Reviewing our Pedagogy in Walking the Path to a New Normality

Read Part I: Renewing Reflective Inquiry  Read Part II: Reviewing Our Pedagogy as We Walk the New Path

Editors’ Introduction. This Corona Connection is a pedagogical companion to the previous posting of the CLAIP “Manifesto for a New Normality.” Focusing on the vision of a transformed world that informs the Manifesto, Betty Reardon advocates a review and revision of peace education practice, so that the field may be able to better prepare citizens to act in this extraordinary moment of opportunity.

Reviewing one central aspect of her own practice, reflective inquiry that she previously considered as adequate to most of the peace education problematic, she finds it inadequate to the learning needs of present possibilities. In a two-part Corona Connection contribution, she offers in the first part, a rationale for revision and suggested extension of her concepts of reflective inquiry. In the second, she offers a curriculum sample based on newly added forms of normative/standard setting, strategic/planning, and conceptual/speculative reflective inquiry. Her purpose is to encourage colleagues to review and redesign this sample and their own pedagogies to adapt them to this unprecedented time of crisis and promise.


Part I: Renewing Reflective Inquiry 

No Going Back to the Old Normal

Whatever the post-pandemic recovery process produces as a normal way of life, for those on the mid to the top levels of the ladder of wealth and wellbeing, will not, cannot and should not be “life as we knew it” before it was stopped in its complacent consumerist tracks by COVID-19.  So, what should the new normal be? One comprehensive response is the Manifesto for a New Normality, posted in the most recent Corona Connection.

As a peace educator, I welcome this ten-point manifesto, articulating a paradigm for a renewed world in which fundamental peace values form the criteria for the achievement of a post-pandemic preferred global order. It offers a vision to inform actions and policy-making for some of the normative and structural changes integral to that order. Most significantly, it presents an opportunity to stretch the practices of peace pedagogy. It challenges us to consider changes and additions to how we have thus far walked the paths of peace education.

Renewed Pedagogy for Renewed thinking Relevant to Current Challenges and Opportunities

The Corona Connections series, calls for “renewed thinking for a renewed world,” inviting peace educators to review the pedagogical practices through which they intend to prepare citizens to renew the world. It requests that they revise current methods and devise new ones more relevant to the problems revealed and the possibilities presented by COVID-19.

For me, that means a review of the modes of reflective inquiry that have long been central to the pedagogy I advocate and have practiced, particularly as outlined in “Meditating on the Barricades,” an essay responding to divisive ideological barriers to reasoned public discourse that I deemed to be serious obstacles to both peacemaking, and peacelearning. Peace pedagogies should derive from the realities that pose the particular obstacles we face at any given time.  Political efficacy demands that we learn to think our way to other perspectives and renewed views of immediate problems.  Yet, even such renewed perspectives on newly emerging problems and possibilities are to be applied within the context of longer range and broader peace goals that pertain in all times and circumstances until they are achieved.  Halting climate change, eliminating structural vulnerability, realizing universal human dignity, and achieving general and complete disarmament remain the overarching purpose of peace education. All require transformative change. In this case, much of that purpose is subsumed into a transformed “normality,” a profound change in human society that invokes transformation in all phases of our “normal” everyday lives, structural, systemic, interpersonal, and personal.

Among the obstacles, to be confronted now, during, and after this pandemic, the Manifesto asserts are “irresponsible consumption” and “anesthetized consciences.” In noting these obstacles, the manifesto invokes the civic responsibility of all citizens to recognize our complicity in the injustices of the accepted normal and to participate in its transformation. Reflection on the meaning and socio-political implications of these obstacles is a starting point for a peace education oriented study of this Manifesto. What will it take for the “consuming class” to take responsibility for complicity in normal injustices; and to intentionally prepare to eliminate them? Learning to take responsibility and intentionally prepare for transformative action now possible, require the more varied and specific forms of pedagogies that call us to review and adjust our usual practices, as I attempt to do in this Corona Connection.

