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'The Importance of Informal Adult Education and Reconciliation' by Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson



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Text: Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson
Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following chapter has been contributed by the authors Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson with the permission of the publishers. Duncan Morrow is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Ulster, and Derick Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in Community Relations at the University of Ulster. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

The chapter will also be available as a downloadable document which can saved and opened in 'Word'.


The chapter is from the resource package:

WAYS OUT OF CONFLICT: Resources for Community Relations Work
by Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson
Published by 'Corrymeela Press' 1996
ISBN 1 873739 10 9

Chapter Title:
The Importance of Informal Adult Education and Reconciliation

Copies of 'Ways Out of Conflict' are available at a cost of 20.00 pounds plus 2.50 pounds per copy for postage and packing.

Orders (with payment) to:

Derick Wilson
The Understanding Conflict Trust
c/o 8 Upper Crescent
BELFAST
BT7 1NT
T: +44 (0)1265 324550
F: +44 (0)1265 324904

This chapter is copyright Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson 1997 and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the publisher. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of Corrymeela Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


Duncan Morrow and Derick Wilson (1996)
Ways out of Conflict: Resources for Community Relations Work
Background Paper for Facilitators, pp.46-54

THE IMPORTANCE OF INFORMAL ADULT EDUCATION AND RECONCILIATION

There are distinct limits to the ways in which the formal education system within an 'ethnic frontier' (Wright, 1987) can be expected to yield new forms of community relationships between people from mutually antagonistic traditions. Understandably, out of historical and present day fears, the formal educational systems within the frontier area are identified with the interests of the competing traditions and, primarily, reproduce their cultural values and beliefs. The task of cultural reproduction dominates the task of reconstruction. Reconstructing a society which is marked by trusting relationships and jointly owned and managed structures is desirable for the educator assisting change and growth in pupils, yet it is culturally difficult for them to do.

It is unfair of the adult community to ask these professionals and children to solely undertake this task for adult society. (Wilson, 1994). However, there still may be an opportunity for new meetings, relationships and structures to develop in such areas. One such place is when adults choose to come together in informal education programmes and training, outside the formal statutory education system. Drawing on the experiences of "The Understanding Conflict ... and Finding Ways Out of it" project in Northern Ireland, (Morrow, 1991, pp 119-128) such meetings can occur when the initiative for successful experiments comes from the participants. Personal choice is the central element in developing informal education approaches. it stands in contrast to the legal requirements on pupils to attend the formal statutory education system and teachers to teach a required curriculum. It is possible when a base of reconciliation work (Wilson, 1994, op. cit.) has evolved within the situation. (Hinds, 1994)

The central idea under examination here is whether people from the different traditions in Northern Ireland can meet together and speak together constructively about the themes which interest and effect them most in daily life. We are especially interested in examining ways in which the emotionally laden themes and fears around living in a contested place can be examined within mixed company. (Morrow, Wilson & Wright, 1994) Although directly focussed on Northern Ireland, the approach has been used with people from other societies. (Wilson, op. cit., 1994; & Understanding Conflict.... 1993, p 5)

1.1 THE POSSIBILITIES OF INFORMAL RECONCILIATION WORK WITH ADULTS

The context in which the approach has been developed

This model of adult education aims to facilitate people from the different traditions in an ethnic frontier learn with each other. It takes account of the influences and characteristics associated with contested societies.

The participants specifically focus their meetings around the difficult issues and realities in personal, communal, cultural, religious and political life within an ethnic frontier. It draws on something of the spirit. of Dewey, who saw the person as having "no existence by him (her) self. He (she) lives in, for, and by society, just as society has no existence except in and through the individuals who constitute it". (Dewey, 1910, pp 22-23)

One of the central educational tasks associated with reconciliation is to assist meetings between people from different traditions to take place. In these meetings people should have the possibility to experience trust and begin to share and understand the relationships which assist and maintain separation, distrust and fear. The atmosphere of these meetings is conveyed in the following statement by a founder member of the project when discussing whether Education for Mutual Understanding heralded a new era of 're-education' in Northern Ireland.

