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A First: EU Education Ministers meet to counter radicalization

Last week education ministers in the European Union met to discuss (among other things) what schools and teachers can do to help prevent, recognize, and thwart radicalization into violence. One outcome of the session was a Declaration calling upon Member States to build up various counter-radicalization measures at the local level, including those aimed at:

“Strengthening children’s and young people’s ability to think critically and exercise judgement so that, particularly in the context of the Internet and social media, they are able to grasp realities, to distinguish fact from opinion, to recognize propaganda and to resist all forms of indoctrination and hate speech…”.

Working to enhance students’ critical thinking skills is a project that would seem to fall squarely within the sweet spot of the education system. It is also an objective that holds the potential to significantly benefit both society at large and individuals, all at once.

The ministerial meeting, notably the first of its kind, took place in Paris, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The ministerial also coincided with a grassroots effort on the part of EU teachers, targeting the assembled leaders for their help, as front-line personnel (educators) seek to prevent radicalization. Among the teachers’ requests is this ask for high-level support:

“Enable educators to receive training on holding difficult conversations, online processes and radicalization awareness.”

The complexity of the situation in which educators find themselves in France in particular, is detailed in a lengthy and provocative piece by Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla (who is currently a Fellow with the Paris Institute for Advanced Study), entitled “France on Fire,” and published recently in The New York Review of Books.

While teachers in the EU actively try to acquire and build the skill-set required to handle the above circumstances deftly, on the student side of the equation, the situation loosely resembles the challenge on the cybersecurity side. There, countries are also grappling with how best to equip their citizens from the get-go, with the skills and mindset needed to lead productive lives as individuals, that have the corollary effect of reinforcing public safety and security writ large. ​