Citizenship Education and its transformative potentials for Peace Education

Jean McNiff

[Word version available]

A paper to be presented at the American Educational Research Association Peace Education SIG

‘Peace Education: Transforming Conflict and Citizenship in Divided Communities’

San Diego, April 2004


I have become increasingly interested in the idea of citizenship since the early 1990s, when I began working in Ireland, because it has raised my awareness around issues of identity, belonging, and participation. Born in England, of Scottish parents, I was brought up to think of myself as Scots. Going to Ireland made me question my commitment to being Scots, and, indeed, to being labelled as anything. When I first started working in Ireland, I continued to live in England, so I regularly commuted, first to Dublin, then, in later times, to Limerick. Because I became so intensely involved in my work in Dublin, I felt the need for somewhere permanent to hang my hat and store my books, so I bought a house. At the time I had an intuition that I would sell up in England and make Ireland my home. For the time that I owned my house, I became a citizen, with voting rights in local elections, though not with a right to vote in referenda, or in national elections. If I had stayed, I dare say I would eventually have won such rights too.

Because I spent so much time in Ireland, my previously Scottish accent became rather Irish. I adopted Irish forms of expression, such as ‘I think it’s grand’ and ‘What would she be doing?’ I was always delighted when people said I sounded Irish. My name, spelt McNiff, is similar to that of a well-known dynasty in Ireland, called ‘McEniff’ (I believe the family owns a hotel chain), and I was always assured that I would receive a warm welcome if I went to Donegal, where the family had football connections.

Over time, I began to develop a new sense of identity. I wanted to be Irish. I am reminded of the famous dramatist and playwright, Micheál MacLiammóir, who, born and brought up in England as Alfred Willmore, and having attended the same English grammar school as Noel Coward, fell in love with Ireland and pronounced himself Irish. He went on to become a well-known dramatist, learning Gaelic well enough to write plays in it, and co-founded the famous Gate Theatre in Dublin.

The experience of transforming myself through living in Ireland led to some confusion of identity. I had always closely allied myself with Scotland but now here I was developing an affinity with Ireland, a situation that my dear father, a staunch Scottish nationalist, would have regarded with horror. The idea of my working with Irish Catholic religious congregations would have been his idea of my descent into depravity.

The question of accent arose. When I went to England, they asked me was I Irish. When I was in Ireland, they said I had an English accent. Both situations were denials of my own commitment to being Scottish. The confusion in how I sounded was as nothing compared to the confusion about who I was. When I watched the matches between Ireland and England, I experienced some dissonance, especially when with Irish friends. In public discourses about ‘them and us’, I began to understand that I was identifying with ‘us’, the Irish; ‘they’, the English, had become the Other. New attitudes rather crept up on me, and it was with some alarm, when I began thinking about my situation and began to analyse and write about it (McNiff 2000), that I realised what was happening in my own mind and took steps to change it.

The firsts step I took was a decision not to let national identity matter, though this was not so much a conscious decision as a feeling of the increasing comfort of living in multiple contexts. I was just as comfortable in Ireland as in England or Scotland. I also began to travel widely, and generally found myself at home with people wherever I went. I came to see that I was not bounded by nationalistic frontiers. The only frontiers I was bounded by were the ones in my mind. At this point I have to say that, although I admire the work of Edward Said enormously, I am concerned when I read his laments about being in exile from his original homeland (for example Said, 2000), and I am led to wonder why it was that he did not see the delight of loosening up his own metaphors of frontier (see also Kennedy 2000) and celebrate who and where he was at the time. I am not denying the deep anguish of yearning (hooks 1991) – I know all about homesickness and the desire for the security of a grounded identity – but, if we are to give the ideas of global unity and peaceful living a chance, I believe we really do need to broaden our horizons beyond national frontiers and see ourselves as people in the world rather than as occupants of a boundaried place.

