970 Years and 1 Month
The conference opened with the usual ‘long time, no see’ natter, and the facilitator Charo Lanao brought everyone together with groups physically crafting ‘‘living sculptures” of their visions for the present and future, as well as reflections on people’s experiences and backgrounds. A tally counted 970 years and 1 month of collective ‘global citizenship education’ (GCE) knowledge in the room on that one day. So I expected to pick up a thing or two.
Panel Exploring Polarisation and Systems Change
The opening panel dealt with the structural and systemic problems in our societies, workplaces and governments and how individual actions and lived experiences fit within solutions to address these. Dr Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, highlighted how GCE practitioners can consider the polarisations around them and their participants, and the pursuit of ‘positive’ peace and ‘negative’ peace (“the promotion of peacefulness through positive interactions like civility, cooperation and care” peace” versus “the absence of violence, destructive conflict, and war,” bold added).
I found this distinction a helpful example of how even the most seemingly straightforward ideas can contain quite diverse and even incompatible assumptions and expectations, depending on the people ‘in the room’. This awareness of what we bring to the conversations and groups we find ourselves in is always worthwhile, helping us identity and talk through sometimes subtle yet substantial differences in how we understand the problems and worlds around us.
Dr Ebun Joseph, Director of the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies (IABS), amongst many other qualifications and roles, also emphasised the importance of ‘healthy conversations’ for addressing the sticky behaviours and systems of oppression we haven’t fully shaked off yet (a purposeful choice of words, as opposed to ‘difficult’ conversations, which can prime people to resist, defend, or fight). Using an instance of racist descrimination between colleagues in a workplace as an example, Dr Joseph advises that the whole workplace should be involved in the resolution, not just the people directly involved. When discrimination happens within any context, whether at work, in education, or in public, we need to explore how and why it was enabled in the first place, and then actively change the structures and behaviours which allowed discrimination to happen.
Most of us can name a dozen angles from which we do not face barriers and discriminatoin in everyday life like other people do, and we all have a responsibility to be part of the movements to rid of prejudice and abuse. Demanding healthy and meaningful conversations from ourselves and the spaces we’re in is one vital step in being part of an equitable, just and sustainable present and future for all.
Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector
Ikal Ang’elei, an environmental activist, spoke about the importance for practitioners and activists to always work with and alongside affected communities, citing her experience as Co-Founder and Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, which works for social, economic and environmental justice for the lands and people in the area. It is an easy though grave error for genuinely enthusiastic and well-meaning individuals and groups to get caught up in their visions for their solutions instead of constructing these in partnership with the people impacted. The phrase “Nothing about us without us” springs to mind.
Mamobo Ogoro, an award winning scholar, social entrepreneur, activist and artist, followed by emphasising inclusion and belonging as key elements to reaching these visions GCE practitioners often strive for, naming dialogue as fundamental to her work with her digital media start-up GORM Media and her PhD research with minorities in Ireland. This calls for practitioners to challenge box-ticking exercises of simply getting certain people are ‘in the room’, asking if everyone in the room is fully able participate in conversations and decision-making, and what we need to do on the individual- and system-level to promote this ‘belonging’ for all.
Dr Audrey Bryan, Associate Professor of Sociology in DCU, then raised critical questions about the individualisation and prescription of GCE in Ireland. She also cautioned the increasing focus on measurable technical skills to the detriment of considering holistically the relationships between individuals, their communities, and the challenges faced across society. Dr Bryan spoke to these ideas and more at the recorded webinar Future Trends in Development Education hosted by IDEA in Dec 2021.
Bobby McCormack, Co-Founder and Director of Development Perspectives, talked about developing the ‘innovation ecosystems’ within the sector and emphasised the opportunities for partnership especially with less obvious colleagues, sharing the example of Development Perspectives working with EirGrid to host community forums to include their voice in several energy projects. This suggests interesting opportunities outside the normal bounds of what organisations consider GCE and their roles in a changing world, offering bridges between areas of life not typically linked, from the energy system to community health to agriculture to far more.
During the Q&A, I found one moment worth noting: one attendee asked for suggestions for teaching useful and abstract tools like systems thinking to children, and another attendee quickly took the microphone to share resources produced by their own organisation for exactly this purpose. While a small interaction, it was hardly minor, and just one reminder from the day of the value of sharing these open spaces with our peers. Someone sitting behind you often has something that will help you, even before you realise you need help.
Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector
This session posed important questions about our responsibilities as practitioners to the people and groups we work with, who we engage with in the first place, and why. Our answers can inform how we approach our work and help us to see the groups we work with (and don’t work with) as multifaceted and feeling pressures from various directions. What does this mean for fostering space to communicate, build skills, and perhaps sow seeds for peace – and which kind?
The second workshop I attended was Global Business and Human Rights with Mark Cumming. Business is an area many in GCE spaces are averse to, so the workshop sought to highlight the importance of working for human rights in the business realm, and to equip attendees to do so. We explored power of and accountability within business spaces, the state of affairs in Ireland, and what practitioners and the sector can do now and moving forward to better engage with the private sector. One key point made is the importance of building communities and movements for change, including encouraging people to join communities for their passions, and even trade unions, which the large majority of attendees reported not being part of.
Early in the final workshop, Cumming referenced the Audre Lorde quote “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This is a challenge for all GCE practitioners in their work: to what degree does the work we do uphold existing structures and systems despite best intentions, and to what degree does our work truly enable communities to achieve their visions within – dare I say – a changing world? Don’t worry, I don’t have a clean answer either.
The Value in Sharing Space
What I am most excited about are the coming weeks and months, when the conversations and ideas shared will percolate in my mind and influence my work in obvious and subtle ways, some examples of which already spring to mind. And so what are the next steps for global citizenship and educating in a changing world? Healthy conversations, critical reflection, and collaboration across sectors may not be novel suggestions to some or most, but are nonetheless vital to achieving a present we can stand over.
Connect with Criomhthann over LinkedIn or Twitter.
This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin and STAND News & Comms Intern Penelope Norman.
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