Club de Madrid’s initiative to counter violent extremism provides Ten Goals as a guide to tackle this global problem. The 4th Goal calls upon “educators to promote meaningful employment, human wellbeing, the empowerment of women, as well as tolerance and pluralism.” In this light, Lynn Davis is promoting the high value of critical education in schools and the importance of teaching students about human rights, and furthering the debate in religious education. As it states in the Global Consensus, “religious educators need to offer people a firm grounding not only in their own religious tradition but also in universal human values and tolerance.”
Lynn Davis is an Emeritus Professor of International Education at the University of Birmingham and one of the Directors of Connect Justice, a social enterprise creating and sharing knowledge to transform conflict. This organization is currently conducting a study called ‘Formers and Families’, which explores individuals’ journey to and from violence, and the role of their families and friends.
Through this EU funded study, family turned out not to be a factor in motivation to join an extremist groups. Many extremists from their sample came from loving and caring families. “The process of radicalization was a mix of a whole range of factors and drivers,” as Davis mentioned.
In a syntheses written by Professor Lynn Davis for INEE (Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies), she indicates that young people are not drawn to extremism because of their religious beliefs, rather because radical groups give them status and identity. Something, she argues, schools should try to replicate as a way to tackle extremism.
This on-going study found that attendance to school and/or church/mosque was not a guarantee for protection of becoming an extremist. Neither was being harassed or experiencing racism a decisive factor. Though many former extremists said they wished they had treated this topic at school as it may have stopped them.
Schools are not a shield protecting students. However, they should provide safe spaces for discussion of controversial issues. Providing a foundation for critical education based on a value system outside a religious framework, without promoting relativism, will help students challenge and deconstruct extremist narratives they receive. Davis says human rights are a strong base for this value system. Teaching students about their rights, and what is not a right, will enable them to make judgments on their own.
“Ironically, a school that contributes to greater security is one that takes risks” says Davis. “These are the risks of opening up debates, of finding alternatives to violent disciple, of telling girls their rights.” In this sense, religion should not be given special exemption and “must be placed alongside politics or economics as equally open to discussion.”
Finally, Davis states that “education on its own will not address all these push (like poverty and exclusion) and pull (like being given a sense of belonging) factors in extremism; but it should at least do no harm, and at best try to provide some resilience. Just believing in young people, giving them dignity and a sense of importance, as well as an opportunity to openly and safely discuss controversial political issues, is a start.”