Katja Friedrich, How “Multi-Culti Can Work” – Media Education for Intercultural Tolerance, Journal THEMA JUGEND No. 1/2018: „Wir können Frieden“ (We can make peace)
Tolerance and equity are key values of our democratic societies and form the basis for our peaceful co-existence. However, hate speech, discriminating or racist statements, and disinformation are on the rise – online and offline. Due to their intensive use of digital media, young people in particular are confronted with prejudice, fake news, and manipulative images, and are even exposed to extremist rhetoric that targets them intentionally. How can educational institutions respond adequately to this? How can everyone learn together to develop and express a respectful posture towards the “other”?
The European project “MEET” (Media Education for Equity and Tolerance) addresses this very issue: how can young people learn to see through the mechanisms of propaganda and discrimination and in doing so cultivate more constructive ways of expressing their own opinions? Since 2016, the project consortium with members in five European countries, among them medien+bildung.com in Ludwigshafen, has been developing learning scenarios for young people aged 13 through 19 in order to promote a critical and intercultural understanding of media as well as the ability to use media more consciously.
Young people and educators are being integrated into an “action research” process – research that is practically oriented and aims, in a mutual effort, at giving viable form to methods for intercultural media education.
The theoretical core of the project is described in the “Guidelines for Universal and Intercultural Learning in Media Culture and Media Society”. They set up a structure for the six learning scenarios being tested in Germany, Italy, and Slovenia and are intended later to enable other, previously inexperienced educators to apply these methods themselves. The central elements of the conception are the learning dimensions UNDERSTANDING * SELF-EXPRESSION * ENGAGEMENT, whereby the three levels are didactically intertwined to build a process of growth in an outward spiral.
UNDERSTANDING involves an integrated view on various areas: media handling and communication strategies, mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion, one’s own obstacles to learning, cultural barriers as well as potentials.
SELF-EXPRESSION aims at enhancing communicative abilities, recognizing and overcoming potential deterrents. At the same time, visualization is used to expand communication skills, the exchange of feedback is cultivated, and each person’s ability to reflect on what has been learned is reinforced. To achieve this, differentiated models for self-evaluation are applied, including role play, check lists for assessment, video playback, or group feedback.
ENGAGEMENT means enabling students to develop a standpoint of their own and to present it to others. To clarify in advance a point that has often been misconstrued: it is not the aim of MEET to prompt young people to make unprotected political statements in public or on the internet. The intent is to create a respectful climate of mutual support in the classroom, so that personal statements become thinkable.
In November 2017 media educators Katja Mayer and Mario Di Carlo, together with 23 pupils and two teachers at a middle school, Ernst-Reuter-Realschule plus, tested the learning scenario “We are all just as different – Shaping opinion, forming groups, and deconstructing stereotypes”. This was followed in December by a test run of the scenario “In my own words – Debunking propaganda and setting out statements of our own” with 27 pupils and two teachers in the 11th form at the vocational school Berufsbildenden Schule (BBS) Technik I. In both of the school classes, there were many adolescents with migratory background, and many without.
Learning Scenario “We are all just as different”
The students first turned their attention to depictions of reality and the formation of opinion on the internet, and to “fake news”. They analyzed photographs and memes and in doing so learn to recognize techniques of manipulation and the intentions they may be motivated by. Strategies for checking sources were explained (backwards search of images, scrutiny of the publishing information, etc.) and then practiced in small groups. Creating media productions of their own was undertaken in several steps that were built up incrementally using a tablet and the app “ComicLife”. This app allows for intuitive handling and thus enabled the students, without much technical explanation, to produce their first poster (the so-called ‘fake news check’). Before beginning their final media production at the end of the project, they were presented with tips and tricks for composing images, and were given a handout providing support for their work process and advancing their skills. Thanks to the various task loops already mastered, they were now prepared to address theoretical issues (and the higher standard of quality associated with them) and to assess their own productions. Throughout the project, so-called ‘acquired knowledge’ was presented in such small portions. In this way, the teachers and students were always able to trace their own progress. They learned increasingly, step by step, to expose their own productions to critique and to accept the comments made by others. The handout on principles for constructing images had a positive effect on the group discussion, as it provided a generally accepted ‘objective’ framework for distinguishing GOOD and BAD arrangements of material and for matter-of-fact discussion.
To bring intercultural issues into play and to integrate the experience and opinions of the students, films were used – such as “Radikal”, “Hinter uns mein Land” (“Behind us my country”) by the slam duo RebellComedy, and a video statement by a young man named Omar about his different identities as a German with Kurdish roots and an Iraqi migratory background. Viewing the films led to many-faceted discussions on stereotyping and classifications (WE and THEY), but also on shifting perceptions of one’s own identity in differing social contexts. These discussions were enhanced using the method of inquiry ‘constellation in space’, which was extremely popular: participants position themselves in the room in response to various questions, such as “Have you ever been disparaged because of your appearance?” or “Does religion play a significant role in your everyday life?” Everyone responded very positively to these inquiry games, because they learned so much about their fellow students. One fellow said that with these constellations, their perception of one another had come into motion in a new way.
