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Speak Your Piece
Exploring Controversial Issues

A Guide for Teachers, Youth and Community Workers

Worksheet 6


Activity one - Montage

Create a montage which represents the work you have undertaken on identity, culture, religion and politics. The montage could be compiled on paper, as a mural, as a sculpture, as a collection of images on a CD rom, video or other creative media.

The montage might include:

  • some of the visual work you have created
  • comments from people in your group
  • images from newspapers and magazines
  • images from the programmes
  • statements which reflect your understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland.

Activity two - Reportage

Design a news report for a specific communication medium such as television, newspaper, radio or the internet, which explains the work you have been doing. Your report should take account of:

  • what you have learnt about the nature of conflict in divided societies
  • interviews with other people in your community who have views on these issues
  • the value of the work you have undertaken
  • criticisms that people might make of the work
  • any action which you are likely to take as a result of your involvement with the series.

Decide how you want to make your report available and to whom. For example, you may wish to share your report with another group which has watched the series.

Activity three - The future

  1. List the key issues that you think need to be addressed in any process to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict.

  2. What alternative methods to violence could be used as part of a resolution process to address these issues?

  3. What action could you take, as an individual or as part of a group, to help build a more peaceful society?

Additional uses of the programmes

The television series Off The Walls was developed as a coherent set of five programmes to provide starting points for educators who wish to explore the issues of identitty, culture, religion and politics. Part of the richness of the resource is that they can be used to initiate curriculum work within a range of formal and informal settings. The Speak You Piece project team is currently working with teachers and youth workers who are developing additional strategies and resources for using the programmes in the following areas:

History Off the Walls is not a history series. It provides opportunities to use the study of past events to enlighten contemporary debate. Throughout the series statements are made in the drama and studio debate which imply references to the past and perceived 'rights' and 'wrongs':

  • This is Ulster and it will stay Ulster for ever. If they don't like it they can go back to the Republic where they came from. (Ken)

  • This is not of our own choosing. We never wanted this State. lt was forced upon us and now we are forced to shake it off (Pat)

Assertions made in the programmes may be challenged and tested against previously studied historical knowledge as part of a study unit on Irish history.

Political Education The programmes are providing a starting point to consider how young people develop the skills and confidence to participate critically in social and political debate. In practical terms the intention is to provide opportunities for young people to take action on a range of social issues involving:

  • the development of social and communication skills
  • the teaching of concepts such as democracy, human rights, justice and equality
  • an understanding of how political attitudes are formed within divided societies.

Religious EducationThe programmes provide a rich architectural backdrop of key religious sites in Jerusalem. Three approaches to religious education have been explored.

  • a module for 17-18 year olds centred on programme 3 which examines the religious and moral dilemmas raised through the series

  • use of the programmes as a resource for the RE syllabus (11-16 year olds)

  • an information pack which examines similarities and differences between Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

English Off the Walls offers English students excellent opportunities to study gender, social class, ethnicity and politics. Each programme is introduced by a quotation from a distinguished poet.

The programmes also provide ample opportunities for examining how the use of language defines relationships in situations of conflict. The inclusion of visual images of graffiti, wall slogans and murals provides examples of modem propaganda which contrast with literary techniques.

Media StudiesIt is possible to examine critically how the programmes have been constructed from a variety of perspectives. Consideration may be given to how the three strands in each programme (drama, debate and documentary) work together and what each strand contributes to the understanding of complex issues.

Unedited scripts of the studio debate are available from the Speak Your Piece office. These are a fascinating source to explore how the director has edited the original two hour debate. For example, how are moderate and more extreme opinions juxtaposed in the edited debate? How is the female voice presented? Other critical prespectives include:

  • exploration of character, setting and stereotyping in the drama
  • examination of the Jerusalem essays as an example of journalistic style
  • consideration of how the ceasefires influenced the content of the programmes.

Personal and Social Education (PSE) The television series may be used as the main resource for a PSE module for 15-17 year olds. Objectives include:

  • helping young people experience different perspectives including the views of those who may accept violence as legitimate action
  • investigating 'inherited' values and beliefs
  • examining cultural differences and political aspirations
  • looking at sectarianism as experienced by those in the group.

Information TechnologyIt is possible to extend the debate generated by the programmes through the use of information technology. Use of a modem opens up the possibility of participation in computer conferences and discussion groups which give access to greater diversity of opinion. The Speak Your Piece project is currently investigating the establishment of computer based discussion groups related to the issues raised in the series (see page 31 for a contact address).

Peer Education To date peer education programmes involving young people have focused mainly on issues of health and sexual awareness. However, in recent years a number of projects have started to develop models which use peer education for community relations work. As part of the Speak Your Piece project a group of youth and community workers and peer educators are using the television series and guidance booklet as a specific tool for peer education work in this area.

Potential for training The television programmes provide a useful resource for adults who wish to increase their confidence and capacity to undertake work on controversial issues with young people. A working group is exploring the potential of the series as a basis for training youth and community workers, teachers and trainers.

Values and methodology A group has been examining the central ideas represented by the Speak Your Piece project with the aim of clarifying values and methods which promote good practice' when exploring controversial issues with young people.

