07 SES 12 A, (In)Justice and Differences
This paper examines the question of how we understand children's engagement with religious and non-religious purality in the context of marketised, unequal school systems and education policies. While European education policy has outlined key principles for the teaching of religious education which centrally include children's meaning-making (OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [ODIHR] 2007), it has largely failed to engage a wider understanding of plurality, beyond ethnicity and religion, to take age-related status, and, gender, class and race consciousness and wider structural/societal injustices into account. In line with critical intercultural education theory (Baker et al. 2009), the paper argues the multiple belongings, paradoxes and injustices through which children's religious and non-religious worldviews are formed must be examined in cultivating intercultural orientations and deep engagement with plurality (Connolly 2005).
The paper takes schooling and childhood in globalised Ireland as a case study. 90% of all Irish primary schools are Catholic-run, and sacramental preparation is the norm in most schools. Broader political debate about schooling for religious and non-religious difference in Ireland has intensified in the past decade due to the decline of the moral authority of the Catholic Church and religious, non-religious and ethnic population diversification. But rather than creatively reconceptualise/reconstruct the school sector, Irish policies on schooling are actively intensifying competition among different private religious and secular school patrons for parental interest. This arguably undermines both schools' and families' capacity to engage with religious and non-religious difference across communities, and to critique narrow self-interest. It rather encourages faith and secular schools to market an unambiguous religious or secular brand to families. As Connolly (2005, p. 64) asserts, ‘to support the possibility of multiple faiths negotiating with dignity on the same territory’, each faith group (or in this case, worldview), must not assume it has access to the highest truth: rather each should engage "awareness of the element of rupture or mystery already simmering’ in their worldview". Deep political engagement with plurality necessitates not branding, but engagement with ambiguity within and across multiple forms of difference. It requires breaking down not just arbitrary (Catholic Irish) majoritarianism, but challenging a variety of school-related injustices.
The paper draws on participatory research with over 100 children aged between 7 and 8 years across a variety of Catholic and secular schools in urban, rural and suburban settings. Based within a critical intercultural framework, the data demonstrates the need to understand the dynamic, ongoing ways children encounter both mass marketised societies and religious traditions in forming their own worldviews. It highlights the percolating diversity of Catholic, minority religious and non-religious children’s’ experience and shows how everyday dynamics of tradition, commodification, resistance and creativity amongst children are linked into social, economic and political dynamics and injustices on broader geographical scales.
It is argued children find multiple ways of negotiating the differences, conflicts, paradoxes and ambiguities that are present both within and across religious and school settings. They do not simply grow ‘up’ from blank-innocence to all-knowingness. They grow ‘sideways’ (Bond Stockton 2009), finding creative ways of negotiating their own differences and unknowns within and beyond adults’ religious/secular representation of the world. I argue that intercultural education needs to avoid representing children as members of monolithic ethno-religious or non-religious groups, and understand them as interdependent minorities who move within, across and outside the boundaries of organised worldviews with and through mass consumer culture. Deep engagement with plurality then, must not simply acknowledge that children make meaning from the world: it must engage children’s sideways growth as a way of understanding the paradoxes, and challenging the injustices of school and society.
