Lessons in teach­ing Brexit

Ex­it­ing the EU is a chance to hone stu­dents’ skills in crit­i­cal think­ing, ar­gues Paul James Card­well

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Paul James Card­well is pro­fes­sor of law at the Univer­sity of Strath­clyde, who has pub­lished widely on EU law and pol­i­tics.

Aca­demics spe­cial­is­ing in study­ing Euro­pean Union law and pol­i­tics have never been so much in de­mand – but they are also at the cen­tre of the storm over what UK uni­ver­si­ties are teach­ing, and how.

The fall­out from Chris Heaton-Har­ris’ (pic­tured) let­ter re­quest­ing the names of aca­demics lec­tur­ing on Brexit and course con­tent, the Daily Mail’s anec­do­tal sto­ries of per­ceived bias by stu­dents and oth­ers, and opin­ion pieces in The Daily Tele­graph claim­ing that the EU has “in­fil­trated” uni­ver­si­ties have prompted aca­demics to push back on as­sump­tions about what we do.

The core of the de­fence is that we teach crit­i­cal think­ing and the use of data and ev­i­dence to con­struct ar­gu­ments. None of this im­plies that stu­dents are taught to ar­gue one po­lit­i­cal point or an­other to “please” their lec­turer. As count­less aca­demic staff have com­mented, pro­duc­ing ev­i­dence-based ar­gu­ments is re­warded with higher marks. As­sess- ments at­tempt­ing to please an ex­am­iner with a com­men­tary on what their views are (or are thought to be) will fall flat.

Nev­er­the­less, aca­demics – par­tic­u­larly those in Leave vot­ing ar­eas such as the North of Eng­land – have been think­ing care­fully about how to in­clude all views in their class­rooms. Since it is well known that aca­demics and stu­dents alike voted Re­main, how to en­sure that those stu­dents whose fam­i­lies or com­mu­ni­ties voted Leave feel in­cluded is cru­cial. Hav­ing an hon­est and ev­i­dence-based dis­cus­sion with stu­dents, which also takes their feel­ings into ac­count, is as im­por­tant for chal­leng­ing all kinds of as­sump­tions.

But one of the main chal­lenges of teach­ing stu­dents in the UK about the EU is that the dom­i­nant pub­lic nar­ra­tive has long been con­structed around “pro” or “anti”, which has now mu­tated into Re­main or Leave. This is un­help­ful, be­cause it has be­come a ques­tion of “be­lief”, “faith”, or pref­er­ence (such as left/right in po­lit­i­cal par­ties). In fact, it is best un­der­stood as an en­tirely dif­fer­ent type of phe­nom­e­non: it is about the ev­i­dence of the ef­fects of EU mem­ber­ship and the likely ef­fects of dif­fer­ent types of fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the EU. Crys­tallis­ing into one po­si­tion is un­help­ful be­cause it ig­nores the crit­i­cal stance that schol­ars take to­wards the EU: it is pos­si­ble to be­lieve that Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion is a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive thing, while crit­i­cis­ing as­pects of what the EU does and how it does it. Alook at any aca­demic pa­per on a topic of EU law or pol­icy re­veals that most peo­ple who teach and re­search the EU have been life­long crit­ics of the EU; the Leave/ Re­main dy­namic is en­tirely un­help­ful. The on­go­ing con­tro­versy throws up a num­ber of im­por­tant ques­tions: do we cover Brexit in mod­ules on EU law or pol­i­tics and, if so, how?

How – in a prac­ti­cal sense – do we in­cor­po­rate dis­cus­sion of Brexit in as­sess­ments and ex­ams, given that book and jour­nal ar­ti­cles are pre­pared months in ad­vance? In such a po­lit­i­cally con­tested and rapidly shift­ing process, how do we in­te­grate dis­cus­sion of Brexit along­side the reg­u­lar con­tent on what the EU is and does?

All these ques­tions and oth­ers af­fect teach­ing staff in dif­fer­ent ways in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. For teach­ers of EU law such as my­self, noth­ing has yet of­fi­cially changed, as the UK re­mains a mem­ber state and EU law con­tin­ues to ap­ply un­til the exit date. But it would be sell­ing stu­dents short if no thought was given to the post-Brexit re­la­tion­ship, even if the de­tails are only just emerg­ing.

Partly the re­sponse is to use this unique sit­u­a­tion to chal­lenge our own ways of teach­ing and think­ing about teach­ing, and use the op­por­tu­nity to help hone stu­dents’ skills in crit­i­cal think­ing and the use of sources. Scot­land’s uni­ver­si­ties have re­cently col­lab­o­rated to pro­duce an open ac­cess col­lec­tive work point­ing to many of the is­sues across the dif­fer­ent ar­eas of ac­tiv­ity of the EU, such as the blogs by Steve Peers and Si­mon Ush­er­wood, Twit­ter threads and of­fi­cial po­si­tion pa­pers stem­ming from the UK, EU in­sti­tu­tions and in­ter­ested groups.

This shift has led to in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sions about us­ing sources from, for ex­am­ple, think­tanks and re­ports from par­lia­men­tary groups. Are they “in­de­pen­dent” and what does “in­de­pen­dent” mean in this con­text? With the amount of mis­in­for­ma­tion and mis­un­der­stand­ing on the EU, aca­demics have a duty to point stu­dents in the right di­rec­tion. Again, the only agenda this pushes is the one that re­quires stu­dents to chal­lenge, to cri­tique and to en­sure that their ar­gu­ments – what­ever they might be – are sup­ported by ev­i­dence.

Poles apart aca­demics have been think­ing care­fully about how to in­clude all views in their class­rooms

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.