Ask questions, increase awareness!

All good things come to an end, and so does this course. During the course we have had excellent lecturers and interesting perspectives on social justice and diversities. Last monday we heard interesting presentations by the groups and learned that social justice can’t be separated from context but the issues and challenges extend to all parts of life.

About two weeks ago, the 20th of February was the World Day of Social Justice. United Nations seeks to remind its member countries that social justice is part of the core development objectives of the Organization’s message. United Nations defines the meaning of social justice as follows: “people’s opportunity to achieve their full potential in society”. According to the UN, Social justice is “an underlying principle, which guarantees a peaceful and successful coexistence in the world.”  Like the previous UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, social justice is more than a moral obligation – social justice is the foundation for national stability and global prosperity. Wise words that hardly anyone can deny.
But what social justice really means in our everyday life and how do we define it?

From the perspective that we gained through the course, we could state that social justice is both; a goal and a process. The goal of social justice is an equitable participation of people from all social identity groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. The process for achieving the goal of social justice should also be democratic and participatory – something that everyone in the society understands and where anyone can affect on by his or her own acts.  For achieving social justice, the process should be respectful of human diversity and group differences. That is something we shouldn’t forget  in any field; in political discussion, in school, in work or anywhere.

We have been lucky to hear different perspectives on social justice and diversities on this course. We have been taught to not only understand the definition of social justice, but also to recognize what it is and how we can estimate our society and environment through it. Social justice isn’t only something that we can evaluate in they way of people are treated, it is also a place or an environment that supports and encourages open-mindedness, respect and both physical and mental safety. With all these topics that were discussed in course and through the presentations, we got perspectives and tools that drove us forward in understanding of social justice. Still, social justice isn’t only constructed by explicit determinations and norms, but also by our tacit knowledge and understanding. Our tacit knowledge is bound by our experiences, which is why our understanding of social justice is always individual. In our everyday life, we should keep this on our mind and learn to understand the other perspectives – even though those are not the same as ours.

However, during this course, and some others before on the same subject, one question has occasionally risen in mind. How is it possible to achieve social justice? We have come a long way and many many things have changed over the years, making the world a better and fairer place to live, but still there is so much more to do. For example if you think about economics. Or business world in general, or making new technology. Many countries have the kind of economy, or companies, which base their business on actions that exploit nature or deprive people’s rights. When making decisions about future, how much people in those fields think about that social justice needs to take place? Are they ready to change, or even stop, their operations so that things would work the way that everything is equitable for as many people as possible. Then another question related to money as well, is that do we have enough money to make all the changes needed? All the actions, different programs, researches and so on require a lot of finance to make those happen. There can be a risk that when giving finance to something that improves situation in one place, it takes money away from another place. So can we afford social justice? Could justice take over money?  Some how that feels more like a dream. Of course hopefully a dream that comes true. Maybe with a right kind of education and increasing awareness on things, some day it will happen.

Actually, writing this last blogpost of the series felt quite challenging. That is because the very last part of a university course is often dedicated to summarizing and drawing together the learnings and conclusions of the past months. Listening to the groups’ presentations during our last lecture underlined the fact that there is a plethora of cases or situations where social justice is lacking (and we naturally only had resources to scratch the surface). It seems difficult to summarize these in any meaningful way that would respect the context boundness of the cases that were brought up. We can only say that the course has functioned as an eye-opener to the many dimensions of social justice and even more the global quest for it. Unlike many other courses we have participated in as part of our degrees, this course probably has left us with more questions than answers. As there are no right answers to the challenges to the social justice issues, this is probably the best outcome that we could have asked for. Hopefully we all move on chasing our education career dreams with more awareness for the challenges with inequality that we will face (and hopefully tackle as well!) on our way.

Ryhmä B.

