A response to Vrasidas and Zembylas’s ideas about the interplay of disclosure and veiling cultural identities in ICT learning

It seems that the focus on cultural differences as opposed to similarities is part of a bias in multiculturalist rhetoric which is rarely questioned because of the implied or assumed anti-racism embedded in the concept. Anti-racism is obviously a very important element – perhaps the most important element – in peace education. Consequently, multiculturalism seems almost intuitively good and difficult to criticise.
I have been exposed to some discourses that challenge the concept of multiculturalism and propose interculturalism and transculturalism instead. The critique of multiculturalism points to the lack of discourse between cultures; the juxtaposition of differences (individualism versus collectivism, monotheism versus polytheism); the exposure to only superficial symbols or signs of cultures (food, clothing) which do not delve into modes of thinking (political or religious ideologies or philosophies); the lack of co-creation and synthesis of ideas which could result from meaningful dialogue instead of a superficial focus on symbols (i.e. “us” and “them” instead of “together”; East versus West instead of métissage, créolisation, new identities). There is also a risk of essentialising cultural identities and affirming stereotypes (people from country X are like this/think like this versus people from the same country having various identities and ideas). It seems that interculturalism might move the focus towards dialogue and cooperation. Transculturalism appears to be an exciting opportunity for co-creation where individuals from a variety of cultures and multiple identities can interact and build something new.

I was moved by the following except in Vrasidas and Zembylas’ article:

“Ironically, the unavoidable degree of veiling of one’s identity in online interactions ‘may also foster and encourage a more vivid disclosure’ (Blake, 2000: 191). This interplay between ‘disclosure’ and ‘veiling’ suggests an ‘online nomadism’ that subverts essentialist descriptions of cultural identities” (Zembylas and Vrasidas, in press)” (Vrasidas & Zembylas, 2003, p.284).
Online learners or participants in an e-community can choose how much information to disclose. In a multiculturalist discourse which emphasises only difference and not a common humanity, it can be frustrating for those who are always perceived according to external signs or symbols of their identity. This emphasis on difference can have positive effects of exposure and offer a glimpse into different views but if the attempts of inclusiveness focus primarily on the symbol of difference (which can be superficial), such as a garment, pigmentation, accent, physical disability, gender, stereotyped signs of alternative gender or orientation, etc., the focus on this difference can obstruct what the community member is trying to communicate. In fact, the community member’s very identity can be confused and confounded for the external sign which becomes an artificial signifier for what is incorrectly being signified. For example, many of my Iranian friends are atheists and gay but as soon as people find out they are Iranian they are sometimes assumed to be Muslim. In some cases, they were perceived to have traditional views of gender and sexuality. I was stunned to hear other community members’ assumptions about one of my friends (“I don’t want to talk to F– about religion and women because I know we won’t agree”). Another one of my best friends is from Egypt. The focus on her hijab and then removal of hijab led to assumptions about her sexuality and gender relations (on the one hand, assumptions that she was sexually conservative, and on the other hand, that she was sexually permissive and not a virgin). These are examples in which the superficial focus on difference frustrates communication. My friend who is Egyptian eventually came to experiment with her online identity. She posted a photo of herself wearing hijab and holding a wine glass with the caption: “Trust me, women who wear hijab do drink.” She also blogs about sexuality but does so anonymously. My friend who is Iranian has encountered essentialising stereotypes in online dating on the part of a few men who could not perceive dating an Iranian man.
I like the idea of online nomadism proposed by the authors. The individual can choose how much information to disclose. The individual can avoid being essentialised according to cultural stereotypes but can also choose to express deep cultural ideas which are not rooted in superficial signs or symbols but might be reflective of original thought.

Vrasidas & Zembylas. “The nature of technology-mediated interaction in global distance education.” International Journal of Training and development 7:4. pp. 271-286.


Ideology and Critical Thinking in Education

The following blog was motivated by a reflection on cultural imperialism and the concern about exporting ideologies through OERs.