"New histories will only take root ... if they grow out o new relationships which give them meaning. If we explore our histories together with people whose experience is of the opposite side of the deterrence relationships, then new history may eventually flourish." (Wright, 1990, p 30)

Such meetings are often new experiences for many people who initially may feel strange meeting people from traditions other than their own. In the ethnic frontier the traditions do not prepare their members to be comfortable in the presence of the 'others'.

The task of the project is the creation of new forms of meeting together within a shared format. It is sponsored by people who have been brought up within both major traditions in Northern Ireland. In these meetings people can experience being with others from different traditions, having a place as of right and having their experiences valued. The opportunity informal voluntary groups offer is that people choose to come, people only speak if they wish to and groups are not forced into a prescribed curriculum; people are making choices as adults.

The nature of law and order is an important parameter which any informal adult educational work in an ethnic frontier area must acknowledge. On a number of community relations courses, when people spoke together about their experiences of dealing with the state and the law, the experiences of participants were very different. They were coloured by the traditions they had grown up in and the specific encounters they had, and continued to have, with the police in everyday situations. (Wilson, op. cit.,1994)

From these meetings it becomes clearer that people from each tradition had very asymmetrical relationships to the state and to the police. (Wright, 1991a) Central to this groupwork is the differing relationship of people and traditions to the state in an ethnic frontier. In an ethnic frontier each tradition has their own view and sense of loyalty (Wright, 1991b). Different groups of people do not share the same meaning, even though they share the same events. The facts about every communal incident are not unanimously agreed with; people do not share a transcending identity. In such situations people do not speak with one voice. There are ambivalences about what constitutes criminal activities and how to react to the actions of the police and the army. One example which highlighted this was the differing responses of people from both major traditions in a mixed group to the Gibraltar shooting of terrorist suspects by the SAS. (1988) Such a theme has been spoken about with great emotion in mixed groups facilitated by the project. Some ways of teaching these controversial events in recent history are now being developed by the Understanding Conflict Project with History teachers in a pilot project in 1994-95 supported by the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. When people share their reactions to such incidents they experience how deeply the cultural triggers within their own history cause them to view the one incident in very different ways.

This problem, the nature of the law and how it is perceived, is at the heart of the educational approach used in working with mixed tradition groups. The model also acknowledges that, in the complex dynamics of an ethnic frontier, people from different traditions have very different experiences even though, economically and socially, they appear to come from a comparable background. Furthermore, people living even within one geographical area may well have very different experiences socially and economically. (see Hoare, 1981, pp 152-175) These variations can of course also be within the traditions - the way middle-class professionals experience the state and the police can be very different from their working class co-traditionalists' experiences. Wrights ethnic frontier model hypothesises that differences within as well as between the traditions will be crucial. (Morrow, 1994)

1.2 THE FRONTIER DYNAMICS THE ADULT EDUCATION MODEL ACKNOWLEDGES

THE MEETING TOGETHER MODEL

In an ethnic frontier deterrence is a central form of relationship. (see Wright, 1988) From this flows some basic dynamics which then influence how, and what, people learn in mixed groups.

(A) THE DEFINING POINTS OF DIFFERENCE ARE UNDERSTOOD TO BE UNBARGAINABLES

The model accepts that, for the time being, the defining points of difference will remain around the religious and political labels which stem ultimately from how the fault line of distrust was initially laid down in the frontier area. For convenience, and case of clarity, these labels are accepted and used. These points of difference are the great unbargainables of identity for each side, to a greater extent than ethnicity or language. These terms also define who 'the others' are, they are ever present.