It is out of the experience of confronting my own understanding of where I belong that I have come to more mature understandings of citizenship, and have begun to interrogate the field, since it has now become a matter of concern to my personal and professional life. I am deeply concerned about the conflict of values (Sowell 1987) that appears to underpin different practices in the field, and how in many quarters non-emancipatory values appear to be dominant. I want to know why this situation exists, and what I can do to change it. While many practices appear to be grounded in a view of citizenship as an opportunity for emancipatory, critical questioning, which promotes the globalisation of humanitarian values through critical self-reflection and a loosening up of constraining attitudes towards others, other practices do not, but insist on locking people into a narrow, more parochial kind of nationalism, a practice that can lead to fundamentalism and totalitarianism, both enemies of peace. I am concerned about how, in these cases, and at a substantive level, the idea of citizenship has become exclusive – that is, how it seeks to exclude (see recent efforts in Britain to reduce the amount of sanctuary extended to asylum seekers and efforts to impose detention without trial in a supposed effort to protect ‘our citizens’ from what Margaret Thatcher called ‘those alien cultures’), and the contradictions this sets up within a world that should be, of necessity, increasingly characterised by inclusiveness through the spread of globalisation and the permeability of frontiers. My greatest concern however lies within my context as a professional educator, because in that context my key interests are around the ontological, epistemological and methodological bases of educational research. I am especially concerned about how current forms of theory are still rooted in a commitment to linguistic analysis, and how this commitment underpins and informs practical actions in the world; and, most importantly, how this form of theory is generated by a form of logic that also is analytical and exclusionary. Those of us in the educational research community who subscribe to dominant discourses are led to speak about citizenship as a thing, an object of study, using a form of logic that enables us to think of ourselves as separate from others. We do not often speak about citizenship from the engaged perspective of being a citizen and what that means for us, or use a form of logic that is inclusive and relational. Given that my educational goals are to invite practitioners to regard their work as an inclusive practice, and develop ways of thinking that are relational in the interests of sustainable social orders, this situation gives me cause for concern because it gives rise to divisiveness and alienation. Propositional analysis and conceptual forms of thinking themselves can become enemies of peace, excluding by their very form. The situation arises that, rather than be seen as an opportunity to celebrate our shared humanity, as is the case in other quarters, citizenship education becomes a closing-in, an inward-looking practice of protecting one’s own patch.

I want to explore these concerns, and suggest ways in which they might be addressed. My current commitments are to challenge fundamentalist attitudes and practices in all their contexts, and, because the only place to start is where I am, I aim to explain how and why I am using my influence for this purpose. I am mindful that I myself have to avoid slipping into a form of fundamentalism by suggesting that I have got it right. I am claiming that I have got some things right for myself, if not for others. If I have not got things entirely right, at least I have got them better than before, and I am testing out this claim against the critique that emerges through public debate. I hope to learn from the critique, and I will find ways of learning more about how I can better contribute to peaceful discourses and practices.

My contexts

I work as a professional educator, mainly in Ireland, where I support the doctoral studies of eight practitioner-researchers. I also contribute to professional development programmes, in Ireland, Britain, and in international contexts, which aim to improve the quality of organisational learning for social transformation. Issues of identity, ownership of knowledge, and achieving peaceful and productive living are key to these programmes. The same issues are at the heart of peace education and citizenship education. Citizenship education is currently receiving attention worldwide (Faulks 2000). It appears on the UK National Curriculum (QCA 2000; QCA/DfEE 1998), and similar curricular interventions are happening in Ireland (Department of Education 1997). Yet the values that underpin non-emancipatory conceptualisations of citizenship and peace education are problematic for me, because they contradict my own educational values.

My educational values are grounded in my commitment to the ideas that people can exercise their own inherent potentials for creativity and originality of mind and critical judgement. This view is influenced by my reading of ideas by thinkers such as Husserl (1962, cited in Moran and Mooney 2000), Goethe (1988), and Chomsky (1986) (see also McNiff 2004). These commitments underpin my own practice, a form of research that investigates how I, working collaboratively with others, might contribute to the development of a new form of educational theory (see McNiff 2000, 2002). I agree with Whitehead that abstract forms of theory need to be incorporated into the living theories that practitioners generate for themselves about how they might contribute to a more peaceful and productive world (Whitehead 2000).

I have to remember, however, that trajectories of social transformation can lead to both good and evil, and no universal standards of judgement exist for what counts as good and evil (Berlin 2002). It seems therefore a moral responsibility that educators make their enquiries public and offer justification for how they choose to live. An implication for me, as a professional educator, is that I accept responsibility for ensuring that the influence I try to exercise in the lives of those whom I support is educative, not manipulative.

