these examples from state education, mass media has also reproduced such images throughout the last half century. The state-owned channels (CyBC and Bayrak), as well as other, privately-owned channels, have produced and broadcast a series of documentaries on the Cyprus conflict, especially the 1974 events. Some of these are broadcast annually in July and August, when the anniversaries of the 1974 war occur.*** More recently we have had the brutal killings of two men (Tasos Isaak and Solomos Solomou) during anti-occupation protests in Dherynia (1996), which produced fresh media depicting violence and death which has since been utilised in a similar manner.

The impact

What impact has this systematic exposure to first- or second-hand violence had on Cypriots? Apart from the generations of people (especially children)**** involved directly in acts of violence or displacement, we also have generations of people for whom the violence is systematically repeated through education or media. This has potentially the ability to cause similar trauma as to those who have experienced violence first-hand. What impact does seeing the gallows and hearing the descriptions of hangings have on an 8-10 year old child? The violence plays out again in front of their eyes, and must have a similar impact to witnessing or being a victim of such violence themselves. The images and videos of Afxentiou’s death (burnt to death in his hideout in 1957), cannot but reproduce the violence once again for the children to witness afresh.

Considering the dozens of thousands of children who underwent this systematic exposure to violence, how can we analyse and interpret Cypriot society today, when those generations have reached maturity? One gets the sense that in Cyprus we live as if suspended in a relative period of calm likely to be disrupted by outbreaks of violence. The combined effect of the violent trauma in all of us and the continuing political limbo of the Cyprus Problem render our present situation, no matter how peaceful, temporary. It is as if we are not allowed to relax and take peace for granted. Outbreaks of violence are always likely, and we may (or not) be prepared for such eventuality.

How does our society, ‘westernised’ and ‘civilised’ today, enhanced by modern technological advances, exist with the underlying truth of violence? Is our modernity but a veneer over a dark, violent past and present? Is there always some violence threatening to surface, be it at a football match, night club or-in fact-a queue at Lidl on a Thursday morning? Is violence a shared skeleton in our closet, a common relation nobody wants to acknowledge?

It would make for a fascinating research project for someone, to carry out psychological and anthropological research among the Cypriot population to help define our attitudes to a wide range of ‘everyday’ topics, and our propensity to see violence as a potential solution. I wonder how we compare versus, say, the Maltese? Although scholars such as Papadakis and Bryant have explored the anthropological aspects of the Cyprus problem, it would be interesting to see the psychological impact of the conflict and the re-play of violence in the lives of the children of Cyprus.

The challenge for the teacher of today

The challenge for the teacher today is multiple. Firstly, to resist the exposure of children to such imagery and narratives of violence and hatred. Perhaps to a degree this is happening, but I am not convinced that we have denounced the reproduction of violence to those too young not to be traumatised by it. Secondly, teachers, and society more widely, must resist the utilisation of education-as-nationalist-narrative (or any dominant narrative in fact) in favour of a more relevant, pupil-centred approach which allows children to explore and shape their own truths based on their own social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. This is not far from a Freirean educational ideal, but let’s face it, it’s not happening any time soon. Such a shift would most likely be the result of the activity of individual teachers rather than an organised, top-down initiative. States are not likely to encourage a pedagogy which in turn encourages critical thinking and emancipation from sociopolitical and religious shackles.

It is possible to teach history not as a politically-driven dominant narrative, but as a shared endeavour to better understand the past based on evidence. Emotive (and traumatic) imagery and discourse only serves to distort such truths in the service of the elites. And it has so far succeeded.

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* I have deliberately chosen not to include such imagery here. If you really want to find it, Google is your friend.

** However, for the Turkish Cypriots who were often on the receiving end of Greek-Cypriot state-sponsored violence against their enclaves and communities, there are other horrifying images which served their purpose. One such example is that of a mother and her three children, murdered in the bathtub in their house in 1963, and used as an example of Greek Cypriot barbarism, which formed the basis for the Museum of Barbarism.