(B) IDENTITY IS IMPORTANT IN A FRONTIER AREA, THE PROXIMITY OF A HEARTLAND IS AN INFLUENCE

The presence of a heartland area with which people identify, and feel sure they will get support from, shapes how the different frontier 'peoples' see themselves. (see Darby, 1986, pp 148-166) Thus the history of the Protestant tradition was deeply imbued with the British heartland over the Irish Sea although, currently, this may be undergoing change. (McAuley, 1994, pp 151~153) The Catholic/Nationalist tradition has been historically identified with the Irish Republic heartland although, now, there is also some discussion about whether this is as strong as it was, at least in the view of one commentator. (O'Connor, 1993, pp 223-271)

For the Protestant the physical distance and separation from Britain was not fear-producing when the major political power in the Northern Ireland state was integrated with the powerful political power in the United Kingdom. Protestants also remember the time when the contribution of Ulster to the war effort was still in the awareness of the people in the centre of that state. In past years there has been a weakening of these formal and emotive links and the position of the Protestant tradition has become less secure - for example when the Unionist party broke away from the Conservative and Unionist group in Westminster over the abolition of Stormont in 1972.

For the Catholics in Northern Ireland the Irish heartland is physically close, contiguous with them physically and temporally. The identity of the Catholic community has been integrally linked with this land continuity and that of the Protestants to a rather less solid 'sea bridge' to Britain. The birth rates (Compton & Coward, 1989) and projections of Catholic population within the school system has always been watched by Protestants anxiously (Compton, 1982, p 102) Even though the evidence has been hotly debated and interpretations of it have varied these fears have weakened Protestant security in their position. The old siege mentality, deep in the Protestant psyche, has erupted from time to time. "Ulster Unionists opposing the Home Rule Bills of 1886, 1893 and 1912 used to say that their society had been permanently under siege since its settlement colonial origins in the 17th century." (Wright, 1994) This continual sense of siege has been recognised by historians as the central reality of Northern Protestant society. Wright argues that

"In the interpretations of David Miller (Miller, 1978) and A.T.Q. Stewart (Stewart, 1977) the Protestant population is shown to have had a continuous preoccupation with the Catholics in their midst and uncertainty about how far they could rely upon British power to support them." (Wright, 1994, op. cit.).

More recently these fears have been more publicly acknowledged. For example the majority tradition has seen itself become a minority in some local councils previously under unionist control. (Knox, Hughes, Birrell & McCready, 1993, p 55 for councils and voting balances) The emergence of a new debate about community development in Protestant areas is another aspect of this change. (C.D.P.A., 1991) There also have been a number of meetings between people from Protestant areas and academics from 1991 until early 1994 in an attempt to explore the changes in Protestant self-understanding.

In this single identity movement there are some currents which resonate with earlier times exemplified in Wright's comment on Protestant perceptions, "all the major gains of Northern Catholics seemed to come from the growing power of the rest of Catholic Ireland, but that also meant that such gains were a threat to Northern Protestants". (Wright, 1987) However there are other small seeds of change too. These are evidenced in Protestant people establishing meetings with Catholic people (Springfield I.C.D.P., 1993) to find new relationships in which there is trust. These actions resonate with an earlier historical strand, too. (Wright, 1996)

(C) THE FEARS OF EACH TRADITION ARE SHAPED BY THEIR VIEW OF AND EXPERIENCE WITH THE OTHER

An important feature of meetings is the actual experience of the two dominant cultures and histories always being present in the group. When people speak openly in each other's presence, those from one tradition, often, simply do not understand why the others feel as they do. They come from two different cultures and histories; they are shaped by different views of each other's heartlands. Within this, several confusions run through each other - for example the language of colonialism is often used about the whole island whereas the experience of colonisation was different in the southern part of the island compared with the north. The distinct demography of the North means that the ethnic frontier nature is more characteristic.

To apply the language of 'colony' to the North, as a single uniform category, is misleading and blurs important differences which are central to the modern predicament. Such actions oversimplify the situation and do not encourage a critical and fresh look in which the present can be understood. Also, the language of Nationalism and Unionism is often used with little appreciation of the variation of positions and views subsumed within those umbrella terms. When this is explored in some groups it leads to animated discussion.

