Conflict and Chaos:
War and Education
Professor Lynn Davies
University of Birmingham
19th January 2004
"Lynn Davies is Emeritus Professor of International Education in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham. Her background is in teaching at primary, secondary and teacher education levels, in Mauritius and Malaysia as well as UK. Research and consultancy interests lie in the broad field of education governance and equity, but with a particular focus on conflict, extremism and security across a range of international contexts. She is also a Director of the social enterprise "ConnectFutures", which is engaged in community-based solutions to extremism and exploitation, working with the police, and training hard-to-reach youth."
THERE ARE NO SIGNS that the world is becoming less conflict ridden; the contrary is true. Nor is there any evidence that education has made much impact on achieving peace: again, on the contrary. Those countries with long-established formal education systems are no less likely to be aggressive and to initiate war than those with a shorter history of schooling or with less widespread access. This paper summarises the arguments and conclusions of my recently completed book Education and Conflict: Complexity and Chaos (Davies 2004), which explores the links between conflict and education. These links can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly, one can look at the roots of conflict such as inequality, ethnicity or gendered violence, and see where schooling is implicated in such social phenomena. Secondly, one can look at the effects of violent conflict on education itself. Thirdly, one can look at the direct impact of school curricula and organisation on conflict - in war education as well as peace education. Fourthly, one can look at strategic educational responses to conflict – post-conflict reconstruction as well as conflict resolution within the school. Finally, one can set out a vision for the future and how things could be different. The book tries to do all these things. It also tries to set the issues within a suitable theoretical framework, and explores the potential of complexity theory for the task. This all may seem hopelessly over-ambitious, but my view is that it is actually an urgent international endeavour if we are going to start the process of enabling education really to work for peace instead of the converse.
Conflict is a complex and non-linear area, but until we get fully interactive web-based productions of ideas, our papers and books have to be written in a linear way. This paper follows the progression of the book, beginning first with a very brief outline of the relevant aspects of complexity theory, before moving on to roots, effects, responses and prognoses.
THERE HAS BEEN A NEGLECT of theorising to explain the contribution of education to national or global tension. Reproduction and labelling theories as well as different psychological theories of aggression can provide some clues, but we lack a suitable theoretical framework to explain macro issues of how education can reproduce conflict on a global scale, or conversely, how some educational arenas are active in the struggle for peace and how some schools in conflict zones are resilient while others crumble. Complexity theory can provide a number of insights into such puzzles. Complexity is of course not just one theory, but a collection of often disparate fields of study, including artificial intelligence, game theory, computer science, ecology, evolution and philosophy. A central feature is the study of ‘complex adaptive systems’ (CAS), otherwise called dynamic or non-linear systems – such as the weather, the brain or the economy. I have selected six features of such systems.
Non-linearity, firstly, refers to the phenomenon that components of a system are interdependent, so that change in one part intricately – and unpredictably - affects operation in another; change is not smooth, ordered or predictable but often rapid, discontinuous and turbulent. Systems can be ‘nested’ in each other, and interdependent, such as schools within community and community within wider society. The stressors of political violence, for example, interact, so that individual characteristics of the interpretation of events and ability to cope interact with the family networks, the economic context and the material and ideological structure of a society (Gibson 1989). Complex nested systems can be near-equilibrium, or they can be ‘dissipative’ or far-from-equilibrium.
‘Sensitive dependence on initial conditions’, secondly, refers to the phenomenon that the slightest change in one place can produce disproportionate effects somewhere else – often referred to as the ‘butterfly effect’. These amplification mechanisms have enormous implications for conflict, with what seems like a small event leading to riots or turbulence on a massive scale. While it can take only one or two people to fan the flames of violence, unfortunately the converse seems less true, that one or two people can spark a sustainable peace. Yet the notion of amplification and initial conditions does give grounds for hope to education, that a small action could have larger impacts for good elsewhere.
