Urszula Markowska-Manista, University of Warsaw
“Education either functions as an instrument … to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women … discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Freire 2003: 34)
Truth and equality are categories that are central to human rights in both local and global contexts, as they speak to diversity in social life. These categories are present among the so-called "contemporary sensitive topics" (Markowska-Manista & Górak-Sosnowska 2022) and include the difficult knowledge of migration and mobility, social and cultural conflicts, education for peace in a world full of inequality and crises, and education for sustainable development and ecology. At the same time, truth and equality are key categories for the implementation of education that imparts knowledge to young people and enables them to acquire the skills to initiate and implement social change. These are categories that, in a critical approach, develop a sense of responsibility for the cultural and natural world, and knowledge regarding social participation, subjectivity and empowerment.
Truth and equality in education are consistently founded on four basic aspects of knowledge and education: "learn to know," "learn to act," "learn to live together," and "learn to be" (Delors 1998). Hence, the constant duty of education is to provide everyone who is part of the process with the conditions necessary for harmonious development (physical, mental and worldview-related), to educate for respect towards nature, other people and their cultures by learning about the dynamics of the world while maintaining respect for oneself and native culture and thus sensitizing to the environment and forming socio-cultural and intercultural competences.
While we have diverse approaches to building planes of equality, tolerance and respect in conventional curricular structures that are based on educational, social and environmental decisions, we need matrices and compasses that would allow us to critically deconstruct content, reflectively orient ourselves in systemically delivered knowledge, participate in the creation of that knowledge, and navigate politically and ideologically constructed curricula. Thus, approaches that are inclusive and take into account the participation of different groups and different narratives, the use of different sources of knowledge, and diverse methods and strategies of work and cooperation seem necessary. Such approaches have a socially critical quality involving majority and minority groups that deconstruct and are simultaneously constructed in a given context, in society and in the environment. It is thus a bundled transaction - (co)learning through action and co-participation for social change in search of social justice and equality in and through education.
The reflexive need to search for planes of truth and equality in and through education provides a legitimate path to reach out to diverse bodies of knowledge, use a variety of tools, and take action that deconstructs schematic practices, so that the knowledge we use is integrated with an awareness of the limits of human interference with our natural environment and the local and global society we are a part of.
The analyses of the planes of truth and equality in and through education are based in this introductory text on an analysis of publications on education for peace, education for sustainable development and equality education related to teaching in unequal societies.
Examples of good practice in these areas can be found, among others, in the book Peace Education: International Perspectives (Bajaj & Hantzopoulos 2016). Prepared by researchers and practitioners deeply involved in peace education efforts in various contexts and locations around the world, the book takes a closer look at the basic concepts and current trends of peace education. Highlighting the need to teach about peace, as well as to teach for peace, the authors offer concrete ideas to readers who want to delve into this field of research, seeking opportunities for work and practice based on critical pedagogy, human rights education, critical race theory, and postcolonial theories.
The authors, following Paolo Freire (1970), advocate strengthening the participation and empowerment of students as agents of transformative change. Involving young people in the educational activities that concern them makes it possible to activate their social potential in the environment and to tap the resources of individual and community action as well as shape the competence of peacebuilding in everyday life. Authentically engaging young people with a diverse set of skills is important for building their sense of responsibility for the community and environment. Participatory education based on a critical analysis of the power dynamics and interdependence between different factors (race, class, gender, special needs, sexual orientation, language, religion, geographic location and other factors) as forms of social stratification, allows for identity-building based on respect for the group the students belong to and the environment that surrounds them. This is complemented by another element - education for equality and diversity as the development of specific skills, and proficiency in the use of knowledge in promoting peace and building the attitudes and behaviors necessary to promote nonviolence.
The publication shows that mass media can also be used to bring about positive social change. One example is provided in the chapter ‘Promoting Peace through Children’s Media: The Case of Sesame Workshop’ (Subramanian et al. 2016) based on a model to build tolerance and mutual respect and understanding among children. Sesame Workshop's holistically oriented, child-centered approach promotes the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture peaceful attitudes, promoting resilience and the ability to interact positively with others. By building critical thinking, it also aims to change children's attitudes by enabling them to challenge forms of structural and cultural violence, including the oppression of marginalized and oppressed groups. Education for Peace, based on the case of Sesame Workshop, allows for the development and expression of empathy, appreciation of similarities and differences, peaceful conflict resolution, cooperation, and the development of basic pro-social skills that children need in specific contexts in both post-conflict and fragile peace.
