Topic 1 The Story of the Module

Project Questions

Let’s begin Topic 1 by sharing some of the questions that motivated the EDURAD project. We hope this module offers some practical ways of addressing them, as well as theories and insights from research. Our module is designed for educational practitioners and policymakers as both a source of information and sharing, prompt to reflection, and educational resource. These questions provide the context for our approach:

  • What are educational responses to extremism?
  • How can we avoid extreme responses to extremism?
  • What do words like ‘prevention’, ‘resilience’ ‘purpose’ or ‘vulnerability’ mean when approached through an educational lens/tradition?
  • How can we also pay attention to other factors affecting young people’s lives (many more pressing than this issue)?
  • What do certain kinds of ideas give to young people? How do these ideas feel?
  • What kinds of pedagogies and educational atmospheres can foster curiosity about the world, belonging in difference, and a taste for pluralism?
  • How can we as educators and policymakers best support the voices and perspectives of young people in educational settings?

Framing Extremism

We’ll talk through this in more detail, but for now here is a quick overview of some of the elements what might make for an ‘extremist’ position or way of looking at or being in the world. A different way of thinking of this is that one is “too full” to let anything else in, to listen, or to hear other perspectives. Drawing on Freire’s work, Nourredine Erradi has described how when someone is in an extremist mindset, they are ‘full’, like a bottle full of air, and for a time, nothing else can get in so this can’t be forced. Creative attention and the art of listening can slowly create a little space for new ideas.

Quassim Cassam talks about ‘mindset-extremism’. It’s not that someone would have all of the characteristics listed below, but it can help to listen out for when people are too “full” to listen to others, especially if their identity is based on denigrating and excluding others.

  • Desire for purity (Ireland for the Irish only)
  • Intolerance/hatred of difference (just because it’s different)
  • Inability to compromise (on anything)
  • Fear of losing one’s identity (zero-sum logics of identity)
  • Difficulty listening (wants to talk but can’t hear what others say)
  • Us/them (the world divides neatly into two)
  • Ressentiment or philosophy of loss (but not looking at what others are forced to lose)
  • Identity seen as fixed and immutable (back to some ‘inner essence’ of Irishness.
  • Belief in superiority of in-group and hatred of other groups

Our participants also wanted to understand how ‘extremism of the middle’ works, the practice of dividing societies into those who are categorised as the ’same’ and those categorised as ‘different’. Extremism can be/become mainstream. In this way, we can also understand how ‘othering’ operates. 

  1. What do certain kinds of ideas/positions give to young people?
  2. What is their impact on school communities?

Sometimes young people  are exploring and trying out positions but..

  1. What harm does it do to others (and themselves) when educators stay silent when students, colleagues or parents make, for example, racist comments?
  2. What is the experience of students (and staff) when educational spaces operate on the basis of sameness?

The Journey

Our journey begins with ideas and ends with practice and new ideas. It has lots of stages and involved many different perspectives from different people.

In Ireland, many educators and young people felt uncomfortable with words like ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’. We have called this module Sharing the World: Educational Responses to Extremism, and we explain what we mean by extremism shortly.

One of the challenges that education faces is in navigating resistance to living in a pluralistic world. There are many ways in which sharing the world is resisted, for example, investments in ‘extremist’ or ‘identitarian’ identity positions. These are intolerant of pluralism and difference and desire purity. So too, we can think of discourses of assimilation and integration that permit inclusion only by losing oneself in a ‘superior’ or dominant model.

This is why alongside (philosophical) enquiry we work with aesthetic (feelings and senses) and existential (who am I?) strategies, exploring ‘how ideas feel’. This helps to understand why people invest feelings and identities in certain positions and helps to explore issues like fear of loss of identity or even desire for power that can drive such closed positions.

What you have in this module is a translation of these dialogues into both food for thought and reflection as we introduce some key ideas, as well as practical educational resources.

What Really Matters

Let’s start with what mattered to everyone.

  • The importance of sensitivity to context and history: no one size fits all.
  • Commitment to dialogue and cultivating the art of listening even when someone is too ‘full’ or ‘certain’ of their position to hear you.
  • Silence is already taking a position – educators must address in public things said in public.
  • Don’t react with extreme responses when you come across extremism, but don’t ignore extremism.
  • Pay attention to affect or feelings/emotions and how ideas move us, attract us, repel us or help us keep going..
  • Value of pluralism and epistemic diversity: Face the fact of difference and don’t try to erase it! See the value in it.
  • Listen to the expertise of practitioners in developing ideas
  • Give people time to think and reflect together in communities of practice
  • Support the voice and agency of young people in dreaming and imagining new futures

Six Key Pedagogical Themes

We have described what really matters for practitioners, policymakers, and young people and given a brief overview of how we are thinking about ’extremism’. Out of our European dialogues six key themes arose. They map the different dimensions of ‘sharing the world’ and ‘unpacking extremism’ as well as creating ‘time to think’.

  • Supporting critical thinking and critical dialogue, including conflict resolution and engaging in difficult conversations.
  • Exploring the affective lives of young people, including what belonging means and how it feels to belong or not belong with young people.
  • Engaging with difference, including complicating the stories of history and ‘identitarian’ narratives.
  • Cultivating democratic life and democratic culture, alongside a socio-ecological understanding of resilience and positive school climates with warm and loving relationships.
  • Developing youth work and educational approaches to critically and imaginatively engage with the digital world and online life.
  • Creating communities of practice and opportunities for self and co-enquiry, learning, and sharing for practitioners involved in education, in particular in engaging with issues relating to both extremism and violence.