Ideologies don’t have be exported across borders. From a Marxist perspective of education, at least according to the French theorist Althusser, school systems are ideological state apparatuses. He distinguishes between Repressive Ideological State Apparatuses (the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.) which function by force and violence (whether physical or not) and Ideological State Apparatuses:
• the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
• the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
• the family ISA,[8]
• the legal ISA,[9]
• the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
• the trade-union ISA,
• the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
• the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).
About education, Althusser expands on how schools propagate state ideology:
It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most ‘vulnerable’, squeezed between the Family State Apparatus and the Educational State Apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected ‘into production’: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the ‘intellectuals of the collective labourer’, the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced ‘laymen’).

I think that schools reproduce social classes and structures in Canada and train students to become workers and consumers. After reading Althusser, I wondered to myself how many times I had said to my students: “What will you do in the workforce?” Of course, it is not a bad thing to prepare students for various trades and professions because students need to be equipped to survive and flourish in their respective environments and economies. However, it is not the only purpose of education. In Canada, we may propagate bourgeois values of obtaining work and increasing material wealth and we seem to also produce students who are apolitical (this might be what happens in affluent nations). That said, in non-Western countries, or the countries importing distance education materials, products, programmes, etc., there are indigenous ideologies at work as well, such as state ideologies or religious ideologies. Curricula tend to emphasise critical thinking but I wonder how different jurisdictions define critical thinking… or if critical thinking is defined at all.


Frosh Rape Chants and Teaching the Y-O-U-N-G

How can we create awareness, sensitivity, and prevention of rape culture through public education?

In Canada, national news reported an offensive rape chant being sung by frosh students a mari usque ad mare.  University of British Columbia (UBC) business students in Vancouver and Saint-Mary’s University students in Halifax were filmed chanting this:  “Y-O-U-N-G at UBC we like em young Y is for yourrr sister O is for ohh so tight U is for under age N is for noo consent G is for goo to jail.”  Here is further coverage of the events:


I am hesitant to include coverage by UBC’ Ubyssey because the articles I have read to date, seemingly written by fellow students, do not emphasise how unacceptable and offensive the behaviour is.  If anything, the Ubyssey articles I have read reflect the indifference (or internalised sexism) of the students involved (the following statements were made by women):

“I think it’s all passed down year after year … from forever, I guess” Chen said. “It’s not something we can control, to be honest.”

“It was just for fun, right?  It was only on the bus so I didn’t think of it as a big deal, to be honest,” she said.  “It was just kind of like, ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s go all out, it’s frosh weekend.”

The Global clips included opinions by more concerned students.  It seems than in the case of this story the mainstream media has been more progressive that student-led reporting.

Beyond the cliché, platitude, and almost insulting understatement that such chants are “not appropriate,” university and school educators must wonder how so many students signed up for higher education are able to engage in such grotesque behaviour:  turning the horrors of rape, under age sex, and tight vaginas into a pep rallying cheer to encourage camaraderie amongst new students.

Most jurisdictions require that public schools assess critical thinking (i.e. thinking – the use of creative and critical thinking skills – is one of four competencies tested in Ontario’s standardised assessment grid, from the primary to secondary level).  Many jurisdictions also have anti-sexist education programmes and sexual assault prevention and awareness programmes.  If teaching and assessing critical thinking are mandated by policy, then are education systems effectively producing critical thinkers?  And are anti-sexist and rape prevention programmes effective?

While assessment of critical thinking is mandatory, teachers, schools, and textbooks have a lot of freedom in selecting subjects to discuss and analyse.  How often are public school students considering and critiquing representations of gender (“oh so tight”), gender relations (“your sister,” “underage”), dating, courtship, consent, and rape (“no consent,” “go to jail”)?

My own efforts in anti-sexist education have left me concerned that only a minority of students seem to become interested in gender issues.  I am concerned with the perpetuation of sexism and the fact that many students do not actually understand the meaning of rape (i.e. some students – girls in the cases I am thinking of – did not recognise abusive relationships or date rape in novels or understand the concept of consent following a sexual assault prevention workshop).