Sources:

Finnish UN Association

http://www.ykliitto.fi/yk70v/yk-paivat/sosiaalisen-oikeudenmukaisuuden-paiva

Picture:

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/441634307181602462/

Safe(r) places

A Safer Place is  a “supportive, non-threatening environment that encourages open-mindedness, respect, a willingness to learn from others, as well as physical and mental safety” (Coalition for Safer Spaces, 2017). Safer places are areas where everyone can come as they are. There is no judging, joking inappropriately or assumptions of gender/sexuality/race. Sometimes every one of us may say something disrespectful by accident, but those situations can be instructive and that way we can change our way to talk and think.

At the lecture we discussed how we and other students can make places safe by our own behaviour. Like mentioned before, recognizing our own limitations and prejudices, we are already considering other people’s feelings and by this way already creating open-minded atmosphere. Being part of majority culture often still makes us blind to cultural differences and possible discomfort of minorities. Little things that most of us majority group members take for granted, like proper accessibility in public buildings, may be a requirement for making a comfortable environment for, for example, disabled people. Because of this, opinions of diverse users should be heard and taken into account while making decisions concerning safer places.

Some criticism can be also focused towards safer places. Like discussed in the earlier lectures, social justice is a multidimensional concept and can’t be created by specific group of, for example, adults. The whole school and the community in it should be engaged in creating an environment that supports diversity and open-mindedness amongst all people, but this is easier said than done. For example bullying takes place also in other contexts than in schools, it might also appear outside schools and for example in internet.

In some respects, many hobbies and hobby groups can reinforce unsafe environments, particularly if there is a concept of masculinity or femininity that is considered inherent to the group’s identity. Very often places such as some forums on the internet (e.g. 4chan and some areas on Facebook and Reddit) as  well as men’s sports teams are rife with language and social behavior that enforces gender, social, racial and economic exclusion and disparity – the infamous “locker-room talk” is a prime example of this.

Although this is a phenomenon in most social groups and age groups, it seems that this behavior is particularly prevalent in school. This relates to a previous lecture subject on (gendered) violence in schools, and how the school system can sometimes perpetuate these sort of behaviors. Indeed, for many children and adolescents, school is the most “non-safe space” of all.

What makes it difficult to tackle these issues is often the fear of social exclusion. In many cases, to point out these loaded comments and actions is to essentially break away from the group’s internal cohesion. In many cases, the groups that one belongs to consists of one’s very best friends, and we are reluctant to the extreme to be the ones who stick out of the crowd.

In addition to concrete school buildings, teachers and parents should co-work with each other and students to create an attitudinal environment based on trust and mutual respect. It is not only schools’ responsibility to take care of children’s safety and without proper collaboration with parents safer places are only based on superficial solutions. Proper communication and opportunities for open conversation are key elements for well-planned safer places, that are not only safe for specific groups.

Special education is for students with special educational needs. Common special needs can be learning disabilities, communication or behavioral disorders, physical disabilities and developmental disabilities. Special education is always tailored to meet each student’s individual needs and differences because there is no ”one size fits all” approach to special education. Students with special needs are likely to benefit from additional educational services like different approaches to teaching, the use of technology or a specifically adapted teaching area.

It is sad but true that children with disabilities have a bigger risk of being bullied. It is easy to pay attention to what is different or unusual. In special education all students have some problems or difficulties. However, it might be problematic if the special education is too focused on disabilities rather than the strengths. What if special educators would look at what a child can do instead of what he/she cannot do? Once you know your students’ strengths you can as teacher develop strength-based learning strategies. Maybe a safe space can be built by focusing on strengths and positive things.

In the lecture we talked about places where there are specific signs that say, e.g. “this is a discrimination free zone”. This kind of label exists for example in our university’s gym. The meaning of these signs is of course very good, but I started to think whether it’s really necessary to have these kinds of texts for adult people?! I think it’s kind of sad that you need to remind adult people to be kind and respectful towards each other. In our opinion every place should be safe from discrimination without specific texts to reminds us about it.

