Category Archives: Philosophy

What if I could change history?

What does it take to change history? The present and the future are not set in stone. This flux and uncertainty is a wonderfully powerful idea. Change one thing in this interconnected world, and the outcome of history can be completely different.

A Sea Change Lars Bo 1963

A Sea Change by Lars Bo, 1963

This blog post is inspired by the excellent BERA (British Educational Research Association) post by Luke Billingham https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/could-the-study-of-historical-contingency-help-to-enliven-students-critical-citizenship based on his article in The Curriculum Journal, about using historical contingency to enhance the teaching of critical democratic citizenship. As Billingham writes, “to say that something is contingent means that it “could be otherwise” – it is not necessary or inevitable for it to exist in its current state (or at all)”.

I started thinking about how we could use this concept in primary and secondary classrooms. Moving beyond the rights and responsibilities of national citizenship, the applications to global citizenship education are exciting. When all of our actions now have a global impact, historical contingency could be a significant component in combatting apathy and cynicism to engage students to create a better world.

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I was a secondary history teacher for many years and well aware that understandings of historical contingency are part of scholarship in the subject, but haven’t previously thought of connecting it directly with teaching democratic citizenship. In itself this is a good lesson in why educators must keep reading, learning, sharing and discussing! It also shows how skills crossover and synthesizing cognitive competencies are important in trans disciplinary learning, an increasingly important feature of 21st Century education. Billingham effectively transfers the historical skill of analyzing the past, with added philosophical thinking, to consider what it means to be a citizen today and the impact we have on the future.

The idea that we can challenge historical inevitability is empowering and encourages student agency. By thinking ‘what if?’ in historical narratives, students can understand causation and argue why things happened in the past. When we apply the question of ‘what if?’ to today, it enthuses student voice and action with the power to change the current narrative. Our history is being written now. And we can actually create an alternative.

Historical contingency for critical citizenship can be integrated within history or citizenship curricula in secondary classrooms. In primary classrooms it can be a cross-curricula component in global citizenship education. It includes deliberations of philosophical problems of free will and cause and effect. I have put together two primary school lesson ideas below which integrate historical contingency.

Back to the future

If I could go back in time, what would I change?

This is a hypothetical writing and discussion activity. If you could go back in time, would you change anything? This activity could be done in conjunction with a history unit or as a stand-alone exercise. I have made a graphic organizer as a starting point.

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Why did you come to school today?

This activity, based on causation, could be adapted for written or oral skills development. Ask students to make a chain of cause and effects which led to them to arriving at school. It encourages deeper thinking about the past and their own history, and place in the world. How does the country you live in make it possible to go to school?

cause and effect chain

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Filed under 21st Century education, global citizenship, Philosophy

Being local and global

Who are you? If you are a teacher, part of your job is to help students to recognize and understand their identity as they develop. Yet how many teachers have taken the time to examine their own identity and how we understand ourselves within a wider community of humans?

This is an activity from the Kid World Citizen website that I have used in the classroom and remains an effective, practical exercise as a starting point for young children to think about how they see themselves in the world and celebrate the diversity of local identity whilst linking it to our global citizenship. It is presented as a bilingual activity in English and Spanish. My place in the world

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My Place in this World from Kid World Citizen

When I first considered using this activity with children, I saw that it related to the concentric circles of Stoic philosophy of the 1st-2nd CE. This concept is promoted by Professor Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) to consider our levels of belonging, our local and global identity, which allows us to recognize ourselves as local, national and world citizens.

 “The Stoics… suggest that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one encircles the self, the next takes in the immediate family, then follows the extended family, then, in order, neighbors or local groups, fellow city-dwellers, and fellow countrymen- and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender, or sexual identities. Outside these circles is the largest one, humanity as a whole”. (Nussbaum, M. For Love of Country?)

concentric-circlesThis Stoic concept is a useful exercise for teachers and older students. It is even interesting to examine at different stages of our development over time, to witness shifts in local allegiances.

For the Third Culture Kid (TCK) growing up in a different culture or nation to their official citizenship, the local affiliations may be across national borders. We can be local in more than one area. This is also true for people who have lived and worked in different places. We feel at home and local across places, national borders and citizenship.

This idea is expressed well in the TED talk by Taiye Selasi Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m a local

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“We’re local where we carry out our rituals and relationships, but how we experience our locality depends in part on our restrictions. By restrictions, I mean, where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by, say, racism, from feeling fully at home where you live? By civil war, dysfunctional governance, economic inflation, from living in the locality where you had your rituals as a child?” – Taiye Selasi

When we examine our allegiances and levels of belonging, we begin to see that the way that we view the world is through a particular lens. And it is a shifting lens and not absolute. What we feel is ‘normal’ is not normal for everyone. It also emphasizes the sense of global belonging that we all share.

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Filed under global citizenship, Philosophy

To understand Global Citizenship, you can’t go past Kant

 

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Paul Klee- May Picture

Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 and died on February 12 1804. Now, on the 212th anniversary of his death, it seems the world needs his philosophy of international cooperation more than ever.

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Immanuel Kant

And Kant’s philosophy, based on respect for human reason rather than a divine being, is apt for a world divided by ideology, religion and an overwhelming fear of those who are different from us. Let’s look for the thing that connects us, says Kant- the major feature of the human mind, its capacity for intelligent rational thought.

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Daan Botlek

Kant believed that we should respect the dignity of all people no matter who they are. Because they are humans with the same power of reason just like you. Foreigners have the same freedom to think just like you. And you might actually be that foreigner if you had been born in a different place.

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Leonardo Da Vinci

Kant’s philosophy states that this respect for humanity transcends all borders. So we can have a connection with people in different places all over the world. Before Kant’s ideas came along, it was very unusual for individuals to think they could have a global identity. Only royalty were allowed an international perspective. But Kant wants every one of us to know that we are all equal in rights, irrespective of status or nationality.

So does Kant want us to be in a world state? No. Kant saw this was a very impractical idea. However, he did believe that nations should work together.

Respectful cosmopolitan societies can work together to strengthen universal justice. And then all individuals are able to become more competent and powerful.

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It’s obvious to see how Kantian philosophy has influenced international organizations and international law. Kant’s ideas can also be directly used in education. Exposing children to this philosophy and making it a basis for global citizenship education is a very good place to start. Beyond our globalized economy, we really do have a moral duty to respect all humans as we would expect to receive respect.

 

 

 

To learn more about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant have a look at these links:

 

Philosophy Bites http://philosophybites.com/2008/09/adrian-moore-on.html

 

School of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsgAsw4XGvU

 

 

 

 

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Filed under global citizenship, Philosophy, values education