ERG SES G 13, Communities and Education
In times of conflict, increasing diversity due to migration and an increasing renationalization in Europe, the Norwegian subject KRLE, religious education, is given an important role in the Norwegian societies attempts at supporting processes of inclusion in our classrooms. The subject, consisting of three main areas, (1) Christianity, (2) Religions and Philosophies of life, (3) and Ethics, has two main objectives. First, it is to give Norwegian children knowledge about the three listed areas. Second, the subject aims at giving children the competence to talk about these issues with respect and tolerance, a competence that is to be developed by practicing dialogue and other forms of conversation in the classroom. Talking about differences and disagreements on religious and ethical matters is thus an important part of Norwegian religious education. Grounding the subject (KRLE) are three basic principles (a) objectivity, (b) a critical approach and (c) pluralism. However, it is open to interpretation how these basic principles are to be related to the actual teaching done on religious and ethical differences and disagreements. The paper in progress aims at exploring this connection.
The exploration will involve clarifying a number of issues. Starting with an analysis of the three basic principles, I will argue that they place a number of restrictions on how differences and disagreements can be understood, some of which might not be compatible. The argument will be grounded in one basic insight concerning the connection between objectivity and disagreement. Following moral realist theories, I argue that objectivity might be what distinguishes disagreements from mere difference. If two people disagreeing are seen as contradicting one another, this seems to require that they see each other as making a false claim about the same issue, thus presupposing some sort of objective truth. Without contradiction disagreements might not be disagreements, but merely a matter of difference. A core issue in the paper is exploring how this basic insight can be related to (c), pluralism. A strong form of pluralism would claim that systems of value are equally true, leading to some sort of non-realism about truth. In the paper I explore the ide that pluralism might only allow us to talk about differences, and not disagreements.
Having attempted to clarify some of the restriction placed on differences and disagreements by the basic principles (a) objectivity and (c) pluralism, I go on to explore the relation to the third principle (c) a critical approach. A main objective will be to investigate how objectivity and pluralism might affect critical conversations in the classroom, bearing in mind that there is a difference between ethical and religious conversations. The main question to be answered in this part of the paper is this: What is the difference between having a critical conversation when in a disagreement, and having a critical conversation over a mere difference? And more over, how do we have such conversations with respect and tolerance.
This paper is a part of my PhD-project. Through classroom observations using video and interviews with upper secondary students in KRLE, the aim of the project is to develop new knowledge on the way students experience the conversations on differences and disagreements they are a part of in the classroom.
Methods/methodology The objectives of this paper will be underpinned by an analysis of the policy documents grounding the subject KRLE as well as a philosophical analysis into the three basic principles. In terms of methodology, the document analysis and the philosophical analysis must be seen in light of each other. As mentioned above I will later use video observation and interviews in my PhD-project. As these two methods are not part of the data underpinning this paper, I will not elaborate on them here.
Expected outcomes Preliminary analysis of the policy documents in KRLE, seen in light of an initial philosophical analysis of the three basic principles, show that there might be reason to suspect that there are commitments in the policy documents that are not, at first sight, compatible. However, the analysis might show that there are good grounds for having conversations on both differences and disagreements in KRLE. As I have not yet explored the implications of the fact that some conversations have ethics as their content and some have a religious content, I will have to leave this question open for now. The difference between having a critical conversation when in a disagreement and having a critical conversation over a mere difference are expected to be substantial. As important as talking about differences can be for developing understanding and tolerance, it can be argued that disagreement is crucial for classrooms as communities. Conversing over mere differences might fail to motivate argument and discussion. It might be because we assume that only one of two conflicting beliefs can be correct and that one of them must be mistaken, that we think arguing about it makes sense. I expect to show that respect pertains to these kinds of real disagreements.
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