The Courage Project, the Registry and its use in education
The Courage Project (“Cultural Opposition – Understanding the CultuRal HeritAGE of Dissent in the Former Socialist Countries”) deals with the rich legacy of cultural opposition in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe by exploring collections on cultural opposition. It aims to go beyond the well-known propaganda and socialist realism art representations, the simplistic interpretation of cultural life of this period, the well-known tropes and clichés of political resistance and dissent, and it focuses on the different forms of cultural opposition in everyday life and of civic courage. An online database called The Registry was created for the project. It contains descriptions of the collections combined with a lot of information about the people, events, groups, and texts connected to them.
From this interpretive perspective, the partnership that created the Registry is convinced that the rich material collected during the project is worth using as educational content in the various forms of education. The online education material will bring to light the lesser known cultural life of the former socialist countries and will facilitate teaching and learning about the period. In this way, “COURAGE will connect the opposition movements’ values and history to personal milieus, locations and social groups. It will link these to the families and social histories of contemporary youth”.
High school students are one of the target groups of the project. Through the countless stories, data, texts, examples, people, etc. preserved in the collections, the students:
- can gain deeper knowledge of the socialist era,
- can have a more complex view about the ways of collaboration and opposition during that time,
- can get acquainted with values of heroism, resistance and agency,
- as well as situations of ethical and political dilemmas of collaboration and opposition,
- and can develop skills in relation to historical understanding;
- they also might understand the importance of collecting memories from the past and conserving them for the future.
The Registry and the other products of the project can be used as openly available sources by teachers without any guidance. However, the partnership aimed to develop some educational materials to encourage the use of Courage among teachers. Our experts took some topics from the Project and prepared eight lessons with games and tasks that offer examples of how the Registry (with the other products of the project: handbooks, film festivals and exhibition materials) can be used.
High school and upper-secondary school students (age 12-18) are the target group of the lessons. While some parts of the materials can be used by the students on their own, fundamentally the lessons were prepared for teachers.
The Registry and the educational work based on it have also their limitations. The database is just a selection, and the lessons only contain some elements from this selected data. The focus is very much determined by the collections. In addition, the Registry mainly contains the description of the collections with a small amount of accompanying information, but it offers fewer texts and direct materials from the collections themselves. Therefore, in some lessons the material of the Registry is integrated with other sources.
The English version of the lessons were prepared for an international audience, trying to include the history of different countries. The translated and adapted lessons might contain more locally interesting elements, and will focus more on local issues. However, it is one of the goals of the Project to help students get to know and consider the whole Eastern European context, not only their own national one.
Pedagogical principles and methodology
Since the lessons can be used freely by the teachers and integrated in their own practice, every teacher can follow his/her own pedagogical principles, methodological assumptions and usual practices. Nevertheless, we offer a certain pedagogical approach here that is suitable to the materials and could be followed by teachers as a conceptual framework. Our main assumption is that by getting to know figures, people, phenomena, groups events, texts,and processes of the past in relation to cultural opposition, contemporary youth can acquire attitudes, knowledge and skills that are relevant today. Studying history might help students to view their present in a different way. The lessons facilitate interpretations, and interpreting means taking a critical approach to our present and past. It comprises an attitude of researching, questioning and skills of critical thinking. It’s for this reason that the lessons represent the complexity of situations, dilemmas and possible interpretations. They do not want to transmit a unique and unilateral view of the events. They raise questions and actively involve students in finding connections between past stories and their present reality. It is crucial to the educational process behind the lessons that students are actively facilitated by teachers. Our concept is based on action-based pedagogy; we see students as active agents who are also embedded in their own context just as the people presented in the lessons. This results in positive tension between people’s agency, their capacity to act proactively and their embeddedness in their socio-cultural context with its limitations and possibilities, and with its points of reference that frame people’s perspectives and ways of thinking. Teachers might exploit this tension productively by highlighting the similarities and differences of past and present historical situations, thereby enhancing their students social competencies. The students might look at their own reality in this complex way, and discover how they connect with their socio-cultural context. In addition, with the help of the teachers, the students can gain relevant knowledge for themselves, assume skills of interpreting sources, and reflect on their reality in order to be proactive citizens.