In “Meditating…” I outlined three particular, but interrelated forms of the reflective inquiry that I held to be the essential foundation of the kind of thinking that might free policy discourse from entrapment in dysfunctional ideologies and consequent bipolar political stalemates: critical/analytic, moral/ethical, and contemplative/ruminative. Like all thinking, these forms are not isolated one from the other, but may overlap and intertwine. However, the inquiry itself can be focused and guided by the queries raised to guide reflection. Certainly, these three forms have a place in the study of “The New Normality.” They are adaptable to substantive study of the content of the Manifesto, its propositions, and its indictment of the present “normality.” However, none of the three are specifically relevant, nor sufficient to the urgency of this moment in which we need now, while there is opportunity, to devise and develop the “new normality;” and, as soon as is practical, undertake to adopt the policies and take the actions to achieve it.

The pedagogical challenges of this moment may to some degree be met by the forms I initially defined as modes of reflective inquiry, but need further development and specification toward practical action-oriented thinking, infused by awakened consciences motivated toward responsible consumption. Such awakening and motivation might well be initiated from the modes of reflection originally identified. Indeed, we need such abstract reflection to clarify conceptual definitions of and strengthen commitment to the values of the new norms we hope to establish. Certainly, we must bring critical/analytic reflection to the problem conceptualization as argued here, and to acknowledge its particular political perspective. So, too, within the context of this inquiry into practical implementation of the values which infuse it, moral/ethical reflection is important to the integrity as well as the efficacy of any implementation process. It was for this reason that it was suggested that the preparatory reading of the Manifesto be followed by reflection to discern and articulate the fundamental principles at the heart of each of its ten points.  All responsible civic action arises from conscientious consideration of the values that motivate it.

For values to be realized, in this case for the new norms to be established, we need, as well, action-oriented thinking to engage fully with the opportunities for systemic and structural change the pandemic recovery presents. Accordingly, I have attempted to renew the three initial forms of reflective inquiry, with a view toward cultivating the practical policy/action learning called for by our present circumstances.

A Renewal and Extension of Reflective Inquiry

This present limited time of opportunity is uniquely suited to transformative change if citizens are prepared to act to realize some of the practical possibilities of the many rapidly emerging proposals for reforms that the moment has given us. So, to facilitate a more action-oriented, practical mode of thinking, I propose the following three additional forms of reflective inquiry: normative/standard-setting; strategic/planning; and speculative/conceptual.  Together the six modes are somewhat of a specification of cycles of learning from awareness to action that I have applied elsewhere in learning/action guides. The significance of these formations, as with any such theoretical exposition, is not so much in their designation as in the process and product of the thinking that they are intended to cultivate. In reviewing these forms as described below, peace educators may well think of alternatives to achieve similar goals. It is the possibility of the broader development of approaches to reflection/action learning that gives me hope of continued and multiple renewals of our various theories and methods. Such renewal is always necessary to the relevance of our field, but urgently so now when we must meet the pedagogical challenges of a new normal.

Normative/standard-setting reflection focuses on defining norms, the standards to determine and measure what is acceptable within a society or any human group or organization, for assessing the achievement of the standards, set as the guidelines and benchmarks in the realization in this case, of a new normality. They determine how we govern, how we relate, how we consume and other such aspects of our common life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a set of standards that set the norms for individual expectations of their societies and governments. We will need new norms for a new normality, perhaps even beyond the UDHR and the Covenants that encoded its principles into international law.

Strategic/planning reflection is the thinking that goes into how the norms will be achieved and observed, the implementation of the new normality, i.e. “how to do it” thinking that “makes the path as we walk it.” It is the most practical and action-oriented form of reflection. It lends itself to the notion of politics as learning and to Freirean cycles of repeated reflections, actions to test the product of the reflection, and new reflection toward further and more effective action.

Speculative/conceptual reflection is speculating on possibilities, formulating the ideas of what the new normal would be in terms of the actualization of the values that inform the new norms.  It is the conceptualization of the institutions, structures and systems through which a social order and/or polity is constructed and governed.

Outlined in the second part of this Corona Connection is a very brief sample inquiry into possibilities for the practical implementation of the principles and goals articulated in the CLAIP “Manifesto for a New Normality.” This sample is intended to provide one limited example of what might be a more detailed and varied reflective inquiry, facilitated through queries derived to apply these three additional realms of reflective inquiry. The suggested queries are but a first attempt to induce the intended mode of reflection in queries formed with purpose of the reflection and a possible thinking and discussion process to fulfill it. All peace educators are encouraged to try their pedagogical hands at devising queries for the purpose of inducing any and all of these three forms of reflective inquiry with the purpose of motivating and preparing learners for practical civic action toward “a new normality.”

