Journey to Justice at the Five Nations Conference, Dublin, January 2017 Martin Spafford and Parul Motin on JtoJ as transformative education
The conference was superbly and tightly organised in a lovely hotel, everything running super smoothly. More important than that, there was very quickly a coming together in solidarity and warmth of like minded people who are really out there trying to do transformative things in classrooms with bravery, creativity, skill and respect for young people in a wide range of very different contexts. Most of all was the quality of discussion and exploration of how to encourage social action in the current climate and the challenges facing educators. We were grappling with complexity with a lot of realism but also positivity and some optimism. Delegates were very diverse indeed in terms of age but not at all diverse ethnically: two Asian teachers and one of mixed heritage, otherwise all White. Some of the best moments, as always, were the discussions over the (delicious) meals and long into the night at the nearby canalside pub. We made some good friends.
As we were running a workshop we sadly couldn’t go to the other workshops, but the inspired idea of having an artist to create a visual report as we went along means you can see lots that emerged from the attached photos of what he produced. There were two excellent country-based discussion sessions – we were in the England group – the second of which, particularly, had us grappling with how to preserve the teaching of liberal values in a rightward-moving political climate. As one person said, ‘What if successful work encouraging students to be active in organising for change means that one group of students wants to organise a campaign to stop immigration?’ Of the plenary sessions, a real highlight was the one chaired by Lee Jerome in which four teachers in English schools reported on ways they had tackled the Prevent agenda in a Five Nations sponsored project which started from seeing Prevent itself as a controversial issue.
Both our workshops were very well attended and went very well though with more time for discussion in the second one. We generated really good discussion about the role of the arts and the power of stories from history. I think we managed to get a real understanding of how we connect history, the arts and social action in ways that can be transformative for young people and were therefore very keyed into the theme of the conference. We made new contacts in the five nations and will follow up with them. Without reservation, a fantastic conference, really impressive in its organisation, scope and sense of solidarity while realistic about the challenges ahead.
I left there feeling inspired and with a sense of pride. I was proud of the work we have done so far and achieved in such a short amount of time. We were praised and applauded as a team for our work and commitment to help support young people find their voices in the most creative way. I met some wonderful people, whose stories I will always remember to help me through my own struggles working with young people. The room was full of richness, people’s stories, backgrounds and practices – we were all learning and growing together. No one was patronised or belittled.
‘A fascinating project. Well done to you all’; ‘Amazing workshop. Love the way you ask students how the different civil right activists achieved change and about the obstacles they overcame.’ ‘Inspired by the young people’s sadness, anger, lessons they learnt and their voice of hope.’; ‘Fantastic to see the transformative and empowering work. Thanks for sharing.’ ; ‘Loved it all! INSPIRATIONAL.’ Martin’s going to work with Citizenship PGCE students at Middlesex University as a result.