One of the important focusses for teachers and schools is to work on the identity process of children and to help them become active, self-confident, critical citizens with an awareness for negative societal influence.
In our school we are supporting our students in the development of their identities, teaching them that an identity has many different layers and that there is nothing wrong with that.
We also explain them the role and the impact of the environment they live in (and the people within that environment) on their identity. We help students define life goals and ambitions by inviting role models to the school. We use art and the Athena Syntax tools to liberate our students from negative beliefs and convictions. Art has a liberating influence in that process because it is free and has no limits or threats.
In my books ‘ A tip of the veil’ and ‘ My Little Jihad ‘, I already mentioned how different young people are struggling between their different identities . To explain this we use the Identity pyramid and the logical levels by Bateson:
Who you ‘are’ forms the tip of the pyramid, both your identity and ambitions, namely, what it is that you wish to achieve in your life. That point is supported by a broad base: it doesn’t represent your identity but consists of a series of attributes that you absorb, through your education, your situation at home, at school and through your friends.
Your biological nature and the environment you grow up in forms the basis of the pyramid. On top of that comes your behaviour, which is mostly taught. Next comes a layer of capacities, that partly have to do with your natural abilities, but are also mostly taught, for example, via your education. This is complemented by values and convictions that are fed to you, both at home, by your religious or philosophical education and by your peer group.
Your surroundings, your behaviour, abilities, values and convictions are given to you in your youth. That is what eventually determines who you are. The difference between who you are and what you have been given, is important. Religion for example forms part of the bottom layers of the pyramid, of the elements that you absorbed. I do notice however that many young people identify themselves completely with Islam or with their religion. We explain in our lessons that religion is part of the environment you live in, it is undoubtedly part of the process of shaping an identity, but your religion is not who you are. You ‘have’ a religion, that is a personal choice that can evolve as your life progresses.
*Extract from the essay Education in times of powerlessness by the Atheneum’s principal Karin Heremans, in The Lure of ISIS (2015, Pelckmans, Kalmthout)