Charlie Hebdo: In areas with a low concentration of Muslims, the importance of RE in relation to the “social cohesion” mentioned in Mr Nash’s recent letter is all the greater.
Pupils in counties such as our own Norfolk do not routinely interact with Muslims, leaving only media pieces when puzzling together an image of Islam and the murders in Paris. This is especially true due to the one-way nature of sweeping press statements by some Muslims; statements which would be perhaps tempered by one’s Muslim friends, colleagues or neighbors in, say, London or Birmingham.
Especially in areas with very few Muslims, it is absolutely crucial that schools, SACREs and Muslim communities collaborate to prevent the formation of islands of – rightfully – disgusted, frightened and angry Britons, whose only take on Islam is a 30 second video clip of a wounded, prostrate, pleading police officer being executed at point-blank range.
On the subject of complexity
Simple answers do not exist here, due to the fluidity, levels and complexity of the issues – Who speaks for Islam? Does essential Islam exist today? And, if so, what is it? What are the actual rulings on denigration of the religion? … says who?! et cetera ad nauseam. (We need only mention the police officer was also Muslim, to confuse the case).
Hence my previous argument that RE should be used as a staging ground for experimenting with new types of learning strategies to promote higher level thinking in areas where social constructivism is necessary. Any proposed state-tailored and vetted curriculum content* won’t work in such fluid, complex areas where opinionated, internet-savvy teenagers are supposed to be “learning from” religion. Google Islam means peace and think SMSC & Citizenship without having a heart attack – unfortunately, thinking is required.
This is precisely the reason the new series of Enquiry & Immersion school field trip – the first of its kind we believe – is a a result of the collaboration between local RE coordinators and educationalists within the local Muslim community. We hope it may serve as an inspiration, if not a template, for other schools and faith communities elsewhere.
More than mind
On the thinking/learning side, Ihsan Mosque is taking the events in Paris very seriously indeed and we are working to integrate specially related materials followed by a Q&A session into the Enquiry & Immersion trips. This will allow students to themselves position the events into an overall “framework” of subject knowledge on Islam and its history AND give them a chance to ask any relevant, unresolved questions face-to-face.
But something else is required, beyond higher level thinking: the personal encounter. The purpose of the Immersion aspect of these field trips is precisely this recognition that the human being consists of both mind and heart, and a disembodied mental enquiry exercise or an engaging classroom debate on Muslims does not take the place of sitting, eating and speaking with them.
If (subject) knowledge is brick, the meeting is the mortar of community building.
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Deconstructing the Progressive-Traditional Dichotomy; a note to Mr Peal (on the impossible, possible and obligatory nature of social constructivism in the classroom)
As a part of interfaith outreach group for the Muslim community of Norwich, I am in the process of developing a series of RE discovery exercises aimed at primary and secondary schools. I find that structural Cooperative Learning, being firmly grounded in social constructivism, offers a unique tool to teach learners to cope with opposing viewpoints and provides tools to de-construct messages discovering and working outwards from their own understanding… more
* For an example of this argument, well put, see RE’s Knowledge Vacuum by David Ashton