My research is informed by the idea of personal responsibility. My efforts to support the enquiries of others as they seek to realise their educational values in their practice, in the interests of their own education and the education of their social formations (see Whitehead 2003, 2004), are guided by a commitment to enable people to think for themselves, and to exercise their capacity for choice in deciding how they should live. Work currently being produced seems to provide evidence that I am fulfilling my goals. For example, Mary Roche, a doctoral candidate in my group, is teaching her four and five year olds to think critically and to question taken for granted assumptions. In current writing she says:

Before beginning philosophy with children I had frequently asked rhetorical questions and closed questions – questions that had only ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Like many teachers, I was using questioning as a form of evaluation, trying to establish whether or not the children were attentive – actively listening and comprehending. I now ask more open-ended questions. I began by encouraging the children to challenge some of the assumptions present in their rhymes and folktales. For example, instead of asking how many colours were in Humpty Dumpty’s trousers in the picture accompanying the rhyme, or how many buttons were on his shirt, I invited the children, instead, to explore their ideas as to why he was up on the wall at all. With such open-endedness all the answers hazarded by the children had the potential to be ‘right’ and many theories were put forward. Child A said, ‘Perhaps he wanted to see all the king’s horses and all the king’s men because he heard the sound of their parade, but he only had short little legs, so he climbed up on the wall to see over it.’ Child C: ‘It’s very dangerous for an egg to climb a wall.’ Child D: ‘Yes, but maybe he didn’t know that he was an egg.’

They began to query such ‘givens’ as to whether Jack (of Beanstalk fame) was actually the hero that he has been portrayed for centuries. After all, he cheated, stole, lied, disobeyed and brought about the death of the giant. The Little Red Hen’s motives in eating all the bread herself were subjected to scrutiny, as were the possible reasons for her friends’ sloth. T. said, ‘Maybe they had a row before the story began and now they are just being mean to her.’ Goldilocks’s trespassing opened up a discussion on privacy and personal rights. Gradually, over the year, the children began to initiate such questions themselves and began to recognise possibilities for ‘good Thinking Times’. This led to a stage where they began to question practices and regulations in school: Why must we always walk on the corridors? Why do we have to have manners?’ A year later, E. asked, when lining up during a fire drill in the playground: ‘What’s so good about straight lines anyway?’ Just recently, in February 2004, following a discussion that began with a story about an imaginary pet and ended up with theories about what reality was, E. said, ‘I am going home with so, so many questions in my head today.’ A., a five-year old girl, announced, ‘When you go home with a question and you get an answer to that question, you can always question the answer.’

(Roche, 2004: 6)

What Mary is doing here is exactly what Russell (1932) said was the work of educators, that is, encouraging the development of thinking in young people, the citizens of tomorrow, rather than producing passive, obedient followers. For Russell, if citizenship meant learning to become acceptant, he would much rather that people became subversives. This theme is developed by critical thinkers such as Todorov (1999), who maintains that totalitarian states come into being through the passivity of persons as much as through the will to power of dictators.

This approach, however, challenges the values that underpin technical rational conceptualisations of citizenship and peace education, which, it would appear, frequently constitute orthodoxies, which are then implemented as schools-based practices. I am concerned that these conceptualisations and practices aim not so much at nurturing compassionate understanding, but are grounded in ‘dangerous illusions which threaten the survival of democratic institutions’ (Mouffe 2000: 128), these dangerous illusions being the ideas ‘that power can be dissolved through rational debate, and that legitimacy can be based on pure rationality’ (pp. 127–128). Faith in rationality is at the heart of propositional forms of logic and theory, the issue that is at the heart of my concerns, and I address these ideas now.

What are my concerns?

I am expressing my concern about how some forms of citizenship and peace education are conceptualised, both in terms of their substantive content and in terms of their formal aspects of theory and logic. While I recognise that the idea of citizenship education is contested and a site for struggle, what concerns me is that there is little recognition in the literatures that the struggle itself is underpinned by issues of forms of logic, a field of discourse that is not often made explicit. Struggle can be understood as a site for creative, life-affirming practices, in which people can exercise their originality and creativity of mind in the pursuit of more sustainable world orders. This is serious business because, unless this underpinning struggle is made explicit and a site for engagement, citizenship education may not come to be regarded as the realisation of humanitarian values, or lead to peaceful practices, but may instead contribute to violence through its content and form. Let me explain.

