The DIALLS Project: Dialogue, Argumentation, and Creative Practices as Tools in Cultural Literacy Learning
Katja Mäkinen is Professor of Political Science at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland
The DIALLS (Dialogue and Argumentation for Cultural Literacy Learning in Schools) project, funded by the EC’s Horizon 2020 in 2018–2021, has developed the concept and practices of cultural literacy, reconceptualized as a social practice that is inherently dialogic and based on gaining and constructing knowledge through empathetic, tolerant, and inclusive interaction with others (Maine, Cook, and Lähdesmäki 2019).
A multidisciplinary team of researchers and educators in nine countries has created The Cultural Literacy Learning Programme (CLLP), offering tools for learning cultural literacy through dialogue and creative practices. The CLLP was implemented in over 250 classes in seven countries in the school year of 2019–2020 with students in three age groups (5–6, 8–9, 14–15).
The CLLP included 15 lessons on different themes: living together (including diversity, solidarity, equality, human rights, democracy, and globalization); social responsibility (including social and civic competences, sustainable development, and active participation); belonging (including home); and tolerance, empathy, and inclusion as the core attitudes for cultural literacy. These topics were addressed through classroom and small-group discussions as well as creative practices in which the students made cultural artefacts with brief textual explanations. Wordless short films and picture books were used to provide stimulation for the students.
The research in the DIALLS project demonstrates that even the youngest research participants can deal with complex and abstract ideas and emotions through dialogue and creative practices. This is why education initiatives and policies should use creative practices for learning cultural literacy.
The Cultural Literacy Learning Programme developed in DIALLS included lessons related to the covid-19 pandemic. Cultural literacy provides support for dealing with the multiple implications of the pandemic, such as the socio-economic and welfare difficulties caused by it.
While cultural literacy enables encounter of diversity and genuine interaction between diverse groups, it is important to discuss differences carefully to avoid presenting the coexistence of cultures as a problem and source of conflict. Policies and practices must pay attention to who defines differences and who decides whether and when they are problematic and challenging or presented as such. While it is significant to encourage children and young people to see differences so that they can recognize the inequalities embedded in them, education policies and practices must not unintentionally create difference through their attempts to celebrate diversity. Distinctions may exist only in the adults’ reality, while children and young people may not see these differences or may consider them meaningless.
For example, in their artefacts, the students did not usually underline difference or challenges related to it. On the contrary, they presented difference as a normal and positive feature of everyday life by depicting different characters doing various daily activities together in diverse environments. Thus they focused on strengthening belonging and inclusion and to celebrate diversity.
Cultural literacy supplies resources for democracy and its core principles and practices.
It gives skills for participating in a pluralistic society and thereby it can make decision-making more democratic, involving everyone affected. Because it enhances critical thinking and constitutes a channel for debating pro et contra, it develops political judgment, which is a core skill in democracy.
Critical thinking also helps to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories and encourages looking beyond the divisions constructed in populist discourses. Cultural literacy thus has a significant function for tackling polarization of both opinions and different groups in the society. The idea of cultural literacy supports solidarity by seeking to practice dialogue even in such situations in which there is no common ground. Such solidarity is not only about ‘feeling with you’ but also ‘standing with you’ – even with the ‘you’ I do not know or may not like. Cultural literacy can promote peace and more equal and inclusive societies instead of a reality fragmented in bubbles.
Cultural literacy provides concrete support for our agency in the current world. It is a platform for joining efforts to counter contemporary challenges like exclusion, intolerance, and climate change and act together in a world that seems divided. It helps children and young people to claim structural changes instead of focusing only on the individual level.
Because the school context has a strong influence in all learners, pedagogic activities must be designed carefully not to give learners pre-selected ideas or perspectives. The relations between children and adults in adult-guided pedagogic practices must limit learners’ own agency as little as possible in the meaning making and knowledge production. It is wise to promote and utilize knowledge production initiated by children and young people themselves in education policies and initiatives and to ensure equal opportunities for students from different backgrounds to participate in dialogue. For example, in teacher education, one should raise awareness of the power structures between the underprivileged and privileged concerning equal access, non-discrimination, and inclusion.
- The DIALLS Project https://dialls2020.eu/about/
- 2021 Dialogue, Argumentation, and Creative Practices as Tools in Cultural Literacy Learning in Europe. Policy brief III. https://dialls2020.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/dialls_-policy-brief-III-April-2021-final.pdf.
- Lähdesmäki, T., J. Baranova, A-K. Koistinen, S. C. Ylönen, K. Mäkinen, V. Juskiene and I. Zaleskienė. 2021 forthcoming. Learning Cultural Literacy through Creative Practices in Schools. Cultural and Multimodal Approaches to Meaning-Making. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Maine, F., V. Cook, and T. Lähdesmäki. 2019. “Reconceptualizing Cultural Literacy as a Dialogic Practice.” London Review of Education 17 (3): 383–392. doi: https://doi.org/10.18546/LRE.17.3.12
- Maine, F. and M. Vrikki, eds. 2021. Dialogue for Intercultural Understanding: Placing Cultural Literacy at the Heart of Learning. Cham: Springer. doi: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-71778-0
- Introduction of the project: https://dialls2020.eu/
- The DIALLS Student Manifesto – a declaration about how we all should behave towards each other and the planet we share: https://dialls2020.eu/manifesto/