*** Such broadcasts have also been used for education purposes.

**** See Rosenblatt’s Children of War 

Critical pedagogies in higher education

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I have just returned from the 3rd Annual Critical Pedagogies Conference held at Liverpool Hope University. I was there for the first one, two years ago, and it has become a highlight of my academic calendar. The conference is supported by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.

What is critical pedagogy?

How to explain this? Critical pedagogy is a term created by Paulo Freire, whose seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed remains a cornerstone of the discipline. Although Freire’s work was written within the context of post-colonial Brazil and the domination of indigenous populations (and their education) by a white post-colonial elite, it has had great resonance for many different contexts. The work of bell hooks has introduced the perspectives of race and gender, while Henry Giroux‘s work has brought critical pedagogies up to speed with a North American context.

Key to the idea of a critical pedagogy is the concept of critical consciousness (conscientização) one the one hand, and solidarity with the oppressed on the other. In this context, our aim as teachers is not to transmit a truth which arrives from above, unquestioningly, but to instil criticality into our work and our students’. This criticality should go beyond that which is required for interpretation and analysis of data/sources/evidence, but should be a key characteristic of their lives as critically thinking citizens in a democratic society.

Another interesting aspect is the need to move beyond the limitations of power and authority to enact an open and democratic classroom.

What does all this have to do with higher education I hear you say? Well, where once Citizenship Education was a key element to education from early years onwards, we now focus on employability and ‘soft skills’ which make our students more ‘useful’ to the economy. Don’t get me wrong: I fully acknowledge the need for students to be able to find employment, but that is not the sole purpose of education. It’s not even the main purpose. In its latest White Paper, the government puts this right by having very little reference to criticality, citizenship or democracy, but a whopping 53 instances of the word ‘market’. That, and the increasing push for quality assurance, monitoring and measurement systems serve to shrink the space for democracy and freedom in our classrooms and institutions. Freedom of speech is already under threat in this brand-aware environment. This is just another encroachment of the neoliberal into the public space, one more step towards the eradication of the latter.

So this is where critical pedagogies come in. How can we ensure the democratic public space is not sacrificed at the altar of marketisation? How can we help instil in our students a sense of ownership, direction beyond marks/CV-building and ‘social mobility’? How can we protect ourselves and each other from victimisation and the dehumanising effect of neoliberalism?  Well, the answer lies in small steps. Just try to enact a democratic classroom, try to limit the impact of a neoliberal agenda where possible. Educate yourself and your students, your colleagues. Working from within is harder, but is the only way.

Highlights of the conference

The conference itself was an interesting mix. Most papers were able to offer a philosophically-grounded approach to how we ‘do’ education in a critical and democratic way. I particularly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Peter Roberts (Christchurch NZ) and Judith Suissa (IoE). Peter’s talk focused on the theme of despair and hope which comes with critical consciousness, especially in the work of three thinkers: Leo Tolstoy, Miguel de Unamuno, and Paulo Freire. The despair felt by the first two bordered on the existentialist, and indeed Tolstoy seriously considered suicide after finding it difficult to come to terms with the finality of death and the lack of meaning in his life. Unamuno’s work dealt with the idea of suffering as a necessary component of life, without which happiness is rendered meaningless. Peter finished on a hopeful note, focusing on Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope and how no matter how desperate critical consciousness makes us, we can and should still be hopeful for a different future. A key element here was that critical consciousness is a threshold: one cannot go back from it. These are very relevant emotional processes for teachers, especially for the ones who come to harsh realisations about the state of higher education and its privileging of research over teaching (in elite institutions).

Judith Suissa‘s excellent talk discussed the process of critical consciousness and solidarity with the oppressed outside the classroom, as found in Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of OthersJudith’s talk helped us see critical pedagogy “in the streets”, and was grounded on the work of Rebecca Tarlau on critical pedagogy and social movements and Jose Medina’s work (The Epistemology of Resistance). She also drew the connection between anger and hope, emotions which Judith (and Freire) suggest should be combined.