Group K

Hello from the other side

In our last blog post we wrote about different realities and how important it is for teachers to reflect their own behavior. But what really happens after teachers become aware of their behavior and assumptions? It can be overwhelming to notice how little one person can do. In Fischman’s and Haas’ article (2009) there is an example of a teacher who said that she use to have so-called Hello Kitty hopes. She meant that she had unrealistic hopes about what she can do as a teacher. One claim of critical pedagogy is that teachers have a central role in challenging educational systems. Although they cannot do all by themselves. It is unrealistic to hope to be a super-caring-knowledgeable-efficient-teacher all the time. In other words teachers can’t always be conscious and prepared for every situation. More important is that teachers are committed to their work and learn from their mistakes. Being a teacher (or a human) is a continuous learning process. It is okay to be lost sometimes and have bad days. We all do. But there is always something that we can do in our daily lives to communicate better with each other.

In lesson we talked about the concept of safer spaces, which offers us one aspect how we could respect diversity in interaction with others. Safer space can be understood as a place, which is welcoming, engaging and supportive environment that encourages open-mindedness, respect and a willingness to learn from others. Safer space is also critical of the power structures that affect our daily lives where power dynamics, backgrounds and the effects of our behaviour on others are prioritizes. Safer places are quite sensitive in nature and we might make a place unsafe without even realizing it. When we interact with others we might easily make assumptions based on their appearance and behaviour. For example we can assume that someone is a girl or a boy by the way they are dressed even though we have no knowledge of their thoughts concerning gender. Or we could categorize something as ‘abnormal’ if it seems different from that perspective what we consider ‘normal’. By saying that something is ‘normal’, we also renew cultural hegemony and power structures that also creates the feeling of social exclusion. The aspect of ‘normality’ also implicitly refers that some are more privileged than others.

The idea of the privileged was central also regarding Allen’s (2009) article “What About Poor White People?”. Being privileged is also one aspect of the reality that often remains unveiled especially within school context. There can also be false beliefs in terms of how being privileged is understood and particularly in relation to whom one considers to be privileged. To water it down, Finnish Whites can e.g. consider themselves to be privileged relative to people living in the poor countries or areas of Africa but not necessarily relative to a non-white Finn even though Allen (2009, 212) points out: “ – – that relative to people of color all Whites are privileged by a system of White supremacy – -”. The big question is then according to Pease (2010, iix), if it is possible for members of privileged groups to overcome the interests of their own group. Pease (2010) addresses this theme of privileged wider and in a very interesting way in his book “Undoing Privilege: unearned advantage in a divided world”. Probably the main agenda of the piece is as Pease (2010, ix) expresses it, to acknowledge that oppression is not understood without the understanding of privilege. That said, it would be very important for all people to ponder one’s own position in relation to others and teachers can set an example by reflecting and addressing the concept of privilege and in that way pay attention on such things as safer spaces more widely in the fields of education and working life as well. These kind of soft values (which safer spaces could probably be considered) as making atmosphere safe to everyone in the group would probably have a huge influence to efficiency and other harder values as well. It’s also interesting to discuss all the things that affect on this concept and to question the way we behave ourselves in groups and different environments. Am I making this space safer as far as I’m concerned? When talking about safer spaces it’s also essential to notice, as already mentioned above, the fact that we are all humans making mistakes. The important question probably is how we can learn from those mistakes and remember something about this lesson later on. The idea on reflecting your own behaviour doesn’t mean that you couldn’t let yourself be incomplete. And last but not least, it’s good to remember that you should try to make the space safe for yourself as well, not only for the others.

Group D: Annika, Minna, Paula & Sorella

Guilt tripping in working life

Guilt trips are a form of verbal or nonverbal communication in which a guilt inducer tries to induce guilty feelings in a target, in an effort to control their behaviour. As such, guilt trips are a clear form of psychological manipulation and coercion.