Core concepts of the Inquiry

In the interest of conceptual clarity, the notion of normality that infuses the inquiry is deemed to mean the ordinary daily conditions of life, the expectations by which societies conduct and experience the production of the regular livelihoods, guide their quotidian social interactions and human relationships, and plan the days to come. All of these realms have been turned up-side-down by the pandemic, and all the norms by which they have been guided are brought into question by this manifesto.

Reflective inquiry, I will note for those readers unfamiliar with the term or the literature that deals with it, is a mode of thinking that draws us into deeper, even slower, thinking than we usually bring to consideration of public concerns. It is facilitated through queries rather than questions.   Questions call for “answers,” more immediate, unidimensional, substantively specific existing knowledge, accepted facts. Queries are designed to produce diverse, multi-dimensional responses, providing a broader, varied pool of ideas for consideration; providing more possibilities from which to move to action; or, if necessary further inquiry. It is knowledge-making as well as knowledge gaining, very much in the spirit of the education recommendations of the manifesto’s fifth point.

Corona Connections as Complementary Substance to Inspire Specificity in a Plan for A New Normality

For this particular inquiry, intended as learning for action, participants might also review the arguments and proposals presented in earlier Corona Connections on economic reform, military spending, and nuclear disarmament.  Each of those connections offers possibilities for specific changes that are likely to meet the norms advocated in the Manifesto.

Part 2: Reviewing Our Pedagogy as We Walk the New Path

Some Suggested Queries for Reflection on a New Normality

The crux of reflective inquiry is in the formation of the queries. A query should be formed so as to guide the learner into the form of reflection that leads most directly to understanding of and action on the problems at issue. The ten points of the Manifesto lend themselves to reflection that I believe could prepare and inspire learners to politically effective action. Such preparation and inspiration are the learning objectives of the queries suggested below. It is suggested that the queries be given to inquiry participants in advance of the common discussion so that adequate individual reflection will inform that conversation.

Begin the inquiry with each participant doing a full, careful, and thoughtful reading of the entire Manifesto. Each is to identify and articulate, point by point what appears to be the normative principles it espouses. Open the common conversation with a sharing of these principles as the normative objectives of action to implement the Manifesto. These principles are the goals and purposes toward which we will set standards, strategize, and speculate. When there is a general consensus on the principles open discussion of the queries.

Normative/Standard-setting Queries:

How will we know when we have reached a new normal? We will need indicators, i.e. norms and benchmarks to determine if they have been realized. If these norms are to be universal responses to the queries might be prefaced by a phrase such as “All human beings should have…” or “Every person should be able to…” or “Everyone is responsible for…”. The completed responses should be concrete and measurable conditions, circumstances, or qualities.

Consider the first point of the Manifesto. What indicators, i.e. norms, of “equitable redistribution of wealth” might be established? How might we specify the more equitable standards of living we seek? Are there any current policy proposals that might lead to such equality? What measurements of economic equality might we devise to assess their fulfillment?

Strategic/Planning Queries:

We will need a strategy and specific plans of how to establish the new norms and assure that they are understood, observed, and implemented. The process would involve both programs for political action to produce the desired policies and education programs to persuade learners to participate in the political process and prepare citizens to live by the new norms.

Consider the fourth point of the Manifesto that demands, “binding and proactive participation of entire populations, especially those who have been systematically excluded…” What strategy of education might be undertaken to familiarize the citizenry with the new norms and gain their support for their implementation? Assuming all but those on the lower rungs of the ladder would have to consume less, how might they be motivated to do so, and learn to live differently? What might be necessary personal and communal sacrificed necessary to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth? What forms of politics might achieve “the participation of entire populations?”

Conceptual/Speculative Queries:

A new normality will require structural and institutional change. We will need to conceptualize and speculate on possibilities for new or drastically renewed structures and institutions.

What ideas for new structures and institutions can we conceive?  Speculate on the institutional forms and systemic processes that might embody and sustain the new normality? How would they resemble or differ from present institutions? What adaptations and changes might we make in present institutions to equip them to function under our preferred new norms? Consider such institutions as the global economy, its relationship to wealth distribution and climate change, and the militarized global security system as you respond to these queries.

Summarize the action learning inquiry by drafting “Standard and Planning Guides for a New Normality.”

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