Council on Anthropology and Education
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: The papers in this panel build on ethnographic research across four national settings, capturing frictions through which the divergent demands made by international and national policies and school communities become visible. In their focus on frictions and tensions, the authors draw on contemporary democratic theories, which see the vitality of democracy resting not exclusively on institutionalized forms of political participation, but also on practices of counter-democracy (Rosanvallon 2008) through which citizens dissent, protest, and exert pressures from below and from without the official political system. Unlike traditional consensual approaches to liberal democracy, these agonistic and conflict-based concepts (Balibar 2008; Mouffe 2013; Rosanvallon 2008; Volk 2018) do not treat the current sociopolitical moment in the categories of crisis, but turn our attention to the constructive character of counter-hegemonic practices that keep democracy alive. In the work of authors in this panel, distrust and discontent are therefore explored as mechanisms of civic agency and control through which democracy is upheld and schools emerge as sites in which we can observe how political futures become contested and negotiated.
Across national settings, schools are seen both as sites for societal transformation and as institutions central to the perpetuation of the social order. Each day, educators, youth and families must negotiate these competing conceptualizations of schooling as they struggle, in various ways, to reconcile the irreconcilable visions of education that saturate local and national educational policy and are instantiated in schools. Each of the papers looks at these tensions in particular educational contexts. In Polish schools, the EU policies of inclusion collide with a national imaginary dominated by concepts of uniformity of belonging and citizenship. Youth in the US, who have traveled on their own from Central America, simultaneously find solace from and struggle against the practices within schools and arts-based program designed to support their national identities while integrating them into the country. In another example, US school leaders both crave and recoil from critical youth inquiry initiatives. Meanwhile, in a third US context, teacher education programs, young educators undergoing the certification process grapple with the philosophical and political contradictions of their teacher training as they hasten toward forming a professional teacher identity. In Lebanese schools, teachers are asked to unquestioningly enact practices that they know are detrimental to children in the name of “saving future generations” of a nation continually torn apart by repeated cycles of conflict. Finally, in Ireland, the controversies surrounding the process of divestment from Catholic patronage in national primary education expose the complexity of sociocultural and political changes that the country is undergoing, revealing silenced divisions and fragmentations in the society.