A third important area is that of self-organisation. Complex adaptive systems ‘self-organize’ – not necessarily with a leader – into ever more complex structures. People organize themselves into economies, through myriad acts of buying and selling. There need to be just enough rules to limit randomness, not so many that they stifle creativity, or remain in a state of equilibrium. Complex adaptive systems make predictions based on ‘models’ of the world – just as the brain does when we try to picture where a new sofa might go in our lounge. Anything that we call a ‘skill’ or ‘expertise’ in an implicit model – a huge set of operating procedures that have been inscribed on the nervous system and refined by years of experience. The issue for us is that morality is not necessarily part of such self-organisation – when a CAS changes, it does so for survival and new order. Competition may improve a species, but then as others compete again, none is better off. This is the classic phenomenon of the arms race.
Most complex systems, fourthly, exhibit what are called ‘attractors’, states into which the system eventually settles. A dynamic system has ‘multiple attractors’; and cultural evolution has attractors equivalent to bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states. The connection with conflict is how different attractor states are in tension; and how societies with the attractor state of social exclusion may be more likely to be conflictual ones. Linked to attractor states is the notion of bifurcation or polarisation, where, in educational terms, a polarised pattern of inequality, and the tendency to reward high achievement and penalise failure, operates as a ‘positive’ feedback loop to intensify social divisions.
Fifthly comes the importance of information. This is critical in complex systems and their ability to survive. Everything from bacteria to trees responds to information – whether chemical or other languages. The brain has millions of neural connections and information pathways, but is not just a ‘computer made of meat’. In human information, there is room for emotion, intuition, music, as well as information about information – truth and rumour. The power of information links to networks and networking, and the importance of connectivity in an organisation.
Lastly is the concept of the ‘edge of chaos’. In the search for adaptation or survival, systems get to ‘self-organized criticality’, otherwise called the edge of chaos, or phase transition. This is the delicate balancing point between stability and total mess, one where change and better order is possible. Apparently features such as the eye are difficult to explain through natural selection or random mutation. These are evolutionary breakthroughs rather than incremental development. Chaos is not then randomness, but highly complex information – leading to new patterns. These can become ‘frozen accidents’ – chance events from the past becoming an integral part of life. Formal education systems may, like the QWERTY keyboard, be just such frozen accidents.
I take an example of Al-Qaeda to demonstrate complexity. It is non-linear, in that the whole is certainly greater than its parts, with different rationalities combining for ‘success’. It has ‘strange attractors’, building on group identity, the need to join the cause. It exhibits self-organized criticality, searching for supremacy, and co-evolving. It understands amplification and initial conditions, with the attack on the World Trade Centre being a classic example of a huge effect – still not fully played out. It has highly effective information systems across all the cells and networks. And it operates at the edge of chaos, searching for emergence, a new world order.
In contrast – or parallel – how can we work towards a CAS dedicated to peace and to non-violent forms of conflict resolution? We will need different sets of attractors, but the same faith in small turbulences. We will need to harness the power of information, understanding the causes of conflict and networking with others for peace. We would need a value system which is international enough for acceptance and yet is flexible enough to bring us to the edge of chaos and a new world order. My question is whether education can operate or contribute in this way given its current structures. My conclusion initially is not optimistic, as the following analysis summarises.
THE ANTECEDENTS TO CONFLICT are, by definition, complex and interdependent, but for the purposes of the discussion, I distinguish three main areas in order to pinpoint the role of education. First is economic or class relations. Real and perceived economic injustices can generate conflict; and those conflicts that appear to have a religious or cultural base can often be traced back to an economic root, such as unequal access to power, employment, housing or water. Education has an ambiguous role here. On the one hand is the conventional human capital analysis that education can serve to lift a country out of absolute and relative poverty (and therefore implicitly ameliorate poverty-related conflict); on the other hand, is the argument that education produces and reproduces – or actually exaggerates – social divisions, therefore contributing to the likelihood of tension. Within this second strand of analysis is however the palliative function of education as acting to legitimate inequality – that is, by attributing economic inequality to ‘ability’, people do not challenge their position. The book argues that the reproductive role of education is the strongest, and provides examples from many parts of the world of how education systems have served to increase marginalisation and social exclusion. Globalisation and simplistic market economics (in which education has joined) have added to such divisions and to the frustrations of the economically abandoned. Class conflicts internal to a country have added to bifurcation, polarisation and social exclusion. Nonetheless, there are seeds of hope in some of the models of participatory democracy in education, as can be seen in Brazil (Hatcher 2002). These enable grassroots control of education and the re-integration of the working class into educational decision-making.
