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Education in Divided Societies

reviewed by April Crabtree - 2006

coverTitle: Education in Divided Societies
Author(s): Tony Gallagher
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 0333677080, Pages: 173, Year: 2004
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Education in Divided Societies examines how cultures with ethnic conflicts use educational initiatives to stave off potential problems. Gallagher uses examples to discover what role education can play in societies where ethnic conflict is rife or where cultures are on the verge of conflict. The author’s argument for education as a possible solution to dissolving ethnic conflict is muddled somewhat by another argument advanced by the author that each problem should be solved from within its own cultural circumstances.

Chapter 1 begins by discussing the evolution of the Holocaust. Gallagher describes how a society that discriminates becomes a society that eliminates, and he attempts to understand this conflict through the lens of various sociological interpretations. Underscoring the rationality of persecution, Gallagher proposes that we look at the Holocaust as an educational tool. He argues that indifference “should form the main theme or warning we take from the Holocaust” (p. 5). The central point of the politics of indifference could and should have been further explored. However, the author skims this point and focuses on the idea that the possibility of a repetition of such an event may be an eventuality.

Chapters 2 and 3 provide the framework for the case studies used later in the book. The author argues that divided societies are comprised of cultures where identity is a primary concern. Ethnicity is often the impetus from which conflict arises. Identity battles erupt when political, economic, or sociocultural problems arise. Conflict, specifically ethnic conflict, seems inevitable as vying cultures cope with the implications of multiethnic societies. Gallagher points out, “Although some internal conflicts have been contained, many have a tendency to intensify. . . ” (p. 11). Gallagher makes two final points: First, he looks at ethnicity and remarks, “At a theoretical and conceptual level, therefore, ethnic boundaries are socially constructed and hence malleable, even though in particular contexts they may be treated as timeless and unalterable: in such contexts the ascription of an essentialist character to ethnic identity is usually linked to the maintenance of a power imbalance” (p. 16). Second, Gallagher points out that although societies are often multiethnic this does not make ethnic conflict inevitable. Diversity and conflict do not necessarily precipitate conflict but have the potential to do so. Chapter 3’s utility is limited in scope. While the understanding of prejudice as a psychological and social tool is important, it does not help a reader understand education’s role in multiethnic societies.

Chapter 4 explores educational strategies used in European countries that have experienced a divide, usually because of varied religions, but sometimes because of language. In a society where such differentiation is the norm, Gallagher asserts that the role of the government is of central importance. He explains, “The federal ‘deal’ is often that minority identities are legitimized and the fear of assimilation is removed on the one hand, and the integrity of the state is accepted on the other. In this way, it is hoped that any separatist pressure will dissipate” (p. 38). In order to understand how the state can legitimize or delegitimize these minority issues, the educational organizations in Switzerland, Belgium, and Spain are explored.

In Switzerland’s decentralized state, the government exerts little control over national education. In this case, “Decentralization has not led to fragmentation since there remained a common practical interest on some level of mutuality between the decentralized education systems” (p. 41). In the Belgian example, the same system of decentralization has further separated the variant communities. Those disparate systems continue to move apart despite reforms intended to reduce the conflict between factions. For Spain, where the central state structure is responsible for education, the state regulates only two-thirds of the curriculum, leaving the remainder to individual communities. This diversity-based strategy has had the opposite effect of Belgium’s autonomous strategy. Instead of making the communities more disparate, this autonomy has led to more diversity in the classrooms. Gallagher concludes by pointing out that the “unpredictability of outcomes should serve only to emphasize the difficulties in trying to mitigate ethnic tensions through educational solutions” (p. 50).

The purpose of chapters 5 and 6 is to explore how "separate but equal" education appeared and disappeared in the American South. The author examines how education was used as the primary focus of legislation intended to equalize the disparate South. The evidence shows that education is paradoxical; it has the power to divide, while also having the potential to unify. His argument supports desegregation and integration of schools as a way to de-intensify conflict. Using this example, we come to understand how the structure "education," which can be used to divide, can also be used to unify, presenting a possible model for other societies.

