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Sense and Sensitivity

Difference and Diversity in Higher Education Classrooms

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Elisabeth Lillie

This edited volume examines aspects of teaching and learning in situations where community or ethnic division may impact negatively on classroom experience and behaviour in tertiary education. The book considers cases from four locations where marked divisions in the wider society exert a continuing influence on the student body: Northern Ireland, England, France and the United States of America. All of these countries share certain underlying principles of governance and freedom as well as historical interconnections, but have within them particular groups characterized by various levels of separation and distrust. The sociohistorical context relevant to each case is outlined, followed by a discussion of the attitudes, opinions and reactions of the learners concerned. The volume concludes with a consideration of pedagogical approaches that may help to bridge difference and foster a more positive atmosphere. Although this study focuses on particular community environments, the techniques highlighted by contributors may be useful in any classroom setting where a heterogeneous mix of individuals has the potential to lead to dissension and conflict.

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Elisabeth Lillie Introduction

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Teaching and interacting with young people in their years of higher educa- tion is an enormously interesting and stimulating activity, with new ideas and fresh challenges arising with each group of students. In divided cultural contexts, however, there are, as well, particular concerns as students may come from all sections of society, bringing with them conf licting visions and sensitivities. In such societies not only may there be sources of divi- sion in the present, a damaging and hurtful past may also cast its shadow over life today. This is very often the case in Northern Ireland where the research that served as the initial impetus for this book was undertaken; however, conf licting positions and community allegiances are a feature of many other regions. If you grow up in a part of the world where there are dif ferent approaches and loyalties among specific sections of the population (as some lecturers including this writer did) and spend a large part of your career working in the region (as some also do, this writer among them), you are led, almost inevitably, to an awareness of ambient sensitivities. You also internalize the behavioural patterns that avoid the creation of awkwardness and dissension in cross-community groupings in professional and, indeed, in social life (cf. Harris 1972). In teaching, lecturers are expected to adopt a position of objectivity, to treat all equally and to focus on the acquisition of knowledge and competence among their students. Yet, even if one takes what one hopes...

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