A second antecedent to conflict is that of gender relations. Women have a different relationship to some of the elements which link to conflict, such as environmental degradation, poverty and human rights violations. Women, with few exceptions, have not taken part in the management of international security. While there are many ways to be masculine - just as there are many ways to be feminine - dominant masculinity in many countries is that characterized by toughness, misogyny, homophobia, confrontational sport and use or threat of violence and fighting (Connell 2000). Dominant masculinity is closely linked to militarism, the cult of the ‘hero’ and, at the extreme, the use of the rape of ‘enemy’ women to signify power and humiliation. While describing some of the women’s peace movements ‘across the divide’, the book also however gives examples of how women can have a role in violence; complexity theory enables us to see how class intersects with gender to find women carving out political spaces which use aggression, as well as seeing how men can be active in peace movements. Complexity theory is important in the challenge to stereotyping and ‘essentialist’ views of male and female. Nonetheless, analyses of how schools act to reproduce gender relations and how they can be sites for gender-based violence do not paint a comfortable picture for schools. Homophobia is still rife, as is the sexual abuse of girls by fellow students and by teachers. Research has found that the themes in societies which lead to interpersonal and inter-societal violence are war-like ideals for manhood; male public and economic leadership; female invisibility in politics; gender segregation; and emotional displays of male virility (Kimmel 2000). I suggest a counter to these, of the promotion of differing ideals of manhood and femalehood; encouragement of female participation in politics and economic life; coeducation; and education for emotional literacy for both sexes.
A third, and equally important area of analysis is that of pluralism or diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion, tribalism and nationalism. While pluralism characterises virtually all societies, this can be positive and harmonious; but a large number of armed conflicts are those defined by ethnic or other forms of ‘difference’. Our concerns within education would be around questions of identity, and what sorts of collective identities schools transmit or reinforce. There is a need to look at religious schools as well as nationalistic curriculum. How do schools construct ‘us’ and ‘others’? What messages does segregated schooling provide about the need to be educated apart from others of different faiths, or from others taking a secular position? Do schools prepare for the political mobilisation around identity which is the cornerstone of mistrust of others? Sometimes this is ‘violence by omission’ (Salmi 1999) – a reluctance or refusal to tackle the racism or intolerance which may be endemic outside the school. Sometimes it is actual institutional or system-wide racism (as in the old South African apartheid schooling); or it may be at least a similar bifurcation to that of social class, through the de facto ethnically segregated schooling that results from population movements and housing allocations. There have been many analyses of whether multiculturalism and/or anti-racism can act to promote ‘tolerance’; my view is that there are still dangers of this ‘tolerance’ constructing images of ‘the other’. I prefer – in line with complexity theory – the recognition of hybrid identities (Babha 1994). This celebrates not just the multiple identities in all of us, but that of the fusion between them: we are all unique in the ways that different histories combine in our identity, albeit sharing with others the fact that none of us is ‘pure’ in a nationalistic way. Citizenship education has the potential to celebrate hybridity, as long as it is not hijacked into nationalistic civics or into a narrow form of values education which is not based on international conventions on human rights. School organisation is implicated here: a significant area in learning how to treat others is that of revenge – a key driver of reprisal attacks and cycles of retribution. Schooling, through its punishment regimes, may promote revenge as a viable option in its ‘discipline’ procedures.
