anti racism brent Participatory Pedagogy

Developing a ‘stance’: Critical evaluation and conscious positioning in the ESOL classroom

By Robin Sivapalan, EFA teacher-organiser and Brent hub lead

A key word that EFA teachers Becky and Dermot identified in research on our participatory ESOL pedagogy is stance. Through valuing each other’s experiences and bringing together diverse perspectives, and at the same time critically evaluating systems and ideologies, our students become more able to take conscious stances.

In a social media world where disinformation is disseminated more rapidly than the truth, distorting an already complicated world, these skills are vital, and the experience of having your views taken seriously is precious.

In two classes this week with EFA teacher Robin, who leads our Brent hub and our antiracism study group (known as ‘Our World’), the shared engagement in critical thinking has been particularly strong.

In his Tuesday morning Brent class, to mark one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the group assessed a news article describing the emerging divide on the Left of the Labour Party over whether the the UK should be concertedly arming the Ukrainian resistance. Though there was a majority in favour, what was important was the process of clearly hearing out the case against, and answering the objections.

Hamdi, a member of the class, had prepared a presentation on dialectical thinking, which helped frame the whole discussion: no one relished the idea of being so gung-ho unanimous in favour of escalating war; there was a lack of consensus; and skepticism and principled pacifist opposition are an important part of a constellation of positions.

In the Our World class this week, led by teachers Robin, Lucie and Katy, the group continued an analysis of systems. Taking the Cranberries’ song ‘Zombie’ as a starting point, we discussed whether ideologies constitute systems.

The diverse group of 15 students from around the world are not studying a politics degree. Our work is aimed at developing popular agency and confidence to participate in all spheres of civic life, taking as a starting point where people are at.

We looked back at a video we watched at the beginning of the academic year, ‘Genius Loci’, which shows a migrant woman who seems to have mental health problems, now considering her situation from the point of view of the systems bearing down upon her. Together, we reflected again on the video in the context of our current discussion.


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