When a teacher goes radical

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A role and position of the school institution in each historical and political era is a complex issue for a review. According to Rantala (2010) in Finnish research of education didactical-psychological paradigm is dominant. Historical and societal aspect is in minor. Due to that political role of teacher is rarely studied. In this research project the issue is approached through art based research with phenomenological case setting. The question is: how and why a teacher took a radical position in the historical frame? The Finnish Civil War (27 January–15 May 1918) was fought between the Reds reinforced by Soviet Russia and the Whites supported by German Empire’s military. Finland got independence 1917 and the young state was in unstable condition. Behind the Reds there were ideology of labor movement while the Whites were conservatives and based on national-cultural visions. As a professional group, the teachers were almost wholly on the white side. This can be explained by the fact that the posts of teachers were dependent on the decisions of the local school boards. The school boards were mainly formed by the whites (Rantala, 2010). I chose one historical case for closer discovery for radicalization of teacher, Martti Pihkala (1882–1966). Pihkala was a special teacher in a school of deaf-mute. Disturbing aspect for my research setting is that he was my grandfather from my mother’s side. I never met him in person because he passed away six years before my birth. It does not make it easier that Finnish fascist movements are both studied and re-established intensively nowadays. The context of my grandfather’s activity is revealed not by relatives but by researchers and journalists (f.e. Silvennoinen, Tikka & Roselius, 2016; Uola, 1982; Uola, 1998, Uola, 2001; Jokisipilä, 2017). My grandfather's world and my world are different. One major divider between our worlds is the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The school institute was seen as an important role when disseminated Human Rights. The role of the school in shaping the people’s ethos has been clear before and after World War II (Rautajoki, 2017; Rantala, 2002). Crucial concept in my research is radicalization. Radicalization means that violence is used, someone threatens with violence or encourage others to do violence or violence is authorized by ideology. It could mean that a person joins violent groups or organizations. Extreme radicalization may lead to terrorism. (http://intermin.fi/poliisiasiat/vakivaltainen-radikalisoituminen). Quite often contemporary discussion on radicalization base on vision that roots for contemporary radicalization concerns young men in the edge of marginalization. Low self-esteem is offered for some kind of overall explanation for radicalization and violent ideologies (f.e. Suojala, 2017). Finnish civil war included all levels of radicalization. When I claim Martti Pihkala was a radical I refer to his archives. In the manuscript for his memoirs he points out that he used violence only once when he hit a man with baton. But his role in agitation was huge, he encouraged to join and act in the Whites. In the manuscript he describes his reaction when moderate wing of the Whites doubted to use weapons. “Is this some kind of operetta-revolution?”, he asked when the others proposed to follow non-violent approach to solve political conflict. His opinion was that the situation in Finland 1918 needed radical action and he knew that victims will appear in both sides. Authorization for the action he got both from nationalism and from religion. He strongly believed that God gave him his role and all his choices were for nation. (Pihkala, KA). Methods/methodology (up to 400 words) In my research there are structurally three parts: a background essay, art-based research (Suominen, Kallio-Tavin & Hernández-Hernández, 2017) part and a reflective essay. In the background essay, I open the reader to the starting points, the frame and the method. The narrative materials that are relevant for my research is 1) the manuscript of Martti Pihkala, archived in the National Archives, