Topic 4 Educational Responses to Extremism

The units that follow outline key principles and pedagogical strategies that were shared in our workshops. There was a strong focus on how to listen. This is at the heart of this module – learning the art of listening.  

It’s important to create spaces to explore how young people really feel about belonging, what they think it is about, talk through difficult issues, and to explore issues about language together, rather than listing words that are forbidden or assuming we know what belonging and inclusion mean to young people, their families and communities. 

Question: There is a tendency to ask those who are most hurt by, for example, racism to explain it, or to identify themselves and tell their personal stories. Reflect on common practices in your educational setting. Which people are constantly asked to explain these issues to others?

Task: Spend ten minutes free writing in response to each of the following paragraphs.
W.E.B du Bois famously described the experience of ‘double consciousness’: “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say [..] It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

“There is something very corrosive about these imposed identities and derogatory slurs that can come at you at any time. Just a word can make someone feel a foot tall, with all the assumptions that word brings in its trail. It creates social anxiety and this difficulty of having to always be so honest, so upfront about identity, overly proving oneself, in order to battle against the conceptions of the mainstream community and the education system. It means straddling two worlds, and never being able to simply be a professional but rather having to think about one’s own identity, and this means questioning whether one belongs. It’s hard then to ever truly belong to spaces that have been so hostile. There can be a feeling that a sense of belonging can be taken away at any time. Even where one has ‘white privilege’, for instance, hiding behind one’s skin as a Traveller, this is ultimately damaging for mental health, even if it helps survival in the short term.” (Participant)

Lynn Davies outlines the following principles, stating that PVE (preventing violent extremism) ‘should focus less on what students should not become and more on what they actively become’ (2018: 49). She argues that what appears to work most effectively are not those approaches premised on an intervention but rather non-prescriptive approaches that are based on listening and embedded within the culture of the school or youth project.

  • When a strategy is firmly embedded into a school in its permanent safeguarding policy, in its ways of thinking (e.g. rights, integrative complexity, philosophy for children) and in its curriculum (e.g. multiple perspective history)
  • When teachers have had good (i.e. more than superficial) preparation to be able to discuss controversial issues, react to an immediate terrorist event and/or safely and sensibly identify children at risk
  • When a programme is non-prescriptive, not moralising, but leads to independent thinking and reflection on ethical dilemmas and concerns; when learners are listened to.
  • When a holistic set of ‘recipients’ is envisaged and targeted – students, teachers, family and community, acknowledging the networks of interaction that surround learners
  • When a wider range of actors is involved and consulted on the programme – local police, religious leaders, community actors, social workers
  • When a multitude of ‘drivers’ of extremism is acknowledged and a programme does not just target one (e.g. poverty, or ideology)
  • When a programme is not just learning about ‘other’ faiths, but provides a political understanding of conflict
  • When a practical and visible outcome is achieved: civic engagement, campaigns, production of counter-narrative materials, i.e. that learners are not just recipients of ‘interventions’ but become active in anti-extremism work themselves. (2019: 49).

Source: Davies, L. (2018) Review of Educational Initiatives in Counter-Extremism Internationally: What Works? Gothenberg: The Segerstedt Institute. 

In his review, Students as suspects?: The challenges of developing counter-radicalisation policies in education in Council of Europe member states, Ragazzi asks whether policies aimed at countering radicalisation (PVE and CVE) might have the opposite effect in the education sector, serving to create suspect communities, securitising education, and undermining human rights. He suggests that the Council of Europe principles of Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC), Human Rights Education (HRE) and Competences for Democratic Culture (CDC) conflict with counter-radicalisation policies. He describes these educational principles as follows: 

(1)Education as a transformative process: Criticising the status quo and questioning established values can be a key principle of education for democratic life, grounded in valuing human dignity and rights as well as the development of critical skills. 

(2)Schools as safe and free learning environments: Providing quality education means that schools should be spaces for experiencing democracy and freedom of expression in a critical fashion. 

(3)Education based on diversity: Promoting intercultural dialogue against racism and discrimination and sharing knowledge about all cultures, which allows pupils to learn to value cultural diversity, openness to cultural otherness and respect, cannot take place in an environment that considers a section of the population a priori suspect. 

(4)Teachers as role models: Teachers cannot be considered as role models for democratic education if they are perceived to be discriminating against a category of students.’ (2017: 5) 

Source: Ragazzi, F. (2018) Students as suspects?: The challenges of developing counter-radicalisation policies in education in Council of Europe member states. DGII/EDU/CCY-2017-8, Interim Report.

In their review of the literature, Stephens et al (2019) note the difficulty of mobilising the P/CVE framework. CVE has tended to be driven by a security agenda, and slippage between methods, behaviour and ideas is prevalent in that literature. They identify four themes and outline the sub-sets of approaches that are related to those themes in their review of the literature that has sought to respond to critiques of security-driven prevention. 

  1. Theme: The Resilient Individual. Approaches: a. Developing cognitive resources; b. Fostering character traits; c. Promoting or strengthening values. 
  2. Theme: Identity and Identities. Approaches: a. Adolescence as a period of identity search; b. Identity threat and belonging; c. Creating space to explore identities; d. Strengthening and validating identities. 
  3. Theme: Dialogue and Action. Approaches: a. Create space for exploration and critique of controversial issues; b. Create space for airing of frustrations and grievances in relation to power; c. Provide opportunities for engagement in action. 
  4. Theme: Engaged Resilient Communities. Approaches: a. Community engagement; b. Community Resilience. 

They suggest that this approach to resilience and prevention ‘can shift the focus from protecting youth from extremist ideas, to providing the resources which enable youth in divisive and polarizing environments to address positively the questions of their values, where they stand in relation to others and society, and what realms of choice and action are available to them’ (2019: 11). 

Source: Stephens, W., Sieckelinck, S and Boutellier, H. (2019) ‘Preventing Violent Extremism: A Review of the Literature’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2018.1543144