Substantive issues

The idea of citizenship is rooted in certain non-negotiable assumptions. These are to do with democracy, freedom and participation. ‘Citizenship’ is a term used only in relation to democratic discourses: non-democratic settings do not include citizens among their number. Democracy by definition is to do with issues of freedom and participation, although these ideas have emerged in different manifestations over the centuries. In Athens, for example, democracy was a property of the ruling classes, within a state that took slavery and the exclusion of women as standard. In modern-day democratic societies, slavery would not be entertained (at least not at the level of rhetoric), and women are included (at least at the level of rhetoric).

Like citizenship, the idea of democracy itself is contested. In Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (1991), Chomsky comments on two different conceptions of democracy:

One conception of democracy has it that a democratic society is one in which the public has the means to participate in some meaningful way in the management of their own affairs and the means of information are open and free. If you look up democracy in the dictionary you’ll get a definition something like that.

An alternative conception of democracy is that the public must be barred from managing … their own affairs and the means of information must be kept narrowly and rigidly controlled. That may sound like an odd conception of democracy, but it’s important to understand that it is the prevailing conception.

(Chomsky, 1991: 5–6)

It is certainly the prevailing conception in much mainstream British and Irish education and teacher education contexts. In those contexts, it is assumed that the government will act as a representative who will speak on behalf of its citizens, and the degree of public participation, such that it is, appears to be premised on an assumption that rational debate will lead to a consensus about how we should live as members of a given social order. Conceptualisations of citizenship therefore often appear in the literatures as an unproblematic unified body of theory, communicated via appropriate methodologies, to be imposed on practice (for example Bottery 2000; Wilkins 2000). Within a centralised curriculum, as in England and Ireland, citizenship can appear as part of a wider effort to control what counts as knowledge and who should be regarded as a legitimate knower (Apple 1993), a situation that is deeply problematic for those who believe that citizenship is an opportunity for emancipatory practices and critical engagement and try to practise in that direction.

Broadly speaking, such conceptualisations of citizenship education focus on the transmission of information and values, about how we should behave as good citizens, and why we should do so (Faulks 2000). Some implications are that, within wider debates about neoliberalism and the global order (Derber 2002), and how education is used to promote compliance (Chomsky 2000), it becomes obvious how governments can deliberately set what counts as official knowledge and dictate how it should be imparted. It also becomes clear how governments can draw on the assumed self-evident rightness of consensus-seeking to justify their own practices of not only imposing those forms of theory but also the specific forms of practice that the theory requires. In cases like these, there is a real danger that citizenship education may come to be viewed as a body of reified knowledge about citizenship, to be imparted via an objectives-oriented curriculum, in order to teach children to conform and not to question. Also, given the neo-liberal intentions of most contemporary Western governments to pursue free markets in the interests of corporate elites, largely through the privatisation of social institutions such as education and other public services and their transformation into competitive financial contexts, there is also a real danger that education, especially citizenship education, would focus on training young people to become expert consumers, of knowledge as well as other perishable goods (Herman and McChesney 1997; Hutton and Giddens 2000). These are real dangers, and are in direct contrast to those many contexts where people see citizenship education as emancipatory and an opportunity to promote questioning, an avenue for a more inclusional approach and for respecting young people’s voices.

Like those emancipatory-minded people, I take the view that citizenship education should be transformative and inclusional. For me, social transformation is embodied in collectives of committed individuals who take action to improve their situations according to their democratically negotiated values. My own commitment is to promoting a view of citizenship and peace as agonistic rather than antagonistic (Berlin 1997: Mouffe 2000) – a respect for multiple interests rather than the colonisation of one group by another to impose a particular set of values. Achieving this, however, means developing new forms of theory that depart from alienation through categorisation and the violent imposition of ideas, and embrace relational forms that recognise the politically-constituted base of theory generation within politically-contested forms of living. The generation of these new forms of theory however depends on the kind of logic used, and this, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter.

Forms of logic

The concept ‘form of logic’ refers to how we think. In terms of the present discussion, how we think always needs to be seen as a problematic issue.