Britain’s attempt to cope with the concept of “race” forms the backdrop of chapter 7. While dealing with the implications of an increasingly multicultural society, Britain’s educational system had initially encouraged assimilation into a "British culture." However, this later moved from an “assimilationist strategy to an integrationist strategy” (p. 90). This begs the question of Muslim schools and the rejection of their legitimacy and later their funding. These issues forced Britain to change its curriculum, rejecting the monocultural account of its own history (p. 96). This revised curriculum stresses “more recognition of the cultural diversity of British society and more overt action to combat racism” (p. 100).

Chapter 8 focuses on South Africa and the way apartheid extended through the educational system as a dividing force intent on keeping ethnic groups separate. However, the author points out that apartheid education was “not simply to keep the different racial communities apart, but to locate and place their role in the wider society” (p. 108). Even when apartheid ended, the differences in educational opportunities among groups varied widely, prompting the state to attempt integration. Although the situation remains volatile, there is hope that institutional pluralism might bring the two poles to some meridian.

The inclusion of the situation in Northern Ireland comes as no surprise to the reader. Chapter 9, however, provides insight into recent initiatives for reconciliation. Curriculum reform, contact programs, and integrated schools have all been put into place to try to reconcile the communities. Unlike South Africa, in this situation, the attempt has not been necessarily to bring equality but instead to press unspoken issues of conflict into discussion. Through these reforms, the hope is that children in Northern Ireland will be able to value the differences between groups and ultimately see the other’s value as a point of equality. Gallagher hastens to add that, “Changes were made to a situation in pursuit of the goal of equality, but it could be argued that this change did not necessarily lead to greater tolerance and reconciliation. Indeed some might argue that the main result was to reinforce separation” (p. 134). Reliance on these three main elements may yet produce the result hoped for.  However, it remains doubtful whether the rift between these groups can be bridged through educational initiatives when so much depends on the continued reorganization of the educational infrastructure which still favors Protestant Northern Ireland.

The author’s concluding chapter is perhaps the weakest. Instead of bringing together the case studies he introduces unnecessary hypotheses. The reader is left to wade through this in hopes of synthesis and analysis which never comes. His only statement to bring these examples into perspective recapitulates, “no specific structural arrangement provides a guaranteed outcome” (p. 142). The reader is left to assume that each example should stand alone and that each example remains so culturally specific as to have no exportable value to other situations. While we assume that this is not the author’s intention, the concluding chapter leaves much to be desired, as it fails to leave the reader with a solid conclusion.  

Gallagher’s work relies on the use of case studies. This provides us with the opportunity to explore how various nations have coped with educational systems in both reconciling and dividing societies in conflict. The well-developed nature of the specific examples makes the book a genuine asset in understanding the role of education in a divided society. By utilizing a broad array of sources and providing a broad survey of educational experiences, Gallagher offers the reader a unique insight into the way in which education has the possibility of exacerbating or diffusing conflict in societies.

In conclusion, Gallagher’s book remains an asset to the scholarship of education. By analyzing the examples provided, we come to understand what role education has played in the attempted diffusion of conflict in various societies. Education has often been viewed as an absolute good, but we find through this survey that this is not necessarily the case. Education can lead to a rediscovery of the value of diversity but can also be a structure that continues to divide.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 8, 2006, p. 1593-1596
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12204, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 7:48:45 AM

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About the Author
  • April Crabtree
    University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    E-mail Author
    APRIL CRABTREE is a graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida with a BA in Anthropology. She was a Fulbright Fellow and conducted research in Krakow, Poland on Polish Holocaust Education. She has presented at several conferences on efforts in genocide education in the United States, Poland, and Cambodia. She will be presenting her Fulbright research at the “Beyond Camps and Forced Labour” conference at the Imperial War Museum, London in January and will also present at the Comparative and International Education Society meeting in 2006. She is currently attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville completing an MSc in Education and is completing projects on Holocaust Education as well as Civil Rights Education. Her primary interests are in Holocaust and genocide education issues and has several articles pending review for publication.
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