Young people are often not credited with the ability to deal with complex subjects, and are therefore kept away from them. In a modern age there is a constant feed of information with very little space to process it and consider it from a personal perspective. Young people need the space to challenge not only themselves but also the information they receive and where it is coming from. In doing so they can turn learning and teaching on its head.
For the project “The Ethics and Politics of the Refugee Crisis” we worked with two London schools (Skinners’ Academy and City & Islington College, CANDI), completing the second programme at the start of December 2016. The students at these two schools struck us by showing us how the same process can produce such different results, in the best possible way.
At CANDI we worked with students on developing a performance based on research around media representation of migrants and issues around the refugee crisis. The students discussed and debated these with exceptional awareness and sensitivity, willing and open to have their opinions and knowledge expanded and challenged. They pulled together a powerful performance in a short amount of time, with only 4 sessions available to them. They impressed not only the project partners, but also all those who saw their performance in video format at a large final project event on 2 December at Rich Mix in London, which included academics, NGO’s, charities, and many others.
The teachers, students and parents who saw the performance by the Skinners’ group were also impressed with their maturity in dealing with the topic and the personal development of the students individually. They impressed by making clear that they were continuing conversations and asking questions in their homes, not just in our workshops.
These groups are a great example of how things can be so similar, yet so different. The two groups were hugely different collections of people. While actREAL creates bespoke workshops for each school, a programme within any particular academic project will deal with a specific topic. Each programme is broadly the same in how it is set up and its final aims. Despite this, however, it is entirely impossible to say that any group of students has been the same. Each group has different dynamics, different awareness of the subject at hand, different levels of engagement and willingness. Each group approaches workshops differently and they always produce a very unique performance, reflective of them.
When young people present a new perspective on information they receive, having been allowed to explore it personally and taking charge of its new form, they are able to take on a variety of challenges: they challenge themselves to know more information and to possibly unlearn what had come before. For example, a student from CANDI stated at the final event “Everything I’d heard about refugees before this was negative”. It gives them the opportunity to decide where they sit, at that moment, on a topic, to challenge the academics that provided the source material by presenting a new way of looking at it, and to develop an emotional bond with the material. In this process the students also positively challenge academics and us as they make unexpected choices, challenging the information itself by applying their own circumstances and realities to it to try to make sense of it. Importantly, they also challenge what it is to learn and teach, as they take on both roles themselves by immersing themselves, their intellect and their emotions into a topic and presenting it to others in turn, no doubt, teaching the spectator a thing or two.
(All images by Jahan Khan)
By: Ida Persson