THE ABOVE ANALYSES derive from a somewhat indirect or even unintended role of education in contributing to the social inequalities which in turn may generate conflict. I now turn to the more direct connections. In one direction is the impact of conflict on schooling itself. Here it is possible to catalogue a whole range of effects, structural and psychological. Schools and universities are not just destroyed in conflict zones, but may be direct targets, as in the University of Sarajevo. They may be taken over by the military, so that teachers or librarians return to buildings bearing signs of a complete disregard for their original function, as I saw in Kosovo. Educational records are wiped out, so that people may not even know who is missing. Teachers are killed or can be conscripted into rebel armies, and of course the phenomenon of child soldiers is a continuing one in many parts of the world. Refugees and internally displaced persons create burdens in particular regions such as the Sudan where an estimate of 3.5 million people are internally displaced (Graham-Brown 1991). This is very different from concerns (and the complaints) about refugees in wealthier countries, although there are educational issues there about inclusion and whether/how to educate for a ‘return’. Civil war can lead to a bifurcation or even a trifurcation of curricula (as in Bosnia-Herzegovina), in order deliberately and even artificially to construct the need for differentiation. Psychologically, there is the aftermath of trauma and stress in children from witnessing or even participating in armed violence. However, there are some inspiring examples of schools that have been resilient to the conflict around them, in countries such as Lebanon, Uganda, Bosnia, Nepal and Liberia. The ‘parallel education system’ set up by the Albanians under Serb occupation was a classic example of ‘self-organisation’ in complexity terms. Schools ‘modelled’ a future where they would be independent. ‘Safe schools’ projects in South Africa similarly model a better world without violence, using connectivity with other schools and with the police. Examples of resilience to the inexorable push of conflict do give hope and transferable ideas.
However, elsewhere we see evidence of schools doing the converse – of directly preparing children for war. Military training can range from the terrorist training camp to the cadet forces in ‘normal’ state schools. There is much still done under the label of the ‘defence’ curriculum in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Violent schools can be found in many violent societies, where gun cultures, drug or gang cultures and the aftermath of domestic violence permeate the school compounds; yet violent schools are not just to be found in overtly violent contexts. Epp and Watkinson’s Systemic Violence (1996) reveals the complicity of schools in Canada in supporting violence, dehumanisation and stratification. Harber (2001) provides a complex overview of ‘schooling as violence’ across the globe, much of it in ‘normal’ authoritarian schools. Physical punishment is an obvious preparation for the idea that violence is a good solution to a problem, and there are large numbers of teachers, parents and students in countries ranging from USA to Taiwan, from Morocco to Zimbabwe, who still support corporal punishment as a viable way to ‘correct’ pupils. In curriculum, the preparation is by way of the legitimation of military activity. In the history curriculum, the teaching of peace and non-violence is mainly rhetorical, theoretical and sporadic. In contrast, the teaching about struggle, war and violence is historically grounded, well illustrated and well fitted into the context of the development of civilisation (Najkevska 2000). Children are mentally prepared for war this way. The acceptance by large chunks of the USA and UK public (and MPs) of the need to go to war with Iraq in 2003 I would argue is at least partly because of this portrayal of war as part of the natural chain of events. Another reason is the absence of critical pedagogy in many schools and the decline of political education which would enable critical examination of political messages.
A final way in which schools prepare for war is through competition and the examination system. This instils fear and anxiety from an early age. Failure can lead to frustration and low self-esteem, predisposing to violence or tension; generalised fear shows itself in a gun culture which insists on the right to protect oneself, as in USA. Corruption and cheating in examinations can become part of the breakdown of trust and responsibility which ought to characterize peaceful societies. Individual competition deskills and devalues the cooperative efforts which again ought to characterize more harmonious societies. The greed for success is fuelled by obsessions with ‘standards’ and winners in education. There are hence myriad ways in which a culture of testing can militate against the promotion of peace. What is disturbing is that all of this is ignored in the race for supremacy in educational achievement, and is fuelled by neo-liberal market economics (Porter 1999).
