Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflecting on the dilemmas and tensions between diversity and unity and its impact on education in general and mainly on civic education

The following article is a presentation of Abraham Magendzo of Fundación Ideas Chile for a concurrent session in the World Congress on Civic Education held in Jakarta Indonesia from the 23rd to the 26th of July

It is my purpose to present a brief summery of the concurrent session that I deliver in the Word Conference. Let me first of al that the session started by asking the participants the following questions: a) If an alien, may be a stranger from an other planet, come to you and say: I am a foreigner person and I am looking a community where to live ¿what are you recommending me to live in an homogeneous community, or in a heterogeneous one? What would be your answer; b)¿Where do you live right know in a homogeneous community or in a heterogeneous one? ; c) What are the advantages or disadvantages to live or participate in an homogenous community, (persons almost equal, alike in their identity) or in an heterogeneous community (people with different and diverse identity and characteristics)

A lively and dynamic discussion took place, and diverse answers. from different perspectives were given to the questions by the participants, There were same that said that they will recommend to the alien to live in an heterogonous community, this will give him the opportunity to know different cultures. Others said that in spite that they live in homogenous community, because is more harmonious, however they will recommend that the alien to live in a heterogeneous community; no noticing the contradiction that they were facing. Much discussion took place on defining what is an heterogeneous and homogenous community An interest and important conclusion was   that everybody, in general speaking, participates in different groups with diverse identities (religious, cultural, social  economical ideological, political, and others) Same groups are very homogenous for example the religious group, but others are very heterogeneous like the sport group etc.

My personal reflection was related to the tensions that exist and dilemmas that unity and diversity are confronted, particularly related to the theme of this year's Congress being  "Embracing Diversity and Building Unity through Civic Education. I should point out that the theme is very close to my research, writing and teaching human right education; civic education; education for democracy, tolerance, no discrimination and esteem for cultural and social diversity, and above all education for human dignity

I emphasis that from my own experience, to elaborate a discourse in favor of diversity is much more easy than to live in real life the experience of diversity. In this regard I told the participants that I remember being in Durban in 2001 in the World conference on racism, xenophobia and all kind of other intolerances, where I met the most great expression of multiple culture and social people with their different languages, dresses, songs, music’s, foods, smells, colors, faces.  I said that an Indian men look at me, he just look intently at me. I couldn’t understand the way he was looking at me. I almost wanted to tell him: don’t look at me like that way, however I contain myself.

In spite that I had a discourse of supporting cultural diversity it was very difficult to experience it. In effect, to encounter with the diversity it is not easy. It is a learning process that is not achieved by one occurrence, particularly when we have been used to live in the homogeneity, when we do not have the sufficient flexibility and opening to accept different values, different customs, different habits, different looks, different tonalities. I felt, in Durban that the diversity was exceeding my capacity to deconstruct the explicit and implicit messages, of so many different groups, with so many different histories, and symbols. The multiplicity of identities overcomes my understanding. I felt that I didn’t possess the intellectual and affective competences to comprehend diversity.

I stated that I could process intellectually the unknown and diverse entities, build a discourse of generalities in abstract terms, but untied from realities. The diversity in the concrete manifestations, in the daily thing, in his excessive materialization was squashing me, and was submitting me.

 I then understood that the meeting with the diversity of identities is a pedagogic assignment, a learning process, a long learning process in the knowledge of Other one, as legitimate Other. An assignment of life; to posse the aptitude to penetrate with delivery in the identity of others; to learn to face my fears and prejudices, to decode languages and different faces, to understand the limits between the own and the different, to accept the differences in his particularities and in his universality.

In this perspective, I pointed out, that Civic Education cannot be indifferent to the many dilemmas and tensions that unity and diversity is facing in our global and complex society, for two main reasons a) civic education is being influenced by the position that hold in regard to unity and diversity; b) civic education has, in my personal opinion, an ethical responsibility, in supporting cultural and social diversity as a mean of enhancing tolerance, non-discrimination, and to reinforce the human rights principal that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…and  have the right to cultural and social diversity in order  to maintain and  increase their  personal and collective identity”

I added that, unity and diversity in general are complementary, however there are two different and controversial concepts, which for the most part in the educational system enter into tensions and conflicts. Dilemmas and tensions can develop and conflicts can arise, when the open acceptance of diversity is perceived as a threat to the preservation of national unity and, when the school is not able of recognizing, accepting, respecting, and/or understanding   the social and cultural diversity that coexist in it. In other word, tensions happen when an educational ideology of homogenization prevail over a conception of heterogeneity in an educational setting that is multicultural.

