‘Children of Men’ as a teaching tool in refugee crisis

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As an educator who tends to use interactive methods and draw the theories on the cases from popular culture or ‘real-world’ illustration, The Children of Men, of course, gained my attention in terms of how this could be a teaching tool, if at all.

One could say, this is a late respond – the book was released more than 20 years and its movie depiction a decade ago – but perhaps the fact that this science-fiction today is no-fiction anymore just calls the movie to be brought back to the nowadays audiences.

Focused around the story of a last and only pregnant woman on Earth and her desperate journey to deliver a baby, a new hope for the future of human race, this movie in the context of the present crisis rather interests me in terms of its visual representations than poorly developed plotline. Shots of barbed wires, cages with refuges, total destruction and the fall of the social order, poverty and war over scarce resources, incredibly precisely summarize the current European situation. Pardon me, the imaginary of the vast majority of local Europeans on what is happening or what will happen with Europe very soon if we don’t react.

I was frightened enough, at least to say, to see the fences, the radical islamists’ portrayals, the rage and the catastrophical end-of the-world; ‘Children of men’, indeed, is absolutely well-crafted visualization of a current state of mind of many Europeans: anti-immigrant, fearful, agitated and chaotic – in our minds and actions.

We are now living this situation of immediatism, where responds must be shaped in a twitter-like form – immediate, quick and not too complex.

And this is how we approach to solving the refugee crisis where immediate bad actions seem better than no action. Being an educator in the field of multiculturalism and peace education mostly in the region of South-Eastern Europe, more precisely Western Balkans, this conditions made me feel as my ‘service’ is getting perceived as the one of the emergency ambulance, where I am more and more called to come as soon as possible to the ‘wounded’ spots and ‘heal’ this increasing disease of xenophobia and islamophobia in a three-hours workshops.

In my own country, Slovenia, all a sudden we have this pool of teachers, especially in non-urban regions and small towns, that before this ‘apocalyptic’ event had one of a kind of opportunity in this mixed world to build up their whole careers in one-religion-one-ethnic-group-one-race-one-culture classrooms with no rush to update this monocultural curricula to a more up-to-date version. After some short experiences of teaching in United States or in bigger European cities like Berlin or London or Copenhagen, I always felt challenged to return to this all-white all-secularized-Catholics classes in Slovenia and to teach multiculturalism there.

Until recently, so to say, we mostly were encountered with the ‘multicultural’ experiences randomly and occasionally. This is not per se saying that Slovenia is a monocultural country only. On the contrary, since long time we have very big ex-yugoslav community, but honestly we are not really sure, if we would call them real ‘immigrants’ or ‘the Other’. The history of Yugoslavia and its ‘Brotherhood and Unity’, seventies-designed regional multiculturalism, was trying to teach us, that we are all the same (until the next war torn us apart, what actually happened). Therefore, ex-Yu diaspora always was the ‘Other’, through public discourses and continuous mild hatred practices, but, only with refugees we finally got the ‘real Other’ now! Enough different and from far away, no shared history, no collective memories. Real locals versus real foreigners!

In this new situation and immediatism of our reactions, we, the urban educators, take the right to yell about racism and intorlerance and hatred from all those rural, undereducated ‘xenophobics’. To blame them not to be ready and that is true: nobody is ready, and nobody is prepared, there is no doubt. But it is like the repeating first snow story, where snow removal services year after year get stuck with ‘snow-just-surprised-us’ excuse. Well, we are North Pole and for years the season between late December and April meant a winter, a ‘snow season’. Hence, which moment in snowing in January is unexpected?

Very similar can we claim for the ‘unprepared teachers’ for the multiculturalism in the era of multicultural world. The globalization has been going on for years, but since we have no noticeable colonialist history, and similarly goes for other South-Eastern European countries too, we felt duty free to think about the migration and multicultural society and nevertheless post-colonialism as such. The subject was not given any real priority in schools and other (non)formal educational programs till this emergency calling moment. As for me, in many cases I rejected my collaboration in instant three hours workshops, because no, tolerance and multiculturalism are not antibiotics that might have an effect after first or a second shot. It is a long term process. Very long and very painful too.

(foto via Wikipedia)
(foto via Wikipedia)

And this is what makes ‘Children of Men’, that is so direct, raw and in fact appropriate visualization of our times not a good material to be used in current ‘refugee crisis’ situation as educational tool. Simply, it’s too pessimistic and hopeless. As a great reflection and precise portrayal of our days it can only serve as a ‘proof’ to those who already believe in catastrophic ending and their panic already escalated in hatred.

If I learnt anything in years of my academic and community work engagements, is that pessimism and sensationalism does not help where people are already hyper-sensitive, pharaonic and fearful.

