How far can teachers across divided Cyprus get?Teachers accounts of teaching controversial events.
comparative study between T/C and G/C primary school teachers who appear most willing to teach controversial issues in the context of a conflict - ridden society like the Cypriot one.
My objectivesto draw out thick descriptions (Geertz 1973) from the perspective of the teachers who hold a critical stance towards the hegemonic discourses and practices of their schools.to investigate what teachers say they do with their students; whether and to what extent these teachers record instances of alternative practices that break the dominant conventions of silence.to enumerate the difficulties faced by these teachers, how they define their needs and under which conditions they believe they could do their job better.
was also inquisitive to view all the above objectives through the interplay between the sociopolitical structures and teachers personal cost. Finally I would like to highlight the fact that this study has a diagnostic character since its the first time a study deals with the issue of teaching controversial issues across the divide.
The Sociopolitical Context of Research: Loud Memories and Loud Silences in a divided society
Cyprus is a divided country. Violent conflicts in 1963 put to an end of the coexistence of GC and TC ever since. In 1974 Turkish invasion/intervention has deepened even further the parallel and antagonistic lives of the two communities. The war consequently caused more deaths, more missing persons, refugees and various other social and personal traumas that war and dislocation cause. One third of the total population of Greek Cypriots was displaced to the south side and the one forth of the Turkish Cypriots were also displaced to the north.
The Sociopolitical Context of Research: Loud Memories and Loud Silences in a divided society In 2003, under the pressure of political discussion concerning the resolution of the Cyprus issue by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, two crossing points were opened after 40 years in Nicosia allowing the contact between the two communities.
The Sociopolitical Context of Research: Loud Memories and Loud Silences in a divided society In April 2004, a few days before Cyprus accession in EU, a comprehensive U.N. proposal for re-unification on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation known as the Annan Plan was put to simultaneous referenda on both sides, but led to failure, with a 65% yes-vote by the Turkish Cypriots and a 76% no-vote by the Greek Cypriots.
The dominant discourses on the island across the divide are those of victimhood/blaming the other and within these discourses two generations of Greek and Turkish Cypriots grew up. However, a handful of people, such as journalists, film directors, activists, educators, social and political scientists (but yet no historians), has started to emerge in an attempt to achieve openings through their work for the breaking of the convention of silence and for alternative interpretations of the past.
This paper is based on 40 semi-structured interviews with primary school teachers, 20 Greek Cypriots and 20 Turkish Cypriots. The teachers who participated in the present research aged between 28 and 50 years old belong to the second generation of the Cyprus issue.
Research Design/Methodology I have met most of these people and I know them in person as I have been participating in bi-communal activities for the last six years. Furthermore, in some cases I used the snowballing recruitment technique, that is the mobilization of the interviewers social networks for accessing potential informants (Bernard 2002).
Research Design/Methodology All of the interviewers have participated or they themselves have organized many bi-communal workshops, conferences, symposiums and events. For these reasons, I would characterize them as the most lighted teachers to teach controversial/taboo issues or as the most willing teachers to raise the discussion about these issues in their classroom.
Research Design/Methodology Following Kitson and McCullys (2005) typology of teachers attitudes towards the teaching of conflicting historical events, I am not interested in the avoiders, or the containers. I am interested in the teachers that are most likely to adopt a risk taker attitude.
Research Design/Methodology In other words, the sample of my research does not include teachers who either have never heard of the traumas of the other community or even if they have heard of them, they adopt a defensive ingroup perspective which is used to justify ones ingroup behavior (Zebel et al 2004), or to use a more Freudian language, they are still at the stage of denial or affective amnesia (Igartua & Paez 1997).
During the data analysis I was looking for patterns, motifs, and issues of relevance, which then were coded to allow further analysis.
Analysis of issues and comparison
In what follows, I provide summaries of the major issues identified by the teachers. The goal of this presentation is not to engage in a detailed empirical description and comparison of the findings as such, but to highlight the most important findings and conclusions of this research.
Summary of findings 1) Teachers accounts across the divide reveal that silence is maintained regarding the teaching of controversial issues. Teaching controversial issues does not take place systematically and in depth, even among educators who are willing to start a dialogue with their students about the past.
Despite the fact that outside the school they promote dialogue with the other and they recognize the atrocities committed by their own side, inside the school context they follow the dominant norm. On several occasions they stated they would have liked to act differently but in the end they remained silent.
Andros said in an ironic tone:(Greek Cypriot teacher, 28 years old, BA and MA degrees)
Since in our everyday discourse in the school there are no Turkish Cypriots, how are we going to tell them suddenly that not only there are Turkish Cypriots but also that there are missing Turkish Cypriots?  We always talk about our own missing persons. (pause) Sometimes I cant stand school. I think that by remaining silent I am going to reproduce another ignorant generation like my own.
Pembe(TC, female, 40 yrs old, Atatrk Teacher Training Academy) I refer to GC sufferings in 1974 in a general way. I dont get into details about what happened.
1st Differentiation: the reference to the other I have recorded a differentiation between Greek and Turkish Cypriot teachers, namely that Turkish Cypriot teachers seem to speak more easily to their students about the suffering of the other side.
2) A second finding of this research is related with teachers accounts of the difficulties they face and the circumstances under which they believe that controversial issues could be taught. Furthermore, these accounts reveal the second differentiation between the GC and the TC, that is they adduce different reasons about why they do not teach in depth controversial issues.
Most Greek Cypriot teachers are not involved in talking about the Cyprus issue directly. They attempt to analyze the factors that deter them from teaching controversial/taboo issues. So the Cypriot issue remains a background context for them.
Strong social control is a crucial factor for the G/C teachers (parents, teachers Union, media, schools leadership, other colleagues) that influences their every day choices and practices at their schools.
Most probably that is why G/C teachers adopt a strategy of avoidance, some consciously and others unconsciously, to deal with this negative environment described above. In most of the interviews with G/C teachers it was demonstrated that they keep their opinion to themselves to avoid ostracism in their school or avoid possible attacks by the media or parents.
That is why they express fear, suppressed anger or they are driven to apathy while they are able to recognize what is wrong.
Fear of Media, parents, students George (Greek Cypriot teacher, 37 years old, BA & MA):
Now that I think about it, the tactic I use is that instead of doing something, I avoid it. I do it unconsciously. Imagine something happens with a parent and the next day Phileleftheros newspaper writes Teacher sides with the Turkish side in his teaching... The parents, children and colleagues will give me hell. Remember what happened with Rooftop Theatre? (my emphasis)
Schools leadership, Curriculum Christos (31 years old, BA & MA) narrates how the head teacher of her school actually stopped her from inviting a Turkish Cypriot class to their school. The head teacher of the school invited me in his office and asked me about my intentions. I told him that I was thinking about inviting a Turkish Cypriot friend and his classroom to our school He brings the curriculum and he opens it on page 134. I will never forget this. He read aloud that the goal of a history lesson is to help students develop a conscience about the tragedy of their motherland as a result of the coup, the Turkish invasion and the occupation and to reinforce their fighting spirit, etc. I mean, after this there was no way I would invite my friend to the school.
Schools culture Andros: One day I saw something that made me sick. On the 25t