To unify, homogenize and uniform students, particularly in Latin America, has been for generation one of the main objective of education, and particularly of Civic Education. The arguments used to enforce such criterion has been to convert education in an instrument for generating national unity and equity and to impose an uniform set of ideals and values directly and indirectly on all the students, without considering social and cultural differentiation and diversity.

Social and cultural diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the students as a result of globalization and massive education and became an ethical imperative to the school, inseparable from respect for human dignity and a commitment to human rights. When schools are not willing or prepared to deal with this reality we are facing problems, dilemmas and tensions

In regard to globalization, in which we are immersed, is impacting many aspects of our personal and collective life: in the economical, political, social and cultural feature. All these dimensions have an echo and influence on education, on the curriculum, and on Civic Education in which there are included citizen values, traditions, cultural artifacts and symbolic universes. All of them drive, in occasions, to reinforce individualistic patterns, the democratic policies, the economic rationality, the utilitarianism, the predominance of the media etc

The process of globalization when related to school curriculum has become “isomorphic”, meaning a unify, uniform and homogeny curriculum. This curriculum has been spread in many educational system of the world .The curriculum has become very similar from one country to another. The isomorphic curriculum has its expression in the design and production of the school curriculum, the selection and organization of the knowledge, the pedagogical strategies and evaluation procedure. Only to give an example of the isomorphic pattern, it should be mention that the quality of education and the achievement of students are compared internationally through the implementation of worldwide tests like “Pisa”, “Timms” and others.

 The questions that come up- that constitute a serious dilemma- are if it emerging a world unifies culture and an international identity? and if this is the case, which are the effects on the autonomy of the existing and the social and cultural diversity?; what are the effects on the local and national identities?;  are we facing a collapse of the traditional identities?; is education and the curriculum going to abandon its main objective: to develop a national and  civic democratic identity, or educate for “universal identity”?; could the “isomorphic curriculum” coexist with the “idiosyncratic curriculum” the one that represent  the cultural  and particular diversity,  and the national and  local identity?  

Massive education has introduced in school s diversity that had different levels of expression: students present differences in their skills and potentials to face the school demands of learning; students are different in gender, socio-economic and cultural contexts and background, can have different capacities and aptitudes, ethnic, sexual orientations, physical and different psychological personality, attitudes and values etc. All this differences can affect the expectations and attitudes and pace to be taught, learn and act. The dilemma is that teachers have been prepared to deal with equableness, uniformity and homogeneity and not with diversity, which leads generally, to postpone, put off, marginalize, exclude, and finally expel students from school

In same occasions, diversity can be see in school as something negative, as an obstacle that prevents the development of the students and as a way to elaborated stereotypes for example: the women are not good for the mathematics; the poor are not to have successful; the people of color are less intelligent; the persons who have physical or psychological impediments are minus valid etc. They are generally auto fulfilled prophecies, not for the fact of the diversity but because the diversity is defined and worked as something harmful.

Today there is a worldwide tendency to grade and rank schools.  This is the case of Chile. The ranking supposes the homogenization; presume that all the students are equal (which is a false premise).  Additionally, the homogenization is based on the premise that subsist a perfect and an ideal prototype of a “good student” where the failings or differences must be corrected .The tension is that the acceptance of the diversity, as a reality that exist in schools, that is necessary as an humanistic and human rights platform, it implies rejecting the “normalization” and “homogenization” of the students. It is not logical to expect uniform results from a heterogeneous group of pupils under uniform tasks.

One additional dilemma that the educational system is facing is the incapacity to develop an inclusive education where the acceptance and attention of diversity is to be expected, where schools accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. On the contrary, schools are becoming more and more cultural and socially segregate This is the case of Chile, but I am sure that it applies to other countries as well .The OECD has found that in Chile schools, in all levels of education, are highly segregate. In order to maintain religious, cultural and particularly socioeconomic unity and identity as well homogeneous learning achievement   students attend separate and uniform schools, where social and cultural diversity is very rare. Students from vulnerable and poor socioeconomic income converge in public state schools and student from the affluent class assist to well off and well-equipped private schools.