Exercise 5: Scenarios- Examples on how to deal with interculturally diverse positions in the classroom

You will be introduced to examples of intercultural conflicts in school. Please reflect for every example on how you would deal with these kinds of situations. After your own reflection you are please read the background information and pedagogical options / acting recommendations and compare it with your own answers.

In the text below you will be introduced to examples of intercultural conflicts in school (Ufuq.de: The kids are alright” translated from German to English by Leena Ferogh and Sebastian Schwäbe). Please reflect for every example on how you would deal with these kinds of situations. After your own reflection please read the background information and pedagogical options / acting recommendations and compare it with your own answers.

Scenario 1: New with headscarf

After summer holidays a Muslim girl comes to school and she suddenly wears a traditional Muslim scarf covering her hair. Some of the other girls comment on that fact in a negative way.

How would you deal with this situation? Please note your answer. Then compare your answer with the background information and the pedagogical approach below.

Background: 
You cannot tell if someone is religious by the fact that she is wearing a headscarf. Nevertheless, for many it is a symbol of “Islam” in the public debate: as such, some want to defend it. For others it is an expression of oppression. In everyday life, the motifs and forms for wearing the scarf are very diverse. The daughter wears a headscarf, but her sister or mother does not. No matter whether voluntarily or imposed: The first day of school with a headscarf – for example after the summer holidays – is a big hurdle for everyone.

Pedagogical approach:

  • Young people usually do not like to be approached about changes that affect their body or personality. If you address girls because they are “new” with a headscarf, then this should show interest and not problem-orientation.
  • Make yourself known as a contact person when discrimination occurs.
  • Look for pragmatic solutions when problems arise, for example in physical education.
  • If girls with or without headscarves are being bullied in school, intervene – but not in relation to religious issues, but because some young people put others under pressure.
  • The less girls and families are “pulled”, the more free they are in their decisions.
Scenario 2: Refusing handshake at the school leaving ceremony

At the school leaving ceremony a Muslim student refuses to shake hands when a female teacher wants to congratulate.

How would you deal with this situation? Please note your answer. Then compare your answer with the background information and the pedagogical approach below.

Background: 
The most Muslims in the world shake hands with other people. But some avoid physical contact with strangers of the opposite sex – as a sign of respect, they say. If young people do not want to shake hands, typical pubertal identity processes often play a role: Who am I? What role does religion play for me? What do they expect of me? In most cases, a refusal to shake hands is not based on a desire for segregation. By not shaking the hand the student might test if you are ready to recognize his “individuality”. This can show up as a provocation, but it is usually an experiment. 

Pedagogical approach: 

  • Do not encourage “we and they discourses” by talking about “our” values and traditions. 
  • Ask the young people what is important to them about their way of greeting. 
  • Take up different forms of greeting: What is it about? 
  • Trace the concerns of the young people, take them seriously, but assume that they are in the process of finding their identity. 
  • In the case of ideological hardening, seek support. 
Scenario 3: International conflicts

A political discussion comes up in the classroom and some young people take sides unilaterally when talking about wars and conflicts.

How would you deal with this situation? Please note your answer. Then compare your answer with the background information and the pedagogical approach below.

Background:
Young people are concerned about international conflicts and this sometimes leads to difficult situations – e.g. when young people vehemently take sides. This can have to do with personal/family involvement; with a sense for politically contradictory constellations of interests (e.g. is Saudi Arabia an Islamist dictatorship and yet an ally of “the West”); or generally with protesting against injustice or compassion for victims of war and violence. Even one’s own experiences of discrimination can contribute to young people feeling connected with other “victims” – for example as Muslims. International conflicts then provide a sounding board for confirming one’s own perceptions. Salafists can also make use of this if they represent conflicts in their own sense (Muslims as victims).

Pedagogical approach:

  • Take up regular events that are in the news and give young people space for their feelings and thoughts.
  • Pay tribute to the empathy / commitment / criticism / protest of the young people!
  • The differentiation can follow in a second step: What is the conflict about? Compare conflicts.
  • Practice a change of perspective: How do the actors / warring parties see it?
  • Talk about justice and injustice: How do we want to live?
  • Only interfere when protest and criticism tip over into pejorative ideologies and enemy images.
  • Consider what options young people have for dealing with these conflicts (forums, letters to the editor, donations, etc.).
Scenario 4: "Pierre Vogel? I think he' s cool..."

A student refers positively to Salafism or Islamist preachers.

How would you deal with this situation? Please note your answer. Then compare your answer with the background information and the pedagogical approach below.

Background:
Young people are in searching processes. Religion can become a building block of identity – especially when they feel “their” religion and their affiliation being questioned. This is where Salafist offers can also come in, such as: a community in which they can feel belonging, recognized, strong and superior; religious “knowledge” and orientation, possibilities for self-presentation (attention); and positioning against actual and unavoidable injustices. Thus Salafism can be attractive to all (including non-Muslim youth). It marks a social vacuum: Because if the needs and interests of many young people in society are not sufficiently served, others come and give their answers. If young people refer to this, it is not necessarily an expression of their closeness to Salafism.

Pedagogical approach:

  • Deal with references to Salafist preachers (or similar ones) as relaxed as possible. First of all consider provocations as offers of conversation.
  • Put the “problematic” of the positions in the foreground (e.g. devaluation). Ask the group about other forms of devaluation.
  • Talk about religion and different forms of religiosity.
  • Give the young people space: their own thoughts protect them from simple worldviews.
  • Do not give the impression that you want to question “Islam”. Then you can trust that most “your” youth will reject Salafism and express how embarrassed they find the preachers.
  • Always pay attention to changes in young people. Trust in your experiences and your pedagogical intuition.
  • If there are indications of radicalisation: Speak to the staff, seek advice.

After having worked through the four examples above please think about an example where you have had difficulties to deal with diverse cultural positions in the classroom. Then go to the the 6-step programme (from ufuq.de: “The kids are alright”) that can be helpful for difficult situations in this context and think about how this could have helped you:

  • Step 1: Do not source difficult positions and conflicts to culture, Islam and Islamism! In other words, do not ask what “problematic” and provocative positions or behaviours of young people might have to do with Islam, culture or Islamism.
  • Step 2: Instead, ask: a) What is this actually about? What is the “topic behind the topic”? b) Is it perhaps a reaction to experiences that the young person has made in my lessons, in our school or in society?
  • Step 3: Say “yes”, be open and interested in the concern (even if it is expressed in the form of a provocation) and give the young people enough space and time to add and exchange their views and perspectives.
  • Step 4: Say “But…” only in rare occasions, that means intervene only when devaluing and antipluralistic positions as well as absolute claims to truth arise and these remain unchallenged in the group.
  • Step 5: Ask the young people about their wishes and expectations on the respective topics (“How do we want to live?”) and stimulate conversations and discussions.
  • Step 6: If a conversation or discussion in the group succeeds in this topic, we have fulfilled our pedagogical task and can go home satisfied.