There were several interesting topics in a lecture, but we found David Graebers guilt tripping theory especially interesting. Before lecture we all watched a video about mortgages in Spain. This video was one really good example about guilt tripping and power relationships. We realised how big problem guilt tripping is and how wide its impact is on people’s behaviour and life’s. We all have our first guilt tripping experiences when we are small kids.

We were also discussing about guilt tripping in working life. Supervisor and employee relationship offers an interesting view to that. In practical working life there might be (especially in big companies) some extremely demanding supervisors. Nowadays the culture of doing business is getting more serious and you should be reached around the clock. It might be that the supervisor is a nice person, but he or she expects the employee act like others, even though it’s not what agreed in the contract. For example an employee has many tasks to do and a supervisor assigns some more (not his/her normal tasks). When they have the discussion about the tasks and individual performance at work, the solution what supervisor offers is that the employee should work outside working hours (24/7). The supervisor uses especially the argument that everyone else is working at least 6 days in a week and also every evening. After this the employee feels guilt but most importantly not motivated at all. In our group discussions we came into the conclusion that guilt tripping kills the motivation at work. Furthermore it might be also very hard to fix. In this case supervisor’s goal might be to get employees work effectively and according to equitable principles (because everyone else is working, you should be working). But the truth is that the employee’s efficiency gets even worse when he/she is not motivated.

That’s why it’s very important to recognize guilt tripping messages in working and also in other life. As we saw in video, it really can have harmful causes to people. If guilt tripping happens in working life, it can cause fatigue, exhaustion and even depression for employees. And that has of course impact also to people’s other life. So to sum; this is a subject which can be hard to recognize and identify. That’s why especially in working life people has to be aware of it.

/Group C

Talking Violence – Feminist Ethnography in secondary school

The topic of the lecture on 23.1 was very important. It was about gender, school and violence. The lecture was held by Sonja Raunio, whose master´s thesis was called “Violence in secondary school- Feminist Ethnography in secondary school” and the study was made viewpoint of students.

In our group’s opinion, the topic was important and interesting. Even though it was tough to hear how violence still appears a lot in schools, the lecture gave hope for brighter and more tolerant future. It was great to hear that schools have started to give books called “We should all be feminists” and there really are actions being taken for building more tolerant/equal schools!

Questions which rose up in our discussion were, for example: “Where does the line between violence and non-violence goes (is pushing someone violence or not)?, “Do social circumstances define what is violence and what is not?”Why some acts are defined as violence when others are not?” “Why physical violence seemed to be on the top of the “hierarchy” when emotional was lower?” “Violence in school appears to be so normal that it often isn’t even noticed  → How much do we really ignore violence in schools?” and “How much really happens violence in schools nowadays?”

You might assume that everyone knows what violence is, but when taking a closer look at the issue, we notice that violence is actually way more complex than it seems. So what is violence really? Obviously physical violence, such as pushing another person counts, but where should we draw the line when it comes to mental abuse? Bullying in school is seen as mental abuse and (oftentimes) a serious offense, yet still is not (for the most part) equated with “actual” violence, even though bullying can, and often is, physically violent behavior. We also have to consider the context in which the violence happens — if you get in a fight on the street, you could get thrown into jail, but fighting in school might be seen as “playfighting” (where violence is seen as participatory, meant as a jest and means of bonding, although often times one or more of the participants do not see it as a “joke”).These things among others make the delineation between bullying and violence difficult, and have to be taken into account when talking about violence.

Additionally, bullying has a social component to it that is somewhat unique to the school environment (although one might argue that bullying exists in workplaces as well, and that isn’t necessarily called “violence” either). There is an emphasis on the emotional and social aspect of the abuse: bullying is clearly meant to emphasize control and power, whether it is considered between boys and girls, or cross-gendered.

The issue of violence and power is a complicated one, as it seems that the school system itself also helps maintain the social circumstances of bullying.The threat of violence itself was brought up as one means by which this is done.Teachers engage in threats, sometimes even in violent ones, though most often in the form of detentions and other forms of disciplinary actions.

