25 SES 09 A, Mixed Issues - Aesthetics, Justice and Rights Language
The study presented in this paper examines language use in the teaching of children’s human rights in three school classes of varying ages, and more particularly how the language used in teaching practices extends and specifies the human rights learning situation.
Education is a fundamentally communicative process in which participants together name, consider, reconsider and revise the topics or phenomena under deliberation. Several renowned educational theorists have pointed to the centrality of language in the teaching and learning process (Dewey, 1929/1958; Freire, 1968; Vygotsky, 1986/1934). In research on human rights education, the significance of dialogue and discussion has been emphasised (Tibbitts and Katz 2017; Bajaj, 2011), but findings also indicate that explicit use of rights language seems to be uncommon when students are taught about their rights (Struthers, 2015, Quennerstedt, 2019). Despite the common conviction of the importance of communication and language, and research pointing to insufficient use of rights language in schools’ rights education, little attention has been paid to language aspects in children’s human rights education.
The study draws theoretically on John Dewey’s thinking about the essential role of human language as the means of conveying knowledge and assisting thought. Dewey (1929) viewed language as a crucial driving force for the development of thinking, mind and the capacity to act. He took a specific interest in how the designating and meaning conveying functions of language work in the development of the intellect (Dewey, 1910). He insisted that it is essential that the close relation between language and the growth of intellect is acted upon in education: through teaching and learning, students’ vocabulary needs to be transformed from the practical to the intellectual. This includes qualification of everyday language through two main processes: (i) the extension of vocabulary, and (ii) rendering the vocabulary more precise and accurate.
In line with Deweys theorising, the study examined
- how the language used in teaching in the three classes offered an extension of the students’ vocabulary within the field of children’s human rights, and
- how the language use provided possibilities to make the vocabulary more precise.
Language use in learning situations and the role of language in processes of learning has been extensively studied in relation to other areas than human rights learning. One example is Malmström, et al. (2017) who pointed to exposure to central vocabulary as central to learning. The authors examined how teachers draw students’ attention to the central vocabulary and identified a range of different techniques used to emphasise a term. This study can be said to examine the exposure to human rights terminology (in a wide sense).
This study further takes the stance that children’s rights are included in the human rights. To mark that these are not understood as separate, the area is conceptualised in the study as children’s human rights.
The data for this research was created by means of qualitative observations of ongoing educational practice in six Swedish school classes of differing ages, class 2-3, 5 and 8. The teachers were asked to plan and undertake class work about children’s human rights. The researchers did not instruct the teachers in any way, but emphasised that they were free to decide on time frame, content and working methods. Five to seven lessons in each class were observed and video-documented. In total, approximately 30 films spanning 30-80 minutes constituted the data. From the total data set, certain sequences were selected for analysis. These were teaching that targeted the whole class, either led by the teacher or by a media chosen by the teacher. The sequences included instances when the teacher talked to the whole class in the form of lectures, discussions, summaries or repetition, and instances when the teacher had replaced her/his own action and voice with, for example, films. The analysis drew closely on Dewey’s theorisation and the two educational endeavours of language use: the extension of vocabulary and making the vocabulary more precise and accurate (1910;1929). The following analytical questions were posed to the selected sequences: ● Which human rights concepts are used and emphasised in the teaching? ● With which societal areas/topics are human rights concepts related? ● What kinds of precision of human rights vocabulary occur? ● What nuances and shades of meaning concerning human rights are clarified through the detailing of concepts? Terms and themes that answered the questions were continually noted, and gradually thematised. With regard to the extension dimension, the analysis identified a number of areas around which the enlarged vocabulary congregate. These were labelled extension focal points. Concerning the precision dimension, the analysis distinguished differing purposes of moving initially vague ideas and uses of a term towards a more accurate and precise use. These were labelled precision objectives. The ethical considerations included a carefully designed process for informed consent and confidentiality in line with Swedish ethical regulations and scholarly arguments for sound research ethics in research involving children (Graham & Fitzgerald, 2010; Harcourt & Quennerstedt, 2014).
The extension focal points, which clarify areas around which the enlarged vocabulary congregate, demonstrate both the content of the extended vocabulary, i.e. which actual terms and concepts that are introduced and emphasised, and the generic relations that are constituted by clustering these precise concepts around a phenomenon. The following extension focal points were identified: 1) The United Nations, 2) Humans in forced migration, 3) International history, 4) Ethical guidance in human coexistence, 5) Life conditions, and 6) The democratic state and rule of law. As expected, the age of the students affected how many of these focal points that were used in the teaching; only the first two appeared in the youngest, all in the oldest. Further, the complexity of the links made in the teaching increased with age, but not as much as expected and with some exceptions. The precision dimension illuminate the motives of pushing vague ideas and uses of a term towards sharper accuracy and precision, thereby adding depth and nuances to the students’ understanding of human rights. The following precision objectives were identified: 1) Designation (naming), 2) Elaboration, and 3) Human rights crime demarcation. Designation by naming rights was the dominant way of precision in all age groups, while elaboration was quite uncommon. The teaching thereby stayed at a shallow level in all classes. The findings will be elaborated in the presentation.
Bajaj, M. (2011). Human rights education: Ideology, location, and approaches. Human Rights Quarterly, 33, 481–508. Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co. Publishers. Dewey, J. (1929/1958). Experience and Nature. New York: Dover Publications Inc. Education, 24th August 2010. U.N. Doc. A/65/322. Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Books Ltd. Malmström, H., Mežek, S., Pecorari, D., Shaw, P., & Irvine, A. (2017). Engaging with terminology in the multilingual classroom: Teachers’ practices for bridging the gap between L1 lectures and English reading. Classroom Discourse, 8(1), 3–18. Quennerstedt, A. Ed. (2019). Teaching children’s human rights in early childhood education and school. Educational aims, content and processes. Reports in Education 21. Örebro University. http://oru.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1301334/FULLTEXT02.pdf Tibbitts, F., & Katz, S. R. (2017). Dilemmas and hopes for human rights education: Curriculum and learning in international contexts. Prospects, 47, 31–40. Vygotsky, L. S. (1986/1934). Thought and language. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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