People do not think in any one way, or the same way. My dominant mode of thinking is visual, and in childhood this presented serious difficulties because I was required to articulate my ideas verbally rather than visually (see McNiff 2004). I hear that Einstein had similar problems.

Famous experiments in psychology demonstrate that when people and animals become accustomed to a particular way of perceiving, it is virtually impossible for them to perceive in a different way. For example, Annis and Frost (1973) investigated the capacity of Canadian Cree Indians brought up in a traditional setting to judge whether two lines were parallel or not, with the capacity of Canadian Cree Indians who had been brought up in the carpentered environments of urban architectures. Those who had been brought up in the non-carpentered environments could easily make judgements about parallel lines at all angles, whereas those brought up in carpentered settings were good at judging only vertical and horizontal lines. In another experiment, Blakemore and Cooper (1970) demonstrated that kittens that were brought up in an environment of vertical lines could not later perceive horizontal lines.

This idea of the difficulty of changing our ways of thinking is well borne out by a colleague with whom I am currently working in a small project in Ireland, to do with raising awareness of gender issues in health care settings (McNiff in preparation). The organiser, Rosalie Doherty, was concerned that providers themselves should be focally aware of the need for gender awareness (Doherty, in preparation). Unless providers were aware, how could they incorporate egalitarian practices into the structures of the programmes they arranged? In my capacity as consultant to the project, and working collaboratively with Rosalie, we encouraged participants to begin to question their own perceptions and become aware themselves of how they think. A remarkable sea-change has taken place for some participants. For example, Jacinta Davenport writes:

Through my reading and discussions … I reflected on my interpretation of gender for the first time. Prior to this I never considered how gender is socially constructed and maintained for men and women alike. I saw gender as fixed and immovable. I accepted the gender stereotypes as they were, never really questioning if men and women were treated differently in society and if so, what might be the reasons why. … For the first time I am asking questions:

· Do I as a woman do what is best for me or what is ‘expected of me’ in society?

· Do I reinforce female stereotypes in my behaviour, attitudes, values and expectations?

As I write these questions, I realise that I am nervous expressing these thoughts publicly. I realise that if I am honest I am afraid of raising these issues in case I will be associated with being a ‘feminist’. I realise now with embarrassment that I have associated gender with ‘women fighting for their rights’ and that this had had a negative resonance in me. My thinking and behaviour up to now has reflected the social norm that I never stopped to reflect upon or challenge. I have written in my reflective diary:

‘I now realise that I have continued to reinforce accepted gender roles in my personal and professional life through fear and ignorance. From now on I am going to be more active in raising awareness through modelling and promoting gender fair behaviour, being fair to both men and women.’

(Davenport 2004)

It is most difficult for those of us who are taught to think that we live in a male-dominated universe actually to think outside a frame in which males are dominant, so while for Jacinta to come to the point where she is questioning her own way of thinking is a manifestation of what is needed, it is also the starting point for enabling a more holistic approach to gender-sensitive work practices. Similarly, when I first went to Ireland, I brought with me what I had learnt from my English history books. I expected to meet troublesome rebels, and I expected them to greet me with the respect due to a visiting landlady, as had been the due, in colonial times, of many absentee English landowners. I went through a hard school of knocks in learning that Irish history and English history could have been written on different planets, let alone in different countries. As well as exercising my own prejudices, I also had to endure the prejudices of others who were prepared to categorise me along with other English people (unfair!), by being told, ‘We suffer the legacy of your ancestors’ and other such comments. Suddenly I was no longer a person in my own right but a symbol of ‘my’ ancestors. When I think about it, some conversations in Ireland were not really between me and my contemporaries, in our living incarnations, so much as between me and them acting on behalf of our dead. The dead, however, no longer worry about which category they are supposed to belong to, in the same way that skin colour loses much of its significance for someone who is blind.

Habermas (1994) develops the same theme in relation to the problematic of how international law can support world peace:

Are the principles of international law so intertwined with the standards of Western rationality – a rationality built in, as it were, to Western culture – that such principles are of no use for the nonpartisan adjudication of international conflicts?

(Habermas 1994: 20)

(Francis Fukuyama should take note when he speaks about the desirability of the globalisation of American values – see Fukuyama 1995.)

