According to social pedagogy, learning should engage with people holistically by connecting with their heart (emotional sensitivity), head (cognitive awareness), and hands (practical know-how).
The ‘Question the Powerful’ political education resources follow this approach in addressing three sets of issues concerning society and its governance. Central to them is the didactic model of synetopia and the related ethos of ‘question the powerful’. The three strands are:
• Why should we be concerned? (Civic Feelings)
• What would be a better alternative? (Political Thoughts)
• How could we bring about changes? (Democratic Actions)
Why question the powerful?
The powerful are more likely to act without adequate justification if the people whose lives they affect either take little notice of what they do, or routinely misunderstand what is going on. People’s attention needs to be roused and their sensitivity sharpened if they are to tune into what consequences are likely to follow from proposed policies. Their vigilance is the first line of defence against the irresponsible actions of those with power.
Fiction is a valuable tool to engender civic feelings because imaginative tales can not only stimulate stronger emotional responses than mere facts and figures, but they enable educators to explore contested matters in an alternate reality safe from accusations of party political bias.
For novels written to highlight contemporary political challenges, noted for their pace and originality in raising questions about a variety of dubious societal trends, look up the Synetopia Quest dystopian series.
What to question the powerful about?
To be effective in questioning those with power, we have to focus on the purpose of holding them to account, and grasp what would differentiate responsible deliberations from flawed responses. Without the necessary understanding, wise counsel might end up being rejected, while exploitative measures could escape scrutiny.
A coherent philosophy provides a basis for the development of critical political thoughts. This does not mean that everything has to be timelessly entrenched, but what in the light of the latest available evidence stands up best to rational analysis would remain in place unless it is superseded by new findings.
For academic resources that set out the principles of assessing human interactions and where they should be improved, a historical review of what happened when the obstacles to their advancement were allowed to remain, and the roots of interpersonal responsibility, explore the Synetopia Theory of progressive communitarianism.
How to question the powerful?
Organisation is indispensable to ensure the questioning of the powerful will lead to constructive responses and appropriate changes. Firing off questions or expressing disagreement without having built a structure and culture of mutual explanations may not simply be ineffectual, but can be counter-productive.
A systematic approach to developing responsive communicative relations is needed to underpin democratic actions. This is to be applied first to the groups we can most readily influence, extended to other organisations to reshape their ethos, and then utilised in joining forces with others to seek answers from institutions that are not yet fully open to collaborative working.
For practical guidance on the steps to take to improve collective arrangements, and the techniques that would facilitate deliberative exchanges – to build an ever widening circle of enquiring citizens – see the Synetopia Protocol for cooperative working.