Nonetheless, I do not devalue nor ignore the efforts and initiatives that are occurring across many countries in education for peace. This ranges from the many excellent peace education ‘packages’ which schools and NGOs can use, to those schools that overall try to ‘make sense’ of the world in different ways. Peace education is – or should not be – just about ‘being nice to each other’ (Fisher 2000). It is about creating a degree of turbulence in the system, by challenging the taken-for-granted realities about problem solutions and about ‘difference’. Some of the peace education manuals contain highly controversial material about global justice, and use case studies of real conflict situations to enable analysis of cause and effect as well as how to take action for peace. Alternatively, or surrounding such packages, peace education can be ‘permeated’ through curriculum or indeed the whole school, as in the 7,400 UNESCO ‘Associated Schools’ which are found in 170 countries (Davies, Harber and Schweisfurth 2003). Such schools are committed to the ideals of UNESCO in forging a culture of peace, democracy, rights and sustainable development, and they encourage students and teachers to take action in the community and beyond in pursuit of these ideals – to engage in ‘daring acts’. Our review inevitably found some variation in interpretation by the schools of what this meant, and some that focussed very much on another UNESCO ideal, that of preservation of heritage (as this was less threatening); but what was valuable was that the ‘badge’ of a major international organisation such as UNESCO gave legitimation to peace efforts and to the inclusion of this in overcrowded curricula. This unique network can have some indirect impact on education, and indeed with effective dissemination can have an amplifying effect.
The book also runs through other ways in which peace education can be done – through human rights education, through the democratic organisation of the school, through fostering dialogue and encounters across cultures or across divides of a dispute. It concluded that ‘emergence’ comes from another three Es – of exposure, encounter and experience. Paradoxically, peace education comes from exposure to conflict, learning from people who disagree with you rather than those who agree. These dialogues often occur in humanitarian education post-conflict – to which I next turn.
EDUCATIONAL RESPONSES IN SOCIETIES in or ‘post’ conflict can be very different from ‘normal’ schools. Sometimes there is a desire to return to traditional schooling as a means of psychological security, but many lessons have been learned about the transformatory content and style of education needed in conflict societies which, I argue, have lessons for ‘stable’ societies as well. The humanitarian education work with child soldiers and with refugees is particularly salient. A complex emergency needs a complex educational response, with a combination of recreation, trauma therapy, practical skills, peace education and an integrated curriculum. It is recognized that the survival of the organism depends on the capacity for adaptation, deriving from the use of play, creativity and imagination to enable new learning behaviours. As well as ‘play’, of particular relevance to complexity theory is the way that much effective education post-conflict uses feedback in the shape of dialogue with and between children, and listening to the voices and histories of children and teachers and their needs.
Reconstruction post-conflict is in fact not about returning to some previous ‘normality’ or default imperative (which may have played a part in the conflict in the first place) but about building a new political and public culture. A culture of violence has to be transformed into a new non-violent normality (Stewart 1998) – a new attractor state. However, different ideologies can be at play here – between modernizers and conservatives, between those wanting to reshape or dissolve boundaries and those wanting to return to ethnic or nationalist certainties. There are at least five different areas for reconstruction where education has a role: that of reconciliation and reconstructing relationships (including relationships with ‘returnees’); restoring a culture of learning, in terms of libraries, museums and cultural activities as well as in formal schools; reconstructing relationships to language – including both the question of language rights and of the use of language in discourses on war and enemy; rewriting curriculum and textbooks; and reconstructing good governance, including the role of citizenship education and the role of higher education in public administration. Of significance for all of these, as with peace education, is a monitoring role which tries to assess impact. How do we know that these efforts are creating long-term change? Connectivity of education with other social arenas is key here, to look at amplification mechanisms, the ‘gentle action’ which leads to emergence.
THIS LEADS INTO DISCUSSION of how we can learn from international peace-keeping activities to foster effective conflict resolution within an educational institution. I argue that there are three principles at stake here: equity (as between the partners involved in the dispute); ownership (of the conflict); and transparency (about the causes and stakeholders). In conventional forms of ‘discipline’ in schools these three principles are violated on a daily basis. Pupils are not seen as having equal rights in the dispute; teachers own the means of resolution through punishment; and analysis of the problem is bypassed in favour of swift retribution. But many schools are starting to question such power-based discipline and are replacing this with skills in conflict resolution for both teachers and pupils (and sometimes parents and governors).
