An important aspect of global citizenship education is enabling learners to understand where their perspectives are coming from. In other words, to analyse the lenses through which they see and interpret the world, which is the focus of Unit 3 entitled Questioning Images: Representation and Critical Visual Literacy.
The increased presence of social media in our lives, like Twitter for example, means that we are surrounded by people’s points of view all the time. But, how well do we know the assumptions behind these views and, more importantly, their implications?
In theory, having different opinions circulating freely online should be a good thing, but if we read them carefully, they often state someone’s position in relation to a given topic and nothing else. We rarely get to know what is informing an individual opinion. To complicate matters a bit further, algorithms filter what we read and watch, sometimes giving us the impression that everyone thinks in the same way as we do, a phenomenon known as an echo chamber. There is, however, another problem affecting our capacity to examine different perspectives critically.
Single narratives, especially those of a conservative and right-wing nature, are on the rise these days, think of Andrew Tate for example, or celebrity psychologist Jordan Peterson.1 Their highly articulate arguments are followed by millions of people worldwide. Tate in particular, is said to be very influential amongst young people, especially of school age.
To some extent, single narratives are a symptom of our growing unease with a world we find complex, strange and uncertain. This type of glasses, to use a visual metaphor, gives us a sense of security by reducing the complexity of human experiences to a few ‘facts’. Unit 3 of the GCMC toolkit provides a series of activities to make young learners think about global issues from different angles and to consider the assumptions behind common knowledge. They contain an interesting selection of visual materials that will trigger their curiosity and hopefully lead to some meaningful conversations inside and outside the classroom.
As an educator, there are different resources you can draw on to introduce a topic, especially when it comes to global citizenship and multilingualism. Visual materials are particularly useful because they offer an entry point to issues that have many layers of meaning. Your role is to help learners unpack those layers rather than to be an expert on every single global issue. As one of the teachers we interviewed for the development of the GCMC self-assessment tool (VAKS Framework) said: ‘don’t be the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side’.
Of course, familiarising yourself with some of the main arguments surrounding a particular issue is always good practice, so you have an informed opinion beforehand. However, bear in mind that you are also taking part in the learning process, so your own initial position may change as a result of interacting with your students during an activity.
Throughout unit 3, you will find reference to a methodology for critical thinking called Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry (OSDE). This pedagogical tool rests on three principles that are particularly relevant to global citizenship education:
In the OSDE handbook, each of these principles is explained with a visual analogy and some thought-provoking pictures as well.2 The first one is about the image that is being projected by the lenses we wear every day, which represents ‘our knowledge of ourselves and of the world and, therefore, whether they are close or far from what is considered normal’‘ (OSDE 2006: 4). The second analogy states that our lenses are constructed in specific contexts, which means that we lack the knowledge constructed in other contexts, so ‘we need to listen to different perspectives in order to see/imagine beyond the boundaries of our own lenses’ (ibid). The third analogy is a powerful one in terms of what questioning knowledge means, ‘[it] is not an attempt to break the lenses (to destroy or de-legitimise perspectives), but to sharpen and broaden our vision’ (ibid).
There is a term commonly used in anthropology and intercultural communication that is central to global citizenship and multilingual approaches to education: ethnocentrism. You have probably heard it before, it is the tendency to view your own culture as superior to all others and the standard by which other cultures are categorised and judged. The three principles mentioned above are largely about challenging ethnocentric views, including the idea that English is a superior language.
According to Jane Jackson (2019: 147), one of the leading authors in the field of intercultural communication, ethnocentric thinking can lead to ‘false assumptions and premature judgments about people who have been socialized in a different cultural environment’. The activities in Unit 3 are an invitation to reflect on what we see as ‘normal’ in our own culture. They are also aimed at expanding what can be said about people we see as ‘the other’ (e.g., migrants, refugees), so we avoid making snap judgements that label anything or anyone different from what we expect, as ‘wrong’ or ‘weird’.
Jackson (ibid) argues that ‘an ethnocentric, monocultural mindset can hold one back from cultivating healthy intercultural relationships’. Unit 3 will set your learners on a path of self-discovery and appreciation of diversity that will foster their global citizenship and multilingual skills.
1 See for instance this article on the rise of Peterson’s popularity worldwide: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/07/how-dangerous-is-jordan-b-peterson-the-rightwing-professor-who-hit-a-hornets-nest
2 You can download a free copy of this material, licensed under Creative Commons, through this website: https://decolonialfutures.net/osde/