Habermas is right to foreground the centrality of rationality. The form of logic most used in traditional forms of social scientific enquiry is grounded in rationality, that is, the capacity to analyse and categorise, to adopt a spectator attitude, and to speak about issues, including people and their practices, as objects of enquiry.

So what happens when analytical forms of logic are used to conceptualise fields of enquiry such as citizenship and peace education, or educational practices, or educational research? What happens is that these fields of practice are reduced to fields of conceptual analysis, and the substantive issues of rights, inclusion or exclusion, equality and difference are turned into categories of analysis. Faulks (2000) has rightly said that contemporary discourses around citizenship tend to be modernist, that is, issues tend to be placed within solid categories, and he has developed what he calls a postmodern theory of citizenship, where the idea of solid category itself is challenged. This is certainly a move in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. It is not enough only to deconstruct categories, including the category of category. It is necessary also to make a leap of imagination (Whitehead 1999), and see the world differently, from within a frame of inclusion and infinite possibilities. How difficult it is to break out of a particular form of thinking that is as familiar as looking in the mirror. Looking in the mirror is, however, a good place to start.

How do I exercise my transformative influence?

In a recent article, Halton (2004) acknowledged the influence of previous work undertaken in Ireland by colleagues and myself (see McNiff and Collins 1994). This was a small Schools Based Action Research Project, organised by a private college in Dublin, that focused on how teachers and administrators could improve the quality of the learning experience of students by undertaking their personal investigations into practice. Each participant – teachers as well as the providers who were supporting them – asked ‘How do I improve my work?’ (Whitehead 1989), and aimed to produce accounts containing descriptions and explanations of practice to show how they were holding themselves accountable for their claims that they had improved the quality of learning experience for themselves and others. From the beginning I sought to persuade the managers of the college to seek accreditation for participants. We approached several Irish universities who were reluctant to explore avenues to accreditation, so I approached several British universities. Ultimately, the Faculty of Education at the University of the West of England (UWE) agreed to support the initiative, and I agreed, on behalf of the college, to support and lead the initiative, thereby enabling the teachers to register on UWE’s Modular Programme for Professional Development. In the first phase of the project, which virtually became an extension of the Schools Based Action Research Project, fifteen educators received their Masters Degrees in Education.

Halton makes the point that, although the Schools Based Action Research Project was widely claimed as a potentially powerful form of professional learning, it has not impacted directly on improving quality in Irish education. In saying this, he is partly right. He points to the fact however that the work has influenced the structures of Irish professional education. At the time, several people, including me, were emphasising the need for professional education to be seen as directly related to teachers’ own workplace experience (Hyland and Hanafin 1997; McNamara 1991; McNiff 1993), and these ideas have now found their way into contemporary policy documents. For example, McArdle (2000) writes about the philosophical base of the new Schools Development Planning Initiative, that ‘is intended to empower practitioners in developing their own school, to extend their professional skills and to encourage self-reflection on professional experiences’ (McArdle 2000: 117, in Halton 2004). Further, the recently established Second Level Support Service (whose ranks contain people who undertook their masters work with me), emphasises: ‘The professional development of teachers is about teachers enquiring into their own practice; it is about recognising the fact that it is teachers who, in their daily encounters with students, recreate the curriculum’ (SLSS 2002: 2, in Halton 2004: 141).

Where Halton is also right is in saying that the Schools Based Action Research Project came to an end. Because of their own restructuring and possibly other reasons, the college stopped the work, so the future development of the university programmes had to change course. These were difficult times for me, because I had to learn how to engage with institutional power relations and to resist all efforts to make me go away. Because of the restructuring, I began to work directly with UWE. In the years 1995–2000, further generations of MA candidates undertook their self-studies for university accreditation. Consequently, some sixty-five masters dissertations are in the public domain. This is where Halton’s account is limited, because many of the original sixty-five brought their new thinking directly into their workplaces. (Any limitations on Halton’s part are my responsibility, because I have not made sufficient effort to explain the significance of the work in the wider literature, a situation that I intend to remedy immediately.) From anecdotal evidence, I know that the quality of learning experience has improved for the students in their care. However, anecdotal evidence is of little use when making substantial claims to knowledge. What is needed is hard-nosed empirical evidence to show how people have changed their thinking as well as their practice.