This approach enabled the students, at the end of the project, to create their own media product in the form of a poster. The designated topic was: “your slogan, your life motto for an open society free from prejudice!” The pedagogical idea bore fruit. In the end, the students were able to create self-assured visualizations of their standpoints, stand up for them, and offer respectful feedback to one another. However, they rejected the repeated suggestion made by the educators to present their outcomes in other classes or in the framework of a school event. They didn’t feel sure enough of themselves and worried about criticism from other students who hadn’t experienced the production process. But if ‘taking a stand’ and ‘getting into motion’ are judged as signs of ENGAGEMENT, then these students demonstrated it impressively.
Learning Scenario “In my own words”
In terms of expression through media, the essential action in the second project group, at the BBS, was the production of the group’s own video statement. Again, iterative loops adding on broader tasks each time around were used to learn technique, always with a focus of content on “political propaganda / political communication” and “stereotypes and prejudices”. At the outset, video spots from election campaigns were analyzed in terms of their communicative approach, their imagery, and their assumed target groups. It was new to all of the students that there are techniques for appealing to certain people, and that these are used with specific intent. The students quickly grasped how these mechanisms work in the making of video, and they were then able to employ their insights in their own group assignments. Finally, they addressed the topics of stereotyping and prejudice, working on a shift of perspective: from the things that separate us towards those things that connect us with one another.
Didactically, this learning scenario was structured like the first one, but with other media and a different topical focus. The final media outcome of the learning scenario was a mutually produced video, in which every member of the class took a position on the topics of courage, respect, and tolerance. The designated theme for the group assignment was “create a video statement promoting an open society free of prejudice.” Feedback rounds during various phases of production were constructive and respectful. Here also, the matter-of-fact assessment criteria summarized in the check list “What makes a video film good?” provided support. And in this class as well, when it came to the evaluation round all of the students were enthusiastic about the work methods. They said they benefitted especially from the group assignment, where they could try things out on a practical level and test themselves in front of a small audience. But here again, the students could not be persuaded to present their media productions outside the sheltered context of their own classroom.
Offering a Framework for Engagement
In the context of the pilot projects, this level of action emerged as the most challenging. The resistance and anxieties associated with ‘presenting’ a statement outside of the sheltered homeroom were considerable. Therefore, medien+bildung.com proposed to both pilot classes that, at a small public event on “Safer Internet Day” (SID) 2018 on the premises of the Central Media Authority (LMK), they present their media productions to the other project group and press representatives, and that they reflect publicly on their project experience. This suggestion was taken up with great enthusiasm. Neutral territory, time to let things settle, separate from the school context but together with the peer group – THESE were the essential factors that made it easier for the students to show their work in public. In the evaluation round attended by local journalists, the students drew a positive balance of the project. Asked “what they are taking away”, one young man said, “I don’t want to badger other people so much anymore – not even for fun. I’d rather understand why they are the way they are.” Another student said in sum that he had learned to stop and ask when something rubbed him the wrong way, and not get aggressive right away.
As with every learning process, it would be conjecture to speak of inner developments or sustained effects that these learning impulses may have released among the participants. One of the two BBS teachers did, however, mention on Safer Internet Day that two girls in her class who formerly had been very reserved during classroom discussions now were engaged and taking a clear position on topics that moved them.
The univocally positive assessment on the part of all participants gives cause to see the approach of “action research” as promising and encouraging in the field of intercultural learning, which largely remains uncharted territory for a society dependent on immigration. Mr Bedersdorfer, a teacher at the Realschule plus, said in closing, “Together with my students, I started out on an adventure and discovered a lot of new things myself. I will continue applying these methods. And I learned that our school is already showing the world how well multi-culti can work.”
Information on the MEET project:
Access to the film Radikal:
Hessisches Kompetenzzentrum gegen Extremismus (HKE)
Hessisches Ministerium des Innern und für Sport
Link to the video Hinter uns mein Land (Behind us my country):
Katja Friedrich has been working at the Central Authority for Media and Communication Rhineland-Palatinate (LMK) since 1999. She is responsible for the executive area “Future of Education”. In 2006, she founded medien+bildung.com (m+b.com) as a fully owned subsidiary of the LMK and has been its director since then. The aim of m+b.com is to make the potential of digital education visible in all areas of education and to develop and promote strategies for establishing innovative media education conceptions in practice.