Persuasion, politics and adult education

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Building on more than a century of adult education for community engagement, the WEA is running  ‘Why Vote‘ and ‘Deciding Locallyinitiatives to boost voter registration. Dr Henry Tam from the University of Cambridge led a Twitter chat about it last week. There’s a Storify summary of tweets here.

Ballot_Box_web_3

The WEA doesn’t promote any individual political party but has a long tradition of encouraging people to vote and to go further by becoming active in politics, especially at local levels.

Practical political education aims to stimulate critical thinking about how democracy and politics work. It is important that people can make informed decisions and can develop the skills and confidence to get involved in shaping policies that affect them directly.

Critical questioning plays a key role in political judgments and in daily life. Information bombards us from several sources every day, but can we trust it? Are we being informed or manipulated – deliberately or inadvertently? Do we notice the difference between indoctrination, persuasion and education?

Indoctrination trains people to accept a set of beliefs without opportunities for questioning so that they conform to particular ideas, opinions and principles without considering alternatives.

Persuasion is more subtle. It relies on the assumption that most people will not sift through the range of relevant information even when they are free to do so. A persuader can impose their opinion by highlighting specific ‘information’ or by appealing to emotions.

In theory, education presents facts and logical arguments, encouraging students to think for themselves, assess all the relevant information and come to their own conclusions. In practice, education does not take place in a vacuum. Teachers are likely to bring their own perspectives and can be powerful persuaders, while students apply their own filters based on their personal experiences. Some adult students are very eloquent and informed before they begin a course. Others are more likely to accept ideas without questioning. These issues raise various practical and ethical questions.

As an adult education organisation, the WEA respects tutors and students as equals who share and learn from their differing experiences. Being able to understand and to apply principles of persuasion might be a useful part of the teaching and learning process.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric defined these principles many centuries ago, identifying the three elements of logos, ethos and pathos.

  • Logos – logic, facts, evidence, reason
  • Ethos – ethics, credibility, dependability
  • Pathos – emotion, appeal to people’s feelings

aristotle's rhetoric

 

Watching a news bulletin on television can be a good opportunity to look for the three elements of rhetoric. We can assess how much of what we are told is based on facts and evidence and can think about whether we trust the source. We can decide whether we are being swayed because of substance, spin or charisma.

There are some good free resources to help with analysis of political parties’ policies and statements of fact, including:

  • Vote for Policies at http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ which provides a test of what policies you might agree with if bias towards a particular political party is removed.
  • Full Fact at https://fullfact.org/ which is an independent fact checking organisation which provides free tools, information and advice, so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media.

Anyone who thinks that politics has no place in education or vice versa should think about how many cabinet ministers of different political parties have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics degrees at the University of Oxford

Recognising the elements of rhetoric is a tiny step in comparison but can give people some tools to assess information and more skills in getting messages across for themselves.

Any other useful websites, resources or comments?

Education, the electoral roll and access to benefits

Should access to benefits and public services depend on inclusion on the Electoral Register? This idea is being considered in the Electoral Register (Access to Public Services) Bill 2013-14, which  is expected to have its second reading debate on 28 February 2014. Did you know about it? There’s a summary of the Bill’s proposals and progress here, with a partial screen shot shown below.

Elec Roll

Democracy has been a hot topic this week, with a new national campaign urging people to ‘Bite the Ballot” and, in twitter-speak, to #takepower. February 5 was designated as National Voter Registration Day, although it’s not too late to register. The WEA supports the Bite the Ballot initiative with enthusiasm as we’ve been committed to education for democracy for over a century. There’s more information on the WEA’s website here, where you can see a short animated step-by-step guide on registering to vote and a film of Dr Finn Mackay talking about the importance of democratic engagement. Finn is a WEA Ambassador, founder of the London Feminist Network and reviver of London Reclaim the Night.

Much of this week’s media debate has been about voter apathy and disillusionment with politics and politicians – but we should be aware of other aspects and impacts of Parliamentary action on voter registration.

Part of the WEA’s educational work and campaigning is to raise awareness and understanding about how Parliament and local government works on our collective behalf, whether we have voted for our elected representatives or not. We put this into practice recently by drawing people’s attention to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee’s Inquiry on adult literacy and numeracy. The WEA’s written response to the Inquiry was based on collated views from students, tutors and others across the Association following some in-class discussions about the Select Committee, its workings and its call for views.

Our involvement in active citizenship and political education over the years has highlighted some of the difficulties that homeless people have in registering to vote if they have no fixed address. We have explored some of the issues that people face if their personal details become relatively easily available online when they join the Electoral Roll and it’s been enlightening to hear testimony from political refugees who have been denied the right to vote and been persecuted by ruling regimes in other countries.

It’s debatable whether we have a functioning democracy if voter registration and the turnout at elections is low and we should make people aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. There are many powerful, but not apparently sufficiently compelling, reasons to use the right to vote. People, including the WEA activist and suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who campaigned and died so we could have this right – but should access to benefits and public services be linked to compulsory registration to vote?

Whether this is ‘Civics’, ‘Active Citizenship’, ‘Practical Political Education’ or any other labelled learning, it’s an important area of education for social purpose that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention in what should be an educated democracy.

Thoughts?

‘Making a Difference’ – WEA Parliamentary Event and Awards

This blog is a bit different. I’ve experimented with Storify software to make a narrative out of tweets. It’s my first attempt so it’s very much learning in public.

I’ve collated some tweets about the WEA’s ‘Making a Difference’ Parliamentary event last week to capture some of the comments that people made as the event unfolded. There’s a link at:

http://storify.com/AnnWalkerWEA/wea-parliamentary-event-7-november-2012?utm_content=storify-pingback&awesm=sfy.co_bB02&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_campaign=&utm_source=t.co

I’d be grateful if anyone has any hints and tips about using Storify or any comments on it.

Twitter is still a foreign language to many people so the Storify’s introduction has a link to a site that explains twitter symbols and acronyms.

(The WEA runs social media courses if you want to find out more. You can find regional contact details at http://www.wea.org.uk/local if you’re interested in a course about twitter or other new media. There are many online resources for independent learning too.)

The WEA Awards Ceremony followed the Parliamentary event. It was an inspiring and emotional event.

The winners were:

Olive Cordell Skills for Life Tutor

  • Laraine Clark

Olive Cordell Skills for life Student

  • Luzayadio Mputo

WEA Volunteer

  • David Dennehy

WEA Student – Joint Award

  • Alec Buchanan
  • Julie Harrison

WEA Learning Group

  • Tammy Spriggs, Lisa Harrington and Janine Ginno

Diversity in Practice

  • Tandrusti

WEA Campaign

  • Why Vote?

Contribution to Sustainability

  • Women’s groups at Clovelly

WEA Tutor

  • Janet Henson

Innovative Partnership

  • WEA and Horizons

Innovative Branch and WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

Special Recognition: Education

  • Sahira Tariq

Special Recognition: Support services and WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

Special Recognition: Long service

  • John Hurst

WEA Scotland

  • Bathgate Once More

WEA North East

  • Elizabeth Langdown

WEA North West

  • Ties to the Past

WEA Yorkshire and Humber

  • Beth Deakin

WEA East Midlands

  • Learning into Leadership on the Internet

WEA West Midlands

  • Shiyalini Mohan

WEA Eastern

  • Kathryn Coles

WEA London

  • Mike Bradley

WEA South West

  • Activ8 for Carers

WEA Southern

  • Adler Mosaicists

WEA Ambassador

  • Nigel Todd

There’s a wonderful booklet outlining their stories. It should be available soon at www.wea.org.uk.