Read more from Peace Education: International Perspectives here.
Another important and highly topical subject is teaching for sustainable development taking into account the currents of ecopedagogy and critical environmental education approaches. In the book Ecopedagogy: Critical Environmental Teaching for Planetary Justice and Global Sustainable Development (Misiaszek 2020), ecopedagogy is portrayed as education for reading (wise understanding) and rereading human acts of environmental violence and as a process that relies on critical thinking and people's capacity for transformation and deconstruction.
The author focuses on understanding the connections between human acts of environmental violence and acts of social violence that cause injustice, further violence, domination, oppression and unsustainability of the planet. At the same time, it reveals the challenges and boundary situations for ecopedagogy from the side of Post-Truthism and the Sustainable Development Goals (Misiaszek 2020). The educational goal of ecopedagogy, the author emphasizes, is to construct learning with increased social and environmental justice (Misiaszek 2020). This is important because of the need to implement critical teaching, decolonial reading through various epistemologies and methodologies and research by problematizing the causes of socio-environmental violence, including the oppressive processes of globalization and the triadic constructs of citizenship, development and economics.
Read more from Ecopedagogy: Critical Environmental Teaching for Planetary Justice and Global Sustainable Development here.
In the book Teaching in Unequal Societies (Russon et al. 2020), the authors address the subject of teaching in the face of diversity and pluralism, and the issue of inequality in contexts of radical diversity, for example, in relation to school environmental education (Lama 2020). Taking into account the historical, social and cultural context, the authors analyze the impact of inherited caste and racial inequalities on the situation in the school classroom, particularly in terms of relations between students, teachers, institution, environment and the system. At the same time, they point to the phenomenon of the capitalization of education, the undervaluing of the teaching profession and the prejudicial perception of participants in the learning process in terms of clients and consumers of knowledge (George 2020) which is diametrically opposed to an approach based on reflective and critical thinking that seeks empowerment and inclusion in and through education.
Read more from Teaching in Unequal Societies here.
Exploring and discovering the planes of truth and equality in and through education is a rich program area relating to mutual respect and understanding in and for diversity. Shaping the competencies of critical and reflective thinking, peacebuilding and understanding the social aspects of being part of society and nature is based on the pillars of (co)learning through action and co-participation for social change in the search for social (human and planetary) justice and equality in and through education. The publications cited above indicate how education for peace, ecopedagogy and education for sustainable development can be implemented in the curriculum and in the practice of everyday life, taking into account the perspectives of the contexts of time, place and space and relating them to local and global knowledge. The issue worth paying attention to is how, in the face of constant social change, to carry out the task of education of understanding, discovering and seeking truth and equality. This points to education that, in the face of and despite differences, will enable social change based on social justice towards the transformation of individuals and societies (Evanoff 2010) as well as the well-being of the environment and the sustainability of the planet.
Bajaj, M., & Hantzopoulos, M. eds. 2016. Peace Eeducation: International Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Delors, J. 1998. Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris: Unesco.
Evanoff, R. 2010. Bioregionalism and global ethics: A transactional approach to achieving ecological sustainability, social justice, and human well-being. London: Routledge.
Freire, P. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary edition. New York: Continuum.
George, S. K. 2020. 'Prejudice and the Pedagogue: Teaching in a Democratic Classroom' in Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Lama, R. 2020. 'Environmental Education in Schools: Perspective and Challenges', in Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Markowska-Manista, U., Górak-Sosnowska, K. 2022. Tackling sensitive and controversial topics in social research-sensitivity of the field. Society Register, 6(2), 7-16.
Misiaszek, G.W. 2020. Ecopedagogy: Critical environmental teaching for planetary justice and global sustainable development. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Russon, J., George S.K., Jung P.G. 2020. Teaching in Unequal Societies. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Subramanian 2016. 'Sesame Workshop's Approach to Peace Education' in Bajaj, M., & Hantzopoulos, M. Eds. Peace Education: International Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
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