This catastrophic portrait, released in 2007 (and similarly to Orwell offered some very accurate future predictions), would, I believe, in this moment effectively create more panic and resistance in too much needed change. We need to get rid of immediatism and start nurturing patience and give the transition chance. What we need is a support for us, ‘locals’: we need integration too. How to understand and live in this ‘new’ society that is no longer so linear and so natural?

Without a good education of local population, no integration, no refugee service can be enough good to help us out. In countries with no or limited multicultural experiences, it is simply unfair to expect that people will embrace tolerance and openness over-night. Any sensationalistic portrayal, at the moment, serves nothing but further nurturing omnipresent fear and uncertain views to the future. Let us, instead, create slow, long-term, sustainable programs on a very local level, community run activities, educational trainings, where local people, individuals, can get the chance to understand, what we should understood years, decades ago, but were always giving priorities to other things. Let us all be given a time and non-judgmental opportunities to start learning to live, now for real, together.

A family waits for food aid from Caritas Slovenia at Livarna refugee camp, Dobova, Slovenia. Photo: Meabh Smith/Trócaire.
A family waits for food aid from Caritas Slovenia at Livarna refugee camp, Dobova, Slovenia. Photo: Meabh Smith/Trócaire.

Only recently, I received another ‘first-aid’ call to create, again, project for refugees. I rejected it. Not because I think the support is not needed, but because I think it’s time to start the process of unlearning the mono-culturalism and dive into real, material multiculturalism. And this needs to be done with locals, not refugees. Investing in locals? asked funders surprised. Yes, locals are on this boat too. We need to start learning.

I am sure I am not offering the ideal plan, but at least, I can offer some food for thought. First, we need to start teaching multiculturalism. Every day, everywhere, all the time. It is not about the theory, it is real, it is here, it is part of everybody’s life. We must include it beside molecular biology and new technology courses. How odd it is, that one can totally understand why we need to learn the alphabet in order to write and read, but we still think that (anti)racism is a kind of instinct, something we have or not. A talent!

Therefore, with the second point, as teachers, we need to acknowledge its importance. Not including it in curricula only and just because we got some European funding and because it a hype right now and goes well with some nice capitalistic, neoliberal, Benneton-legacy ideas. The cultural difference, hate and fear are real. But how real? Let us ask and get some diverse opinions and experiences of it. Let’s get to it, with less political correctness and ultra-superficial politeness. It does not take us anywhere.

We have the techniques, the workshops, the experts to help us embracing the fear, to release it and finally to transform it into something more constructive. We have the pill and we can use it.

Along with this, as a third point, let us create the spaces, where racism, xenophobia, and any other, the whole diverse world of -phobias might be expressed, but not nurtured. Phobia, in fact is fear, not the hate. But fear leads to hate. Meaning, we need to start working with fears firstly, to prevent the hate. Safe places, where people of all origins and lifestyles can meet and the trust can be built will sooner or later replace the hate politics with the politics of coexistence.  Simply – go and meet each other, don’t gaze to one’s life through the (digital) window.

Myself being an applied drama practitioner, I am seeing and experiencing through my own work the practices of the ‘embodied’ learning or experiential approaches that would include simulation games, use of body language, personally experiencing and trying out different social scripts etc., as very effective and impactful tools. Together with reasoning, this type of teaching includes feelings, emotions, sensations. While trying to understand fears by reason, by logic, we often leave behind the body, the feeling and this is where embodied learning might be beneficial on many levels. But is it sustainable and long-term?

Here comes the important detail, when teachers get a bit disappointed: in my point of view, there is no sustainable and long-term impact and effects in teaching racism. It is living practice. One cannot simply stop it or erase it.

Besides, as I tried to show with the case of South-Eastern Europe, it differs on many levels from place to place, generation to generation. It is a society we are talking about, and racism, as any other human practices, behaviors and patterns in general, constantly changes in its forms and manifestations. This only means that teaching and learning about multiculturalism never stops. Every generation and every place needs to develop its own practice to uproot all types of violence. And here comes also the comforting part: throughout the theoretical and empirical experiences of multicultural practices, these spatial and temporal limitations bring in some benefits: the whole challenge of this great migrations and so called ‘refugee crisis’ seems manageable, if approaching it bottom up: firstly in our small, limited communities. And then, fearlessly crossing the borders!


Nena Močnik (foto: osebni arhiv)
Nena Močnik (foto: osebni arhiv)

Author: Dr. Nena Močnik (University of Ljubljana and New Europe College Bucharest) is an engaged researcher, educator and performance artist. Her interdisciplinary work focuses on political violence, cultures of conflict, social oppression and sexualities.

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