(D) THERE IS A COMMON HISTORY OF SEPARATED LIFE IN THE MIDST OF EACH OTHER

Two themes - separation from each other and an inability to acknowledge each other freely and openly when people are together are central. In a recent joint meeting on the theme, "Being Together", between members of different churches in a rural area forty one people turned up. Twenty-one were from the Protestant churches in the area and twenty from the local Catholic parish. At the tea break a man from a Protestant church said, "it's very good so far but we're skirting around the point". Asking him what he meant by the statement he responded, "Well, its like this, I like these people here but there are some things I could not bring myself to talk about. You never know who they will speak to and my wife is in the police force!" (Inter-Church Friendship Group)

Thus the attempt to make fresh beginnings can be continually eroded. The foundation blocks of fear, being ill at ease and suspicious of the other continually strengthen separation and apartness. In meeting together the emotions and feelings associated with aspects of the conflict can prevent many issues being discussed unless facilitators and group members have the time and the security, with each other, to move beyond this point.

Experiences of meeting together in an ethnic frontier can be minimal. Murray suggests this in connection with schooling,

"Segregation tends to be so rigid and exclusive that few, if any, individuals have the opportunity to experience the ethos of schools which serve a culture other than their own." (Murray, 1985, p 9)

Farren, too, explores this theme of how people view meeting each other and being at ease with each other. In a recent study on student teachers within the three teacher training institutions in Northern Ireland he and his colleagues found:-

"there are limits to the kind of contact which are acceptable and that these limits are functions of a wider group solidarity, a solidarity which seems to intensify over the years of teacher education." (Farren et al, 1992, pp 135-136)

There is a symmetry in the experiences of both major traditions when it comes to separation, and this, as Murray highlights, is reinforced "in the experiences undergone by Catholic and Protestant children within their denominational schools". (Murray, 1985, p 9)

(E) CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT MUTUALLY INFLUENCE EACH OTHERS ACTIONS WITHIN A CIRCLE OF DISTRUST

Wright criticises the work of Miller (1978), Stewart (1977) and his own earlier studies for missing the essential inter-relationship between Protestant reactions to Catholic action and Catholic response to Protestant provocation. It

"is that they sometimes abstract the Protestant fears from the relationship with the Catholics who are being feared. They do not see any system in the Catholic response to being feared. The whole in fact becomes a circular relationship. Once the reciprocal aspect of the relationship is grasped then we are looking at a circle of fear and distrust," (Wright, 1994.)

He accepts the reality that, in the history of this place, as well as in the patterns of relationships laid down within communities and carried by the different institutions, "the continuity in the relationship between Protestant and Catholic ... is being stressed" (Wright, 1996), and argues that

"to understand this society, we must first abandon all assumptions about social tranquillity which come naturally to people who live in societies with normal judicial order. Otherwise the human reality of life in this society is certain to be misunderstood." (Wright, 1996)

The Stewart and Miller theses

"familiarise their readers with a sense of encirclement experienced by Protestants in the North of Ireland; but they lose sight of the reciprocal element in the relationship. The missing element in Stewart's and Miller's histories of the North of Ireland are the Northern Catholics. To omit them is not only to omit them, but also to make the story of Liberalism in the North only partly intelligible. " (Wright, 1996)

The sectarian relationship is crucial for Wright. It is at the centre of the "Meeting Together" model being used.

(F) MEETINGS BETWEEN PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT TRADITIONS CAN EASILY BE UNDERMINED, THIS IS ACKNOWLEDGED BUT NOT INEVITABLE

A continual theme in cross-community meetings is the fear that liberal actions can always be undermined by the next atrocity or the hint of intimidation. People who wish to seek new ways together are often in the vicinity of this fear and, while some bravely go on, others can find themselves already back-pedalling or preparing for failure before they start.