There are huge debates about the nature and ideology of conflict resolution, but the need for conflict analysis and conflict mapping seems incontrovertible. This leads to analysis of different conflict ‘styles’, and then to specific conflict resolution techniques. The strategies would include conflict prevention through the use of various pupil forums such as school councils; the learning and practice of negotiation and bargaining skills; peer mediation; arbitration and school ombudsmen; anger analysis and management; consensus seeking methods; and the development of restorative justice programmes. Such techniques imply particular forms of training for both pupils and teachers, but also raise wider issues of policy and legislation around rule-making and democracy in schools. Should there be, as in some European countries, formal legislation to ensure pupil voice and pupil representation in educational decision-making (Davies and Kirkpatrick 2000)? The aim of ‘win-win’ outcomes should – as with the post-conflict reconstruction mentioned above – not be to return to some notion of harmonious neutrality, but to lead to new creativity and emergence in the framing a dynamic context for the surfacing and tackling of disputes.
I HAVE PROPOSED a theory of conflict that is called ‘complexity shutdown’ – that negative conflict is caused by a breakdown in connectivity and in complex information processing. The paradox that emerges from my argument is that formal education in peace-time is more likely to add to conflict than is non-formal education in conflict-time. This is because much formal education results in damage to connectivity – between the wealthy and the poor, between males and females, between different ethnic or religious groups, between the ‘able’ and the ‘less able’. Educational initiatives post-conflict on the other hand can be genuinely about inclusion: trying to heal and reintegrate the traumatised, the child soldiers, the refugees, and trying to build a cohesive political and public culture. Post-conflict education initiatives are less about selection and ‘standards’ and more about cooperation and ‘encounters’. I am not optimistic that formal education can solve world peace. Without a massive dismantling of the examination system and a radical rethinking of the goals of education, the most it could probably do is to do no further harm (as we have argued for school leadership, Davies and Harber 2003).
Yet complexity theory does talk about amplification and the butterfly effect, so let us think positive. Thinking positive in this context means actually fostering positive or constructive conflict. This is difficult for schools, with their emphasis on control and compliance – and especially in the current climate of accountability and standardisation. Fisher et al (2000) make an important distinction between intensifying and escalating conflict. The former means making a conflict more open and visible for purposeful, non-violent means (for example when people are doing well and do not notice or acknowledge others who are marginalized). The latter refers to situations when tension or violence are increasing (because of inadequate channels for dialogue, instability, injustice and fear). Intensifying conflict would have a purposive aim to shake people from complacency or apathy, passivity or fatalism. Cultural transformation is a norm, not a problem. Conflict plays the role of a catalyst; people are seeking consensus, not necessarily by looking for common ground, but by studying differences with no constraint on views or opinions. There is acknowledgement of diversity and that there are zones of uncertainty – ‘value-dark zones’. Nonetheless, some sort of value position is necessary to go forward, and I and many others argue that this should be based on international human rights conventions and on the ‘least worst’ form of political organisation - which is democracy.
Clearly, there are many forms and definitions of democracy; and there is no guarantee that so-called democratic countries are any less likely to be aggressive or condone war. Rather than a simple representative or even participative democracy, I argue for a form of complex democracy which I term ‘interruptive democracy’. This forms the basis for the complex adaptive school. I define interruptive democracy as ‘the process by which people are enabled to intervene in practices which continue injustice’. It is an ‘in-your-face’ democracy – not just taking part, but the disposition to challenge. It is the democracy of the hand shooting up, the ‘excuse-me’ reflex. It is by definition non-linear, finding spaces for dissent, resilience and action. For education, interruptive democracy combines four elements: the handling of identity and fear; the need for deliberation and dialogue; the need for creativity, play and humour; and the impetus for a defiant agency.