Although violence is often a complex issue and has many abstract qualities, one objective point was made about it in the lecture: Violence means different things to people depending their assumed, expressed or experienced gender. Violence cannot be defined fully or precisely at full length. Still it always should be intervened despite the difficulties in defining it!

For most children being a boy or a girl is natural and gender identity aligns with their biological sex. In addition, when people think of gender, they think of two distinct categories – male and female. However, for some people the match between biological sex and gender identity is not that clear. Gender diversity means that some people fall outside of the classic male/female gender category.  One way to define this more, is to think about gender as a continuum. You don’t have to fit in to discrete category, you can be somewhere in between. Schools are supposed to be equal, but at the same, time schools are gendered institutions because they support specific gender patterns.This is definitely an important thing to improve and it seems that there is still a way to go. A good way is to talk, talk and talk as much as possible!

The issue of gendered violence is also not an issue exclusive to the school system, as there are plenty of examples of such events taking place in adult workplaces as well. The so-called “glass ceiling” for women is a good example of this, as well as the harassment and name-calling that many people (of all genders) experience in the workplace. One form of gendered violence are also unequal career-paths amongst of women and men. Combining family life and work often forces women to choose a part-time job, for example in the Netherlands three quarters of women work part-time. One could even argue that the experiences of gendered violence in school “spill over” to people’s later experiences in working life, perpetuating the cycle even further.

Is there any way out of this? Well, it seems that some progress has been made in this issue. One example would be including the book We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Finnish middle schoolers in 9th grade. Another one, mentioned in this lecture, is how feminist topics such as privilege and gender inequality are now going to be taught in schools in Australia.

Group K:

Tiia, Mikaela, Jonathan, Sini & Mimmi

Some remarks about violence in schools

Defining violence can be more complex than you first think. Is it from the structures or from an individual? Can you separate those? Based on the lecture discussion it can be concluded that for example violence at school is by no means a new phenomenon but likely to be to some extent even accepted and as old as the institution itself. School is very fruitful institution when we talk about violence. School is big and important institution on everyone’s life course and has lots to do in our growth and development. When considering the nature of violence, we came to the conclusion, that the school itself is producing violence. And if we think further, it isn’t only the school, because the way that school is constructed comes from the society and its regulations. Do young children have any other way to act if the basic situation is that they are forced to go to school, which is obligatory for everyone?

Should we then just accept presence of violence as part of school’s mission of preparing pupils for life? Sociology is centered around the  primacy of agent versus structure. Our societies are built on the generally accepted monopoly of power exercised by state actors. Thus it can be stated that violence-free schools are too much to ask from children when us adults are simultaneously raising them to accept violence built in the very structures of our society that guide our actions. Judging on the general discussion among the world’s adult population, violence and bullying seem to continue being our common denominator in 2017 as well. Nevertheless there have been attempts to eradicate violence at schools. One of the most recent projects in Finland is Kiva koulu program, which we will focus on in our group work later on during this course.

Violence and school sports

How about sports. It is okay to tackle and “beat” someone in the sports field but not at the playground? What if children are just “playing hockey”? And is it okay to beat someone at football court.. You can bully someone there as well.
As an example from the field of sports, we can identify, that there exist some rules – what is wrong, what is right. But who defines, where goes the limit of bullying and justified behaviour, which is understandable in the certain context? According to Sonja’s research, students seemed to be struggling to understand situations from other person’s points of view and to realize the consequences of their actions. How we could teach them that kind of understanding and way of thinking? If we think about teachers, we might end up wondering if they understand the student’s perspective. The thing is, that even if we can’t directly define violence, we have to underline that it is always and in every situation unacceptable.

