Education, Educational Research

Curriculum & Culture: How should we teach Welshness?

Recently, I spoke at the “What’s Next? A discussion about the next steps in education in Wales?” event organised by Mrs Rebekah Bawler (@RCCS_MissBawler) and colleagues at Risca Comprehensive School (@RiscaCCS), along with Mr Norman from Willows High School (@WillowsMrNorman), Mr Barri Mock (@RCCS_MrMock) and Miss Coran Jones (@RCCS_MissCJones) from Risca Comprehensive and Dave Stacey (@DaveStacey), a Senior Lecturer at Yr Athrofa: Institute of Education & Humanities @Athrofa. This post is inspired by Mr Mock and his passion for the Welsh Dimension and International perspective content of the new curriculum for Wales.

[Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/80497449@N04/7383585190]


In the Autumn of 2016, I was asked by Welsh government to speak to the newly formed Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) groups about the Welsh Dimension and International Perspective (WDIP). I began our conversation with references to my research on the Curriculum Cymreig. The rationale for the Curriculum Cymreig argues:

‘Pupils should be given opportunities, where appropriate, to develop and apply knowledge and understanding of the cultural, economic, environmental, historical and linguistic characteristics of Wales.’

The aims of the curricular initiative were to help pupils to

  • identify their own sense of Welshness and to feel a heightened sense of belonging to their local community and country.
  • understand Wales as an outward-looking and international nation, promoting global citizenship and concern for sustainable development.
  • understand and celebrate the distinctive quality of living and learning in Wales in the twenty-first century

As a PhD student, I conducted a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of the document Developing the Curriculum Cymreig, and the findings of that research were included in the 2013 review of the Curriculum Cymreig. Discourses are produced by and contribute to social structures, and are a form of social practice that represent and calibrate our orientation to reality. Fairclough argues discourse is “a material form of ideology, and language is invested by ideology” (1995, p.73), and it is through the analysis of discourse that we may reveal ideological assumptions and interests.

I was interested in the discursive formations, or “patterns of regularity in terms of order, correlation, position, and function” (Macey, 2001, p.101) of Wales and Welshness in the guidance that were “ideologically imposed, organised, and maintained” (Fairclough, 1995, p.40). Fairclough’s approach to CDA includes an analysis of the relational, experiential and expressive features of a text, revealing the perceived social relationship between the producer of the text and its consumers, the producers’ experience of the natural or social world, and the producer’s understanding and representation of their reality respectively. My interest in undertaking this research was to better understand how power, ideology and culture were expressed through, and contributed to, discourses of Wales and Welshness in school.

Some of my findings suggested the conceptualisation of the curriculum and its aims were unwieldy, ambiguous and ineffective. What’s more, its theoretical foundations were anaemic and incoherent. On one hand, it suggested a Curriculum Cymreig offered pupils opportunities to construct their own sense of Welshness and appreciation for living and learning in Wales. On the other, it promoted traditional discourses as objective definitions of Wales and Welshness. Does the guidance promote Welshness as something informed by experience and constructed by the individual, or is it objectively defined and pupils are to discover this through the curriculum? The guidance is unclear, although I argue it favours the latter.

The Curriculum Cymreig is the product of competing discourses, including cultural conservation, language promotion, nation-building and identity formation. It is also situated in cultural conceptualisations of citizenship that promote ‘commonsensical’ and uncomplicated views of what it means to “be Welsh.” It makes efforts to discuss the ‘multicultural’ diversity of Wales, but also promotes an idea that all pupils share a common experience of “living and learning in Wales.”

The “common experience” promoted by Developing the Curriculum Cymreig fails to acknowledge the lived experiences of many pupils, relying on particular, traditional views of Wales and Welshness. For example, where is the representation of a Black Wales, a Gay Wales, a Female Wales – or a national/ethnic representation of Wales that exists outside of the typical Wales-England binary? Moreover, where in the Curriculum Cymreig does it address economic deprivation, growing income inequality and the debilitating affects of intergenerational poverty? While these concerns are the reality for many young people in Wales, they seemed too problematic to be included in curricular discourses of Wales and Welshness.

My recommendations in the study refer to a critical pedagogy of place as the initial starting point for pupils’ learning experiences, with the aims of granting them opportunities to develop sophisticated and critical responses to discourses of Wales and Welshness. From this position, they may be able to challenge traditional expectations of Welshness foisted upon them and critically examine the roles of culture, identity and discourse as they develop and critique their own local, national and international perspectives.

Reflective Questions

  1. What ideological assumptions are at play when you think about discourses of Wales and Welshness?
  2. Does the way we talk about Wales influence the reality of Wales we experience?
  3. How might a critical understanding of our local culture and “place” inform international perspectives?
  4. How do we ensure young people have a sophisticated understanding of “the local” without limiting their exposure to knowledge “beyond their current context?”

References

Fairclough, N. (1995). Critical Discourse Analysis: Papers in the Critical Study of Language. London Longman

Macey, D. (2001). Dictionary of Critical Theory. London. Penguin.