It is also important to mention the connection of the materials to the school curriculum. There are fundamentally different school curricula in the different countries. The lessons can be integrated into the school curriculum, especially where the curriculum of history and literature include the era of state socialism, but they might also be used as materials that go beyond the official curriculum, and could be used in relation to different school subjects and classes, for example art related classes, ethics or civic education classes, as well as other educational activities, such as projects, thematic weeks in schools, school or class trips and excursions, etc. It is the teachers’ responsibility to adapt the lessons and games to the different curriculum content and to the different situations. We don’t recommend offering the text of the lessons to the students without any guidance, but after the teachers’ introduction and with the teachers’ help, the materials, the Registry, the tasks and the games could be used by students on their own.
The structure of the lessons
Every lesson on the website has the same structure. This final part of this short guide presents the different sections of each lesson while describing their role.
- A short introduction presents the topic of the lesson. It summarizes the content in 2-3 sentences. On the website, this brief summary appears next to the title, helping the users understand the topic of the class.
- The important concepts of the lesson are listed. They are not explained here, and sometimes are not precisely defined in the text either, but they are crucial to understanding the topic. So the teacher should explain them, or the students should try to define them during the education process or by searching on the internet with the help of the teacher.
- The suggested competencies at the beginning of the lesson are the learning outcomes that students might achieve as a result of the lesson activities: reading the texts, searching in the Registry, completing the tasks, taking part in the games and talking about the topics with their teacher and peers. The activities are ideally led or facilitated by the teacher, so he or she should have these (possible) outcomes in mind, and of course can add others too, according to the activities of the class. The competencies represent an important educational approach that is in relation to the activity-based pedagogy of the Courage lessons: it suggests that the teacher should think of the lesson not only as a topic to deal with but as a journey that develops different knowledge, attitudes and skills of the students through their own learning process. It is useful to have these learning outcomes in mind when planning the educational process, instead of just the knowledge-based content of the lesson.
- The main text of the lesson is similar to the text of a course book, but with more interactive elements. The topics are divided into chapters. After some preparation, the teacher could have the students read the chapter, but it is recommended that he or she also presents the content or parts of the text. After the teacher’s explanation, the students will be able to return to the text and should find it easier to work on. The text itself is partly a presentation of historical facts, people, processes and sources that summarizes and explain the topic in an understandable way, but they also often invite the students to think or to look up the content of the Registry. The teacher can use the text and its questions to facilitate individual work, group discussions or classroom conversations. The Registry and its links are an inherent part of the lessons, and they offer much richer material to study than the text of the lesson itself. It also provides the students with infinite possibilities to search and deepen their knowledge through the different collections presented. Depending on the time available, after the presentation and/or individual reading of the students, the teacher can work together with the students in the Registry during the class: searching, reading, interpreting alternating individual, pair, group, and whole class work, and then he or she can give more (different) tasks to the students for using the Registry individually or in groups (as homework or project work). Some of the tasks at the end of the lessons are examples of how the Registry can be exploited for further learning. Ideally, the students will enjoy using the lessons, the Registry and the website, and the more their enjoyment grows, the more they will continue their research and learning after class. This whole process described here can be very different, for example if the teacher uses the materials for a project or during a school trip, etc. This description (and the lesson itself) is only a blueprint of a possible path.
- The tasks offer only some examples of how the students’ activity and learning process can be facilitated. They are usually in relation to the Registry and/or to the students’ own context. The teachers can give these or prepare similar or different tasks for their students knowing their circumstances, needs and competencies. It is important to think of activities and tasks when planning the process, since the competencies in relation to the lessons can be achieved through the activities and not simply through the reading of the text. These latter should be planned according to the competencies that the teacher would like to focus on.
- The experts prepared some additional H5P tasks (games) that are uploaded in the Playground of the website. The teachers might use them for checking the students’ knowledge, but they are mainly for individual use. The students can play with them, in the process consolidating their knowledge.