That hard-nosed empirical evidence exists, and in many places. In the interactive symposium presented at the AERA on 16th April 2004 (and in other contexts), two colleagues from the original MA groups, who are now studying for their doctoral degrees with me at the University of Limerick, will present their work, about how they are challenging dominant school structures in order to help their children exercise their own creative potentials for learning (McDonagh 2004; see also McDonagh 2003; Sullivan 2004; see also Sullivan 2003). At the same symposium Joan Whitehead, previously Dean of the UWE Faculty of Education makes her own presentation (Joan Whitehead and Fitzgerald 2004). The fact that these three women appear together is evidence of their determination to go beyond dominant epistemologies and the individual and institutional forms of power with which those epistemologies are often associated. It is also evidence of my own transformative influence, in that I refused to be dissuaded from continuing the work and brought my best efforts to bear on transforming potentially destructive situations into life affirming ones.

My immediate task is to make even more public the knowledge base that comprises the dissertations of the MA candidates. The production of this knowledge base will address the point made by Catherine Snow (2001), about the need for the development of a systematic knowledge base through which teachers can learn with and from one another. I intend to put as many as possible of these accounts onto my website – see Some are already available. More will join them soon.

In developing this knowledge base I also need to show its significance. The significance is that some sixty-five people have contributed to new practices and new forms of theory in Ireland, with transformative potential. They have rooted their work in their ontological and moral values, to show how they accept the responsibility of accounting for themselves. In doing this they are changing education practices and theorising, by not only showing how they are reconceptualising the substantive issues of democratic and participative working, but also how they are changing the very logic by which education practice is theorised.

By making their stories of professional learning public, these teachers are demonstrating the educative potential for transforming policy. I mentioned above the recommendations from agencies such as the Second Level Support Service. The policy rhetoric is right, but that rhetoric has not yet permeated to the level of practice. Through my work I am demonstrating the power of a reverse process, how practice can inform new policy. The teachers whose studies I have supported have themselves transformed their own logics, and have produced public documents to show how and why they have done this, and the educative impact of having done so. Given that much of their work is located in contexts where injustice prevails, the collective accounts provide a systematic body of living educational theories (Whitehead 1989) that shows how we have transformed our situations into contexts that celebrate originality in thinking and multiple forms of living.

I am citing the work in Ireland as my case study. It is however not an isolated phenomenon. Many people the world over are developing practices that celebrate the capacity of citizens to come together, on an equal footing, to share their own democratically-negotiated life plans in the interests of creating a more sustainable world order. Some of the key players in this endeavour are educators. Those educators are mobilising, and presenting their stories of practice as their contributions to the systematic knowledge base from which others can learn; and they are showing how their individual enquiries contain the potential for sustainable global educational networks of communication – see the papers presented by Cheryl Black, Jackie Delong, Margaret Farren, Bernie Fitzgerald, Caitríona McDonagh, Jean McNiff, Bernie Sullivan, Jack Whitehead, Joan Whitehead, at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting as part of the interactive symposium for the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices: The transformative potentials of individuals’ collaborative self-studies for sustainable global educational networks of communication. San Diego, April – available at

Significance of the work

What is happening in Ireland and elsewhere may seem a long way from the literatures of citizenship and peace education. It is actually no distance at all. The core significance of the work lies in showing how the epistemological and political base of educational and political theory can be transformed; how theories of social change can be transformed from those of violent revolution, where one side must lose in order for the other to win, into processes of transformation; and how, when personal and collective prejudices are challenged, injustices can be systematically transformed into pluralistic forms of living. Such a conceptualisation of social transformation is rooted in a relational form of theory-generation that encourages debate and a commitment to personal responsibility. The experience of the process of theory-generation itself transforms the dominant conceptual form of theory that understands citizenship and peace education as discrete bodies of knowledge to be communicated via objectives-oriented curricula. Rather, by embracing an ontological stance that enables personal commitment to transform into collective forms of practice, educators can show how they move beyond the conceptual analyses of issues such as citizenship and peace to living practices of citizenship and peace, as they show how they give meaning to their lives by living in transformative relation with their educational values.


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