The data in this paper form part of a large qualitative, study of childhoods and socio-religious change involving 172 participants aged between 6 and 92 years (Kitching and Shanneik, 2015). My colleague Yafa Shanneik and I examined children’s, young people’s, parents’ teachers’, clerics’ and senior citizens’ experiences of childhood in four differing school localities with varying ethnic and class demographies. The majority of the fieldwork involved over one hundred 7–8-year-old children in classroom art and drama-based activities, and photo and video response techniques with friendship-based focus groups. Most of these children attended second class (the fourth year of primary school), where preparation for first communion during school hours is the norm in Catholic schools. Empirical data analysis focuses on children's encounters with a variety of sacred and non-sacred places, people and mass consumer and religious objects that are significant to them. Researching children’s lives, as with adults of a variety of backgrounds, requires the understanding that one can never entirely access children’s experiences directly (Jones 2003). I acknowledge from the outset that, children’s encounters with the world will always remain to some extent other to, and out of my reach as adult researcher. I also recognise that children should not be stereotyped as labelled more experimental, playful or alternative in how they encounter the world or engage with difference. This is not least because children are shaped as growing ‘up’ through prevailing (racialised, gendered and classed) childrearing norms and stages of schooling, and understandably find recognition by seeking to reproduce such norms. Nevertheless, children tend to be afforded greater space and time to be regarded as ‘unknowing’, to engage the unknown and experiment with norms as part of growing up. Children’s otherness or queerness (Bond Stockton 2009) in this regard is somewhat accommodated, even if their experimentation is disregarded as ‘childish’, or even sometimes inappropriate or unusual for their age. The data analysis engages the everyday ways children experience comfort and pleasure and confronting suffering, pain and the unknown within, across and outside of organised worldviews through their encounters with places, people, objects and ideas. In line with In line with an ethos of deep engagement with plurality and the messiness of everyday life, children's worldviews are presented as not amenable to final mastery, infallibility or ‘proof’, and involving encounters between bodily senses, emotions and material objects.
Alexander (2015) argues that paradoxically, in order to encourage freedom of conscience amongst children, we must initially restrict those freedoms to particular forms of education (e.g. education about religion, or through religion). However, postsecular ethics recognise that there is no one blueprint for contemporary secular-religious relations, or for what a secular education system should look like. To quote Braidotti (2014), the postsecular condition is, rather, diverse, multicultural, and internally differentiated. As such, in understanding how children engage with plurality, we need to engage the ways in which they engage paradoxes, ambiguities and inequalities, Alexander (2015) does provide a useful grounding of, and guiding principles for these complexities in context of schooling. He argues for a space for both common and faith schools, but that we need to be able to distinguish between orientations that promote a way of being for common life across difference and apparently incommensurable cultures, and those that do not. In this regard, he distinguishes between moral/ethical and amoral/non-ethical ideologies (or worldviews). Moral worldviews are capable of engaging human freedom, intelligence and fallibility – concepts that are “not morally neutral, but… do allow for a wide degree of pluralism within reasonable limits” (Alexander 2015, p. 95) . Amoral worldviews believe they have the whole truth and deny human freedom, intelligence and fallibility. Drawing on children's negotiation of a variety of school and societal contexts, I conclude by arguing that the challenging of (Catholic) majoritarianism, the engagement of presumptive generosity, openness to fallibility and contestability of one’s worldview, engagement of uncategorisable experience of the centrality of material culture to all worldviews, and legitimate resentment at injustice support deep engagement with plurality and as such, the moral expression of worldview and critical intercultural education.
Alexander, H. (2015) Reimagining liberal education: Affiliation and inquiry in democratic schooling. London: Bloomsbury. Baker, J., Lynch, K., Cantillon, S., & Walsh, J. (2009). Equality from theory to action (2nd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. Bond Stockton, K. (2009). The queer child, or growing sideways in the twentieth century, Durham: Duke University Press. Braidotti, R. (2014). The residual spirituality in critical theory: A case for affirmative postsecular publics. In R. Braidotti, B. Blaagaard, T. De Graauw, & E. Midden (Eds.), Transformations of religion and the public sphere. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 249-272. Connolly. W. (2005). Pluralism. London: Duke University Press. Kitching, K. and Shanneik, Y. (2015). Children's beliefs and belonging: A schools and families report from the 'making communion' study. Cork: Authors. Jones, O. (2003) ‘Endlessly revisited and forever gone’: On memory, reverie and emotional imagination in doing children’s geographies. Children’s Geographies, vol. 1, 2003, pp. 25-36. OSCE and ODIHR (2007). Toledo guiding principles on teaching about religions and beliefs in public schools. Warsaw: ODIHR.
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