14 SES 12 A, Teachers' Perspective and Classrooms
PROBLEM AREA: The "Family" in Austria
An increasing contemporary controversy in Austria concerns the composition and function and the attribution of identity to the family in society. The topic of the “family”, within this country, has been the subject of legal reforms and manifest in numerous political phenomenon in recent years. This has given rise to a clash of moral ideals with established forms: Individualisation versus the (extended) family collective and the resulting individual lifestyles versus collective culture control, as well as gender equality versus hierarchical structures (Libisch 2014, 29). Ideals and expectations of family coexistence in society are closely linked to and generate areas of tension with socio-economic and political, as well as demographic development: This becomes evident, for example, in the change in the composition of the family and social origins of primary school children (Oberwimmer, Vogtenhuber, Lassnigg & Schreiner, 2019). Urbanisation and the increase in single parent families are further characteristics of contemporary change in society (Neuwirth, 2011). Relative to the degree of urbanisation, there are also differences with respect to the frequency of occurrence of the "step family” form: In 2019, only ten percent of children under the age of 15 living in small communities, throughout Austria, were part of the step family form (patchwork constellation) (Statistik Austria, 2019).
DERIVATIONS: The “Family” in social science lessons
In social science teaching at primary school level in Austria, the topic of the “family” is anchored in the curriculum. The conflicting priorities, between increasingly polarised societal ideals and expectations on the topic of the “family” and the increasing heterogeneity of family lifestyles in practice, present teachers with challenges when dealing with the subject of the “family” in lessons - especially in schools with a high heterogeneous mix of students. The topic is of key importance in social learning in primary schools, but due to the contemporary developments described above, the topic has to be rated as controversial for teachers (Geisen, Studer & Yıldız, 2014).
As other controversial social aspects are often linked in with the topic of the “family” (Council of Europe, 2015), the research work presented here, therefore, contributes to reflecting on individual and collective behavioural attitudes as well as on social moral judgements in conducting lessons at primary school level. From time to time, these focus on different forms of inclusion and exclusion, which is why the topic of the “family” is becoming increasingly relevant, especially in European societies that are becoming more heterogeneous. Where tacit agreements on unifying images of the family exist, (explicit) discussion about collective values and established patterns of thought, specific to culture and context, must be conducted when teaching and disseminating the topic of the “family” in lessons (Agostini & Köffler 2017a, 14; Agostini & Köffler 2017b, 16-20; Chikoko et al 2011, 16; Camicia 2008, 290).
FOCUS OF RESEARCH: Primary school teachers
The aim of the present research is to conduct a debate, with primary school teachers, on the topic of the "family” on the basis of the conflicting priorities arising between polarised societal and political ideals and expectations of family coexistence and the increasing heterogeneity of family lifestyles in practice. The following research questions are specifically examined:
- What are the controversial aspects around the topic of the "family" that primary school teachers observe within society?
- What difficulties are primary school teachers confronted with in the didactic approach to the topic of the “family” in practice in primary school?
- How do they cope with the challenges of dealing with controversies around the subject of the "family" in the classroom?
Empirical surveys were conducted in two stages: 1) October-December 2019: Online survey of Austrian teachers at primary schools (n= 905) and quantitative analysis: Analyses of thematic content and descriptive statistics were used for the evaluation. Relative to the urban or rural environment - both the respondents' approaches and attitudes to the subject of the family and the assessment of the challenges faced with this topic (e.g.: religion, discrimination, imparting of moral values, economic situation of single parents, attitudes of parents, etc.) were analysed with relevance to teaching in primary school. In presenting the results, reference is primarily made to the following areas: social and educational images of the family, the difficulties in dealing with family issues when teaching, and personal handling of controversies in lessons. The descriptive and inferred statistical results, on the reported challenges on the topic of the family, thus set out the problems and terms of reference as well as the ramifications for teaching and learning practice in primary schools. 2) February-November 2020: Expert interviews, based on an interview guide, (n = 20) and analysis of qualitative content, primarily using an inductive/deductive structure (Mayring, 2016): The experience of the “family” as a controversial topic in teaching forms the starting point for the survey. This was followed by discussion under the categories of “Teaching Style”, “Suitable Teaching Methods” and “Possible Learning Objectives” within the context of controversial topics. Conclusions were drawn on beneficial terms of reference and dealing with controversial discussions in the classroom. Various alternatives for dealing with controversial topics, when teaching, are thought through and discussed, in particular those which are applicable and helpful in the case of very heterogeneous learning groups. The article sets out the challenges faced with the topic of the “family” in primary schools and shows possible didactic consequences for both teaching and learning practice in primary schools and for teacher training.
Particularly when researching the practice of general subject teaching, little attention has so far been paid to conveying controversial social issues. In a first step, therefore, the present work investigates which aspects of the topic of the “family” are generally perceived as controversial by Austrian primary school teachers. This makes it clear which social and political factors are currently influencing approaches to teaching at the primary school level. The focus of this research is then directed to how teachers deal with the contemporary controversial topic of the "family": Both the quantitative and the qualitative analysis of the survey explore how teachers at the primary school level describe difficulties in dealing with the topic of the "family". It is essential to focus on the subject of the “family” as a controversial topic in lessons, particularly as teachers implement implicit social norms in the context of practical action in lessons and are key figures in the transmission of social values in schools. On the basis of this analysis, conclusions are then drawn for social science teaching at primary school level, which include both the difficulties encountered and the strategies used by teachers to cope with them, when dealing with controversial topics in the classroom. The aspects that are particularly taken into account are those that show relevance for further development of the treatment of controversial topics in teacher education research in increasingly heterogeneous societies within Europe.
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