Other highlights included Cristina Cammarano‘s talk on the critical, yet powerless, students, and the moral dilemma for the critical teacher who supports her students towards critical consciousness, only for them to discover the despair and powerlessness which may follow (as Peter told us earlier). Caroline Obiageli‘s talk from Nigeria via Skype discussed the theme of educative entertainment and especially how entertainment can be the vehicle for concealed learning purposes. What little I caught from Andrew Brogan‘s talk on the ‘exilic’ classroom, I found very thought-provoking, as Andrew explored the theme of classrooms as safe spaces where democratic practice can be enacted, based on the works of De Certeau, and in particular the concept of ‘wiggery’, after De Certeau’s la perruque, a form of subversion using the resources available. Ruth Heilbronn’s work also got a mention here.

Ana Lucia Souza de Freitas discussed the relationship between Freire’s work with that of Gert Biesta, and especially the theme of ‘risk’ in education. Louise Jackson and Jonathan Owen Clark discussed critical pedagogy within the context of art education.

Penny Enslin‘s keynote speech focused on themes of colonialism and postcolonialism, drawing from both British and South African contexts. This is particularly relevant in an age of dramatic expansion for British and American institutions into ‘new markets’.

Conclusions and action

On the whole this was a full-on two days which as usual gave me some time and space to think, question my practice and learn new things. I came back armed with another handful of new references for things to read. It also made me realise that some colleagues in philosophy work on an abstract plane for so long that they forget its significance or connection to reality. There were a couple of moments when I wondered what such examples were doing at a critical pedagogies conference. The irony was lost on such colleagues. I will say no more, as this was a mere side-note to an otherwise excellent conference. Indeed, I return to this conference year after year because it’s a relatively small one, everybody is down to earth, friendly and welcoming, and I make many useful contacts.

I also came away feeling that we could do with something more focused on higher education. Ultimately critical pedagogy is about praxis, taking action (or committing ‘wiggery’!) within one’s context. It’s also about irreverence, especially towards anything which some people may consider ‘canonical’ in the field of philosophy, and that does include Freire. It’s about a ‘smash and grab’ philosophy, an ‘edu-punk’ approach as a good friend once said, where we utilise what’s useful, always with a critical eye and aware of the limitations.

At a time when the White Paper is diminishing the teacher’s and learner’s freedoms in a very overt manner, we can at least attempt to identify our predicament and mitigate its consequences. In a discussion over a pint with an esteemed colleague, we thought that the time is right for an HE-focused critical pedagogies conference to take this plan forward.

Things for me to read

Nicholas C. Burbules and Rupert Berk (1999).Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy: Relations, Differences, and Limits. Published in Critical Theories in Education, Thomas S. Popkewitz and Lynn Fendler, eds. (NY: Routledge)

Martin Carnoy (1974). Education as cultural imperialism (Longman)

Seewha Cho (2010). Politics of Critical Pedagogy and New Social Movements. Educational Philosophy and Theory,Vol. 42, No. 3, 2010
doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2008.00415.x

Michel de Certeau (2002), The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press)

Kevin Harris (1982). Teachers and Classes: A Marxist Analysis (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul)

Ruth Heilbronn (2012). Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (NY: Bloomsbury)

Linda Keesing-Styles (2003). The Relationship between Critical Pedagogy and Assessment in Teacher Education. Radical Pedagogy.

Gustav Landauer (2010). Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader. Edited by Gabriel Kuhn (Oakland: PM Press)

José Medina (2011). Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance: Counter-Memory, Episte-mic Friction, and Guerrilla Pluralism. Foucault Studies, No. 12, pp. 9-35, October 2011

José Medina (2013). The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and the Social Imagination. (Oxford: OUP)

Bill Readings (1997). The University in Ruins (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press)

Dean Spade (2011). Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (NY: South End Press)

Rebecca Tarlau (2014). From a Language to a Theory of Resistance: Critical Pedagogy, the Limits of “Framing,” and Social Change. Educational Theory, Volume 64 Number 4