Firstly, then, the aim is to promote a secure sense of self, but not one that is exclusionary of others. Schools are actually probably better at affirming cultural diversity than they are academic diversity, as the latter is actually impossible under their screening function. I argue for the promotion and celebration of hybridity in identity – multiple belongings and histories, combined uniquely in each of us (so that we feel special), but with belonging to a group which is not necessarily forged in relation to something or somebody ‘different’. Belonging to the top stream is by definition exclusionary, with identity secured by not being in any other stream; belonging to the UNESCO club on the other hand does not mean an identity forged against ‘non-UNESCO’ people. We have to avoid essentialism and celebrate diversity, but this does not mean a return to a cultural relativism, where ‘anything goes’. The universal principles of rights and equity provide the mechanisms to question culture or claims to diversity when these appear to do harm. This is the interruptive part. A hybrid identity is also unfinished, and links to the importance of a concept of ‘unfinished knowledge’ in school as well as to ‘unfinished cultures’ outside. In dialogues and encounters across various divides, the key seems to be to replace ‘who one is’ with ‘what one’s experiences are’. A good social science or political education curriculum enables the critical pedagogy within which to discuss identity and difference.
This links, secondly, to the aspect of deliberative democracy: this means dialogue, exchanges across various ‘borders’, public discourses of agreement and disagreement based on attempts at mutual intelligibility and evidence. In schools this would be operationalised through school councils, class councils, circle times, pupil unions and youth parliaments as well as through various parts of the curriculum. I raise the question of whether citizenship education should be less about being a ‘good citizen’ and more about keeping arguments alive. Just as biological diversity is essential for evolution, an unpredictable future demands argumentative diversity (L and M). We do not know what arguments we might need. Schooling is about increasing the ‘possibility space’ of thinking.
Thirdly, creativity. This is one of the ‘fuzzy’ components of a human complex adaptive system. Its components are fresh ideas and new formulations (including metaphors, imagery, paradoxes, humour, jokes and story telling). The huge importance of play in post-conflict humanitarian education settings is not just about a nice environment, but enabling the working through of myriad emotions and new modelling. Humour is another crucial educational feature. The ability to take a joke is the sign of a healthy society, a healthy government or a healthy religion. The inability to take a joke against oneself is a sign of insecurity – which is why political cartoonists are imprisoned in authoritarian states. Humour is a classic form of cultural interruption (or non-linearity in complexity terms), and gentle irreverence is an important skill. Impropriety and attacking dogma are the hallmarks of many successful resistance groups.
But all these skills and understandings are not enough without the disposition to act. The final aspect of interruptive democracy is a sense of agency, that one can and should make a difference. Apple (2000) argues that social criticism is the ultimate act of patriotism. This has implications for teachers, who need to model the ‘daring acts’. Protesting and supporting causes are seen as risky activities for teachers in some countries, but simply telling students to be active citizens may be as futile as telling them to behave.
As said, schooling on its own will not solve world peace. Nor will it be able to heal or control children living in violent or drug-related communities. I am not over-romanticising the possibilities for schools. But I think they can interrupt the processes towards more violence. I end therefore with a summary of the ten features of the interruptive school:
1 a wide range of forums for positive conflict
2 organised and frequent ways to generate connectivity, dialogue, deliberation, argument, information exchange, empathy
3 avenues for belonging which are not exclusionary or segregated and which value hybridity, not purity
4 a critical pedagogy and political education which surface inequalities and which contain language and media analysis
5 an emphasis on rights and active responsibilities to other learners
6 learning of conflict mapping and conflict resolution skills
7 acknowledge of unfinished knowledge and unfinished cultures, of fuzzy logic
8 creativity, play, humour, both to heal and to interrupt dogma
9 the modelling by teachers of protest and resistance
10 risk taking and limit testing which push the school towards the edge of chaos and to creative emergence
I know schools which do some or all of the above, and am thankful for their inspiration and ‘possibility space’. But they are by no means enough. I do not know whether, if we had enough complex adaptive schools across the world, this would at least help to avert negative conflict and produce generations attuned to alternatives to violence; but I am clear that as they are at the moment, the majority of schools will just be doing their bit for the war effort.
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