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Culture in the mirror

A firm base for cultural education

What is cultural education about, how does it relate to the development of children and youngsters, and (how) can teachers profit from these insights? The research project ‘Culture in the Mirror, towards a continuous curriculum for cultural education ’ focused on these questions. The project was carried out by Barend van Heusden, professor for Culture and Cognition, and his team of ICOG-researchers from 2010 until 2014. This is the first large-scale study of the cultural education curriculum in the Netherlands.

Culture in the mirror

What was Culture in the Mirror?

The project started in 2009 from a network of organizations in the field of cultural education in which Barend van Heusden took part. There was a strongly felt need for structure, and a solid theoretical foundation for cultural education that could be used practically in different settings.

Van Heusden: “What I did was develop a theoretical framework that schoolteachers could use. It meant to show how the various aspects of culture in cultural education are connected and can be linked to children’s development. The aim of cultural education should be to teach kids to reflect on their own culture and those of others in a variety of media, and using different cognitive skills. That’s why we called it: Culture in the Mirror.”

The value of the theoretical framework in teacher’s practice was empirically researched in collaboration with teachers in primary and secondary education and the Netherlands National Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO). The project was funded by the VSB Fund, the Ministry of Education, Culture & Science, the SNS Reaal Fund and the Cultural Participation Fund FCP.

Results: From theory to didactic frameworks and outreach

The Culture in the Mirror-team found that the best results are achieved when teachers of cultural education (e.g. in the arts disciplines, history, civil education, philosophy) work together and devise lessons on themes that relate to the stages of cognitive development and to the cultures of their pupils. The (new) theory was complemented with a didactic framework and sample lessons that teachers can use to design cultural education curricula. Results and insights have been made public in many public lectures, professional events, articles in newspapers and professional magazines from 2010 until 2014. Culture in the Mirror was rounded off on the 20th of March 2014, with a conference in Zwolle, which was attended by 600 professionals in education.

Prof. Barend van Heusden
Prof. Barend van Heusden

Societal relevance: The power of reflection and educational improvement

Why should we invest in good cultural education? “The way that people see themselves and/or other people ultimately determines their behaviour. If we want children to function effectively in a democratic society, they must be encouraged to develop a self-image and a vision of the world around them that matches such a society”, says Van Heusden.

On a more practical level, the teachers involved experienced how the project strengthened their views and improved the quality of their lessons. Art teacher Imka Buurke (Praedinius Gymnasium, Groningen): “Traditionally, teachers teach their own subject, and so neither pupils nor teachers can see the interesting cross-connections between movements in literature and visual art, for example. Working together and coordinating our lessons has taken our cultural education to a higher intellectual level. The theory also forces me to take clear and sharp decisions about the contents of my lessons. I now realize just how important our work is in helping children to develop a sense of (self-)awareness.” Buurke has noticed that the quality of essays and projects submitted by pupils has significantly improved since the introduction of the broad-based approach with its strong emphasis on reflection and cultural awareness.

Future: Education, Research and Consultancy

The project ended in 2014, but the various partners will continue working in this field. For the ICOG-researchers it means that they will build on the Culture in the Mirror results and experiences in the research group “Cultuuronderwijs”. They will do so by providing fundamental and applied research, academic and post-academic education programs, and consultancy in cultural education.

Last modified:10 April 2019 1.15 p.m.
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