The work of this project is informed by a knowledge that, although the sectarian split seems to be all pervasive, there is a contrasting knowledge in history in the experiences of community reconciliation groups and in the experiences of the facilitators that people can and do use the political space they had and have. Here, in history, there is a strand of contrasting practice to the sectarian one. Wright suggests "many of the better hopes that are about today were also there in the past". (Wright, 1996)

The model understands the need for a theory to underpin such actions, a philosophy of reconciling actions which acknowledges the possibility of the old ways regaining their dominance and yet which does not see this as absolutely inevitable. People doing this work need to know through their experience the ability, but not the inevitability, of traditional fears of the 'other' to draw people back from experiencing new ways together.

(G) TRADITIONAL MAJORITY-MINORITY POWER BALANCES ARE CHANGING

"As Catholic society in the North became more able to replicate the behaviour of Protestant society, the rivalry between them became more reciprocal and threatening." (Wright, 1996, summary)

In the evolution from colonial settlement structures this rivalry emerges in all levels. This is unsettling for a people who once thought they were secure. In the new priority on 'equity' (Osborne et al, 1991) in government policy, (C.C.R.U., 1992) Protestants have had to examine how they appear to have been sheltered. For example, in the education system, Gallagher (Gallagher, 1993) suggests, using earlier research, (Cormack, Gallagher & Osborne, 1991) that the funding of Catholic schools was "a financial and administrative burden on the authorities in Catholic schools in Northern Ireland" which probably "impacted on the educational delivery of the schools and hence contributed to the attainment gap between leavers from Protestant and Catholic schools". The existence of this advantage to Protestants is reinforced by further research, which shows that there was "an unexpected differential in per capita recurrent funding levels for Protestant and Catholic schools, to the disadvantage of the latter " (Osborne, Cormack & Gallagher, 1993, p 187). The researchers also said that, "there was no evidence of direct discrimination against Catholic schools in the determination of funding levels". (Ibid., p187)

As the links with the centre of the state weaken or diminish for the Protestant tradition the Catholic tradition's sense of being securely linked to a heartland grows. Additionally, concrete measures such as the Anglo-lrish Agreement cement the status of these relationships. While Protestants become vulnerable these same measures give the Catholic community an additional route for political access to the British government through the nationalist links with the Republic's government. The Republic have formal Anglo-lrish structures and European Union structures with the United Kingdom government.

The dynamics of majority-minority relationships in a frontier area means that when formerly secure balances become unstable, the former majority becomes frightened. The challenge is whether the old balance returns with a new group in control, or whether people find new structures and relationships in which people move beyond the majority-minority balances which can dominate a frontier area.

(H) THE PRIMACY OF THE DETERRENCE RELATIONSHIP

Wright's work on the deterrence relationship between the traditions here "places the experience of the North of Ireland alongside that of other older European settlement colonisations". (Wright, 1996) He argues that

"the economic inequalities between Protestant and Catholic in the North of Ireland were substantial in the 19th century but, on their own, quite insufficient to explain the primacy of the sectarian relationship. That could only be explained by looking at the threatened force or deterrence relationships between sectarian sub-societies, and the way these were woven round their relationships with state power.. The sectarian conflict became a conflict between national communities ... In the 19th century when modern states were coming to monopolise the use of legitimate force, the ongoing sectarian relationship in the North of Ireland compromised this severely and with momentous consequences. It is a central part of my story to look at the way in which any possibility of normal liberal order was aborted in the North of Ireland, although many knew that it was the only possibility of a better future." (Wright, 1996)

Where there have been histories of discriminating behaviours they have often been accompanied by a wide range of practices, understood but often unspoken, associated with majority group membership. Appropriate behaviours, through which minority group members have survived in the one place have grown up as cultural wisdom and these too have been, and are, passed on. Each side knows much about their own majority or minority feelings and fears but not much about the hopes and fears of the other. (Darby et al, 1972, pp 132-148)

The purpose of the meetings associated with this project, especially ones such as those with trade Unionists around the theme of 'Intimidation in the Workplace', (Wilson & Wright, 1992) is so that people might acknowledge the force fields they are often caught up in, agree to trust each other and, ultimately, trust the structures and new agreements they could put in place as a result of the meetings.