Gender and school violence

But then comes the next question:  Who can tell is it violance or bullying or not? The person getting bullied, the one who is doing it, or the one standing by? How to define that? Of course, in every society and culture people have some kind of common understanding of what is right and wrong and we also have some kind of consensus of the definition of violence . However, sometimes perception of violence can “blur” and and lead to negative consequences. Who to blame? Not so easy question to answer.

In recent years the media has highlighted the effects of games to young people’s perceptions of violence.  In 2001 Nea Porsanger did her master’s thesis about young people’s thoughts about violence. In this study, results showed that adolescents also seem to think that media has a big role in their perceptions and attitudes. At the same time young people named school to be the best place to talk about violence and change attitudes, even though the main responsibility of moral education and what is right or wrong was seen as a family’s task.  Porsanger’s study also brings out how often young people define violence first as a physical violence, which is something you can easily see happening. Whereas mental violence has many different aspects that are more difficult to grasp and define.

In Porsanger’s study the gender also came to the picture. Young people perceived boys more often to be violent. If we go back to the prevailing perceptions in society, is especially physical violence more acceptable for boys? From our point of view it is. There is even this phrase “boys will be boys” referring that it is more “natural” for boys to fight and brawl. The society really is part of producing violence. Then violence is explained as an individual’s natural capability. On the contrary when the conversation comes to mental violence, for example backbiting, it is often perceived as a tendency for girls. If no one – parents, teachers or other educators and children themselves – don’t adhere to these questions, a certain kind of acting happens again and again “because of the gender”. Like Carrie Paechter writes in our course book (page 140), first we expect people to be male or female and then we expect them to behave masculine or feminine way, just based on a child’s genitals.

School violence, technology and potential futures

Based on arendtian notion of centricity of technological advances in violence, we wonder if this development could be reversed? As seen over and over again in the history of civilization, advances in technology have often been strongly connected to quest for more powerful warfare. Could the current social and artificial intelligence innovations change that course? One aspect that can potentially differentiate our time from the earlier ones is naturally the use of digital technology and the way it has rapidly spread to all spheres of life. One example of the potential futures includes Finnish mobile game Mightifier that strengthens pupils’ social and emotional skills. Teachers who have utilized the tool report reduced bullying and better atmosphere in their class rooms. It will be seen if with the new generations schools will become the first frontiers without violence. The new generations with technology on their side can surprise to the upside.

 

Ryhmä B
Emma, Reetta, Maikki ja Pauliina

Social Justice in Education – Ideas and Comments

On the first lecture we discussed our own definitions of social justice. In our group everyone had experienced issues regarding social justice in the education system. This was rather expected – it is, after all, the topic of the course. However, something was not expected: majority of these experiences were within University! Quite shocking.

Segregation based on language, educational background or ethnicity came up. What we found especially worrying, and to some degree interesting too, was the fact that discrimination was initiated by professors, and not by students. A practical example: multilingual university courses are divided into workgroups based on mother tongue. We felt that such a choice should be made by students and by no means by professors. The vast majority of Swedish-speaking Finns can communicate in Finnish and could maybe see the workgroups as a good learning opportunity. The same goes for Finnish-speaking Finns.

Further on, we found that professors often set unjust prejudices against students based on their educational background. The experience discussed was about minor studies done in a different university. There a professor made a clear distinction between students from different majors. Stereotypes were mentioned as facts, but based only on the professor’s previous personal experience without any knowledge on the students in question or their ways of studying. However, we think that such distinction should not be made at all. Instead, everyone should be treated equally, without preconceptions initiated by professors.

Lastly, discrimination based on ethnicity can happen camouflaged in “positive” encouragement. Should students from different ethnic backgrounds be treated exactly the same as students from the “majority”? In the experience we discussed, a pupil was demanded on participating on a PE class just as the others did. Just that it was a skiing class, and the pupil in question had probably never even seen snow before. Here a question is raised: is absolute inclusion always fair? Would it be discrimination against majority to allow alternatives? Or would it be discrimination against minorities to demand for absolute uniformity?

//Group C