My question for fellow educators – my peers – is the following:  In your respective experiences, what is public school education doing about educating students about rape and sexual assault legislation, and more abstractly, of rape culture?   What is working?  What is not working?


Applying Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology (excerpt from a work in progress)

Applying Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology to the Problem Situation:  The Problem Situation Defined

At the French school where I used to work, the mandate of the school and school board is to provide French language education and to encourage students to feel a sense of belonging to the Franco-Ontarian community. However, the vast majority of the students did not actually speak French amongst themselves.  The situation is one of irony:  An ethno-linguistic community struggles for about a century to acquire the minority language rights guaranteed by the constitution.  Once the rights are fully acquired, most students no longer speak French naturally and teachers need to actively enforce the rule that French is the language of communication within the school.  Similar situations exist in many schools across Canada in minority francophone communities.  The situation is therefore not isolated.  Historical and sociolinguistic factors can explain the situation, which varies from one region to another and from one school to another.  For example, in small rural communities, particularly in Northern Ontario and Eastern Ontario, students tend to speak French amongst themselves at school just as community members tend to speak French amongst themselves.  In urban areas where the majority of community members are English-speaking, students tend to speak more English amongst themselves and need to be cajoled to speak French. 

In 1912, the province of Ontario limited access to French language education by prohibiting instruction in French for over one hour a day for children beyond grade two.  This law, Règlement 17, was enforced for fifteen years despite a French Canadian resistance involving teaching secretly in French.  The law was only formally removed from the statutes in 1944.  In 1968, French language secondary instruction became available thanks to law 141.  Public school boards were thus permitted, though not required, to offer instruction in French.  Regional struggles occurred.  The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to minority language education in Canadian provinces:

Section 23, article 1 states the following:

Citizens of Canada

a)      whose first language learned and still understood is that of the English of French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or

b)      who have received their primary school instruction in Canada in English or French and reside in a province where the language in which they received that instruction is the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province, have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province.

The Franco-Ontarian community acquired the right to autonomously manage their own school boards in 1997; in January 1998, eight Catholic and four public French language boards came to existence. 

Franco-Ontarians are dispersed throughout the province.  Some of those whose families have experienced the prohibition of French language instruction in primary or secondary school carry this in their collective memory.  Schools attempt to teach this history and to emphasise the importance of being grateful for the right to receive French language instruction.  In addition to this history, sociolinguistic factors involving proximity and interaction with the English-speaking majority of Ontario have influenced the use of French amongst Franco-Ontarians, particularly amongst young people.  Community leaders and teachers are particularly distraught to see assimilation rates increase and students struggle in their mother tongue, which might become the ancestral language for many.


Systems Thinking and Research (work in progress)

The following is a work in progress and an excerpt from a paper I am writing about applying systems thinking to education.

An analyst is not separate from the system or situation she analyses.  An external observer, researcher, analyst is not external while observing; she is engaged and absorbed in the community, the culture, the organisation, or the system being analysed.  Her journey into the system reveals a looking glass and imposes a journey into the self – a pilgrimage into a lake of intertwined lily pads.  The wind, the waves, and the analyst move through rhizomatous lily pads.  The journey is unlike the narcissist gaze.  The analyst moves through the lily pads, the rhizome, the systems, but also move with them, and is moved by them. 

The systems movement ripples through water, time, space, disciplines, professions, organisations, cultures, and… systems.  The analyst’s research requires her to internalise and integrate systems organically, holistically, from within the self and the body, and integrate the interaction and connections with other bodies, individuals, communities, structures, systems.  Like a dancer, she moves parts of her body, and even if apparently in isolation, she moves the whole; the whole body is impacted, just as the space around her is impacted, as are the other bodies dancing with her or observing her.  The body parts, the bodies, the space, the observed and the observers, the ideas, or the raw physicality create something new and whole and interconnected.  Like a dancer, the analyst moves through the system, in the system, with the system, and is moved by the system.


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