"It is important that we share our experiences of being afraid. This is part of the support we give to each other to cope with our fear. There is a value in real meetings between us today. These complement the search for just and lasting relationships in society. We need to stop pinning our hopes upon grand solutions to sectarianism and finding final antidotes to intimidation because, (i) there are none within our reach, (ii) so long as we are so vainly searching for them, we fail to get a proper appreciation of what we can do and, maybe, are doing already, (iii) looking for an overall political fix may be a way of avoiding looking at how uncomfortable anti-intimidation work can be. " (Wilson & Wright, 1992)

1.3 CONCLUSION

The "Meeting Together" model works from the bases above. The model gives space for people to examine where they are and where they have been within a force field, without condemning them. It gives some people new opportunities to explore, verbally and visually, the predicament people from all traditions in the North of Ireland experience. In this situation people, themselves, can perhaps gain some new space for meeting and understanding.

It is important that informal education work acknowledges the reality of such issues. They are present in the relationships which develop when people come together into mixed groups. Wright typifies the early relationships between native and settler as being sectarian and "sectarian division between Protestant and Catholic revolved around issues of law, order and justice on one hand and education on the other." (Wright, 1994)

The two themes of law and education continually recur in contested areas. These themes play a central part in enabling people to explore and understand how the sectarian relationship can influence the ways in which they understand events and the law. The fears can be so great, and the structures so entrenched, that the formal education system finds it very difficult to initiate cross-community relationships. It would still seem, however, that there is some possibility to develop work in the informal adult sector.

THE TRANSITION TO INFORMAL EDUCATION AND WORK IN THE VOLUNTARY SECTORS

The educational approach outlined here looks at the extent to which people can experience freedom to be with those whom they understand and are culturally, religiously and politically different from. The interest is in the forms of learning that have brought, or may bring, freedom to people and the learning theory and practice which evolves from these experiences. Adult assent to schemes of education for mutual understanding (D.E.N.I., 1987), (D.E.N.I., 1988), (N.I.C.E.D., 1988) and integrated education (Education Reform Order (N.I.), 1989) will take time and patience to evolve. It follows that, for a long time, the formal schools will be difficult places for most children to learn in a free way about the other. The formal systems of education are so identified with the history of both traditions here, that, although there is (Smith & Dunn, 1990) (Smith & Robinson,1992), and will be some high quality programmes of meeting together between people, these may well be the exception rather than the rule. (Smith & Robinson, 1994)

The search for good practice, therefore, moves much more into the informal, young adult and adult sectors of education. Here there is less association with the traditional positions and more free choice to meet.

Once a force field is created it means that all mechanisms to break it can easily be cancelled out. The antagonism between peoples who are on different ends of the force relationship becomes more fundamental than what the dominated are denied and what the dominators keep. The residual nature of the antagonism brings people into a circular pattern of violence and response, action and reaction.

One important educational task of reconciliation work is to give people the opportunity to experience meeting together, sharing their experiences of life in the one place. The assumption behind this is that, in such situations, inter-group tension and enmity is normally experienced rather than rationalised. The educational task is to create secure contexts and boundaries in order that people from different traditions can meet each other in a fundamentally new way. To meet together in this manner is to meet as suffering human beings in the one place; it can be an interruption of all previous patterns of relationships; it can be a dissolving of old distrusts and fears, even a little. To meet together in this way is to meet each other fundamentally; it can be a new reality.

"All learning about conflict in Northern Ireland must start from a paradoxical point. In the first instance, everybody is sure what the true facts are. At the same time nobody agrees on what these facts are. What we have learned very profoundly is that so-called facts depend for their reality on the relationships in which they exist. In our context facts are very often fuel to the fire, memories which ... choose different histories, different things to remember "
(Kaptein, Morrow, Wilson & Wright., 1991)

Meeting Together with adults is an attempt to get beyond this one dimensional view.

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