Democracy through Drama- Erasmus+ Project

On the day that Teresa May triggered Article 50 and signalled the UK’s departure from the European Union, it seemed fitting that my colleagues and I should submit our Erasmus+ application for the ‘Democracy through Drama’ project; DemoDram for short. Given my feelings at the time surrounding the outcome of the referendum I was not too hopeful. However, in August we learned that our application had been successful! Last Monday saw our first trans-national meeting.

The project Demo-Dram: Young Civic Thinking and its priorities were identified as a result of recent and current social and political conflicts related to issues, such as immigration and threats in democracies around the world that pose concerns about racism and threaten the peace process in Europe. The project was inspired by a pilot study that myself and colleagues from the Education department of Birmingham City University conducted with teachers and pupils in secondary schools, which revealed that teachers believed that their curricula focuses on targets and assessment, there is no space for debate on social issues and there is social prejudice, xenophobia and imposition from the media that affect young people’s views and their decisions.

Added to this, there is limited space and scope for debate and many teachers felt that they did not know enough to explore societal crisis in the context of their subjects’ curricula. Pupils on the other hand said that ‘“Sometimes people look at you but don’t really see you” and expressed concerns about where they belonged, personal values and identity, acceptance of themselves and others, trust issues and empathy.

As I have written previously, Davis (2014:1) claims there is a “crisis in culture” and this has “put ever more pressure on teachers to produce measurable results”. Davis cites the root to this problem as “education driven by market forces” rather than liberal humanist beliefs in personal enrichment and meaning-making. It is becoming a global educational phenomenon that teachers are forced into compliance by the dominance of a measurable meta-narrative that is being legitimised and normalised through policy.

So what?

As a result of this we are looking to explore how we might enable teachers of humanities, languages and arts across Europe to engage their students in Civic thinking using drama. To do this we are working with five partners who have a variety of competencies to offer in developing this project.

Heartlands Academy, a secondary school based in Nechells Birmingham, serve the community and work with parents to help all of their students to grow into mature, responsible adults and good citizens. The outstanding drama department aims to provide a broadly based and balanced education, relevant to the needs and abilities of the pupils, mindful of the requirements and aspirations of society. At the core of their practice is the question of what it means to be human.

InSite, an internationally renowned theatre company from Hungary, are also collaborating. Their vision is to facilitate facing the most pressing problems of our times through drama and to enable changes in understanding of individuals’ concerning their values and stance; so that they are able to act responsibly in society and become active agents of change. The organisation’s work affects primarily the youth and children age-group directly or indirectly. To achieve greater social impact they also work with decision makers, communities and higher education institutions.

We are also working with the University of Rome and their Mimesislab; a place of research and experimentation, that is open to all those who devote themselves with seriousness and passion to investigate the phenomenology of human expression. Their intention is to find principles and formulate proposals for educational practice and it was born from the synergy of artists, philosophy of education and experimental pedagogy scholars, psychologists, anthropologists, teachers and educators.
It intends to defend, in the current political and cultural debate, the preservation of the dynamics that contribute to the humanization of the human being.

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Our Greek partners from Ellinogermaniki Agogi provide an interface between pedagogical research, technological innovation and school communities. They focus on the design, implementation and support of pedagogical and technological innovations in educational practice, both through internal research as well as through collaborations with numerous educational, research and commercial institutions in Europe and the world.

Finally, we are also collaborating with The Children’s Rights Knowledge Centre (KeKi) from Belgium. They aim to gather, make available, disseminate and stimulate
knowledge about children’s rights. From its critical-emancipatory point of view, KeKi explores the limitations of children’s rights. One of the addressed issues includes whether and how children’s rights do in fact add to the well-being of children.

What next?

Having returned to their countries, partners are now looking to set up communities of practice that include secondary school teachers from the humanities, arts and language disciplines to develop, inform and test ideas about how democracy and civic thinking can be developed in their curricula through drama. It is intended that this collaboration will inform the development of drama workshops, a subsequent E-book and a website, all of which can be used by teachers as a resource.

Want to be involved?

We are looking for teachers who would be willing to attend two twilight sessions in the new year to work alongside BCU and Heartlands Academy. Please contact Christopher.bolton@bcu.ac.uk for more information.

Finally…

We will be attending two summer schools in 2018 and 2019. These will be held in Athens (Greece) and Budapest (Hungary). There is funding available for teachers to support the cost. Should you require more information then please contact Christopher.bolton@bcu.ac.uk

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3 thoughts on “Democracy through Drama- Erasmus+ Project

  1. “teachers believed that their curricula focuses on targets and assessment, there is no space for debate on social issues and there is social prejudice, xenophobia and imposition from the media that affect young people’s views and their decisions” – This is written like the two are mutually exclusive… can the targets and assessment the curricula is based around not be adapted to be achieved by debating on social issues? This is the approach I try and take in my classroom.
    “Many teachers felt that they did not know enough to explore societal crisis in the context of their subjects’ curricula.” – I’d like to know a little more on this point. Do you mean the teachers did not know enough about the crises to link it to the curricula? Or that they did not know enough about the curricula to link it to the crises?
    “Davis cites the root to this problem as “education driven by market forces” rather than liberal humanist beliefs in personal enrichment and meaning-making.” – Through a need to assess and report back perhaps? Or through competition expedited though league tables and academisation? Is there a way to rate a school based on how rounded a person their student becomes? Academic success and “being a good person” do not naturally go hand in hand.
    “Want to be involved?” – Sure. On the whole the whole project looks very interesting and seems to be continuing to fight the good fight, but on a larger and wider scale, which is very exciting.

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  2. Thanks Chris, this looks really interesting and really timely. Please keep us in the loop, and I look forward to exploring potential synergies with the BCU Drama MTL course, with the work of Big Brum and with my own independent work on the humanities curriculum and global learning.

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