Marginalised youth Practitioners are examining the series and support materials in terms of their potential for work involving young people who may be susceptible to active involvement in the conflict in Northern Ireland.

For more information on developments within each of these areas contact the Speak Your Piece project at the address listed on page 31.

Other issues

Off the Walls focuses on cultural and political issues related to conflict in Northern Ireland. Teachers and youth workers might consider material in the programmes as a starting point for work on other issues relevant to young people. The following issues arise naturally from the programmes:

Social issues The contrasting lifestyles and expectations of characters in the drama provide a backdrop to examine social issues and the studio debate raises important questions. For example, the extent to which employment, housing and social welfare are significant factors in understanding the nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Human rightsThe programmes raise issues about majority and minority rights in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. For example, the freedom to demonstrate and worship; to hold a distinct cultural identity; to choose a particular form of education; and the right to equality of opportunity.

Gender issues These may be examined through the portrayal of the male and female characters in the drama sequences, the relationship between female and male viewpoints in the studio debate and could lead to an exploration of gender within different social and cultural environments.

Generational issues The influence of the older generation on young people's cultural and political outlook is a consistent theme of the drama. The studio debate raises questions about the values held by different generations and who takes responsibility for the future.

Peer relationships The dramas are centred on sets of relationships between young people and explore the tensions placed on these relationships by wider events.

Cross community contact

The nature of society in Northern Ireland often restricts the opportunities young people and adults have to engage in dialogue with those who hold very different views to their own. Various schemes exist in Northern Ireland to fund activities designed to bring about more contact between Catholic and Protestant communities. Such contact requires careful preparation, structuring and the building of trust between participants.

The Off the Walls series and the Speak Your Piece guide provide a basis for people from different communities in Northern Ireland to engage together in dialogue about contentious issues concerning identity, culture, religion and politics.

Further resources

Handling controversial issues

Dickson, A. and Doherty, M. (1995) Lifelines - A Youth Workers' Handbook to Cross-Community Work, Northern Ireland: Youth Action.

Fitzduff, M. (1988) Community Conflict Skills, Belfast. Community Relations Council.

Morrow, D. and Wilson, D. (1996) Ways out of Conflict, The Understanding Conflict Trust.

Plant, M. and Firth, R. (1995) Teaching Through Controversial Issues, Nottingham: The Nottingham Trent University.

Identity, stereotyping and prejudice

Counteract (1996) Dealing with sectarian harrassment in the workplace (video), Belfast.

O'Connell, E.E. (1977) Northern Ireland Stereotypes, Dublin: College of Industrial Relations.

Public Service Broadcasting (1992) Frontline: A Class Divided (video), USA: PBS.

Rogers, P. (1990) Power to Hurt: Exploring Violence, Belfast: Irish Council of Churches.

Culture and symbolism

Crozier, M. (ed) (1989) Varieties of Irishness, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies.

Crozier, M. (ed) (1990) Varieties of Britishness, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies.

Loftus, B. (1994) Mirrors: Orange and Green, Dundrum: Picture Press.

Rolston, B. (1992) Drawing Support: Murals in the North of Ireland, Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications.

Religion and Northern Ireland

ICC/ICJP (1985) Looking at Churches and Worship in Ireland, Belfast: Irish Council of Churches, Irish Commission for Justice and Peace.

Greer, J.D. and McElhinney, E.P. (1985) Irish Christianity: Five Units for Secondary Pupils, Dublin: Gill and MacMillan.

McMaster, J. (1993) The Churches and Cross-Community Work with Young People,

Belfast: Youthlink NI.

McMaster, J. (1994) Strategy for Peace, Belfast: Youthlink NI.

Politics, the law and human rights

Citizenship Foundation (1995) Young Citizen's Passport, London: Hodder and Stoughton. Council of Europe (1995) The Human Rights Album, Strasbourg: Council of Europe. McCann, D. (1993) Rights and Responsibilities: Practical guide to Law in Northern Ireland, Belfast, The Peace People.

McCarthy, S. (ed) (1995) Civic, Social and Political Education Project, (study units), Dublin: Curiculum Development Unit.

Northern Ireland Curriculum Council (1993) Law In Our Lives, Belfast, NICC. O'Brien, E.L., Greene, E. and McQuid-Mason, D. (1996) Human Rights for All, St. Paul: National Insitute for Citizen Education in the Law.

Rowe, D. and Thorpe, T. (1995) Understand the Law , London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Contact addresses

For further information

Queries about the TV series Off the Walls should be addressed to:

Peter Logue
Education Officer
Channel Four Schools
P0 Box 100
Warwick CV34 6TZ

e-mail: eo@

(A free information sheet is available from the above address.)

Speak Your Piece welcomes comment and reflections on Off the Walls from teachers, youth
and community workers and young people using the series. These should be addressed to:

Speak Your Piece
School of Education
University of Ulster at Coleraine
Cromore Road
Co. Londonderry BT52 lSA

Tel: 01265-324202 Fax: 01265-324918


(Additional copies of this guidance booklet may be purchased from the above address.)

Speak Your Piece team

Alan Smith (project director)
Alan McCully (project officer -schools)
Marian O'Doherty (project officer - schools)
Paul Smyth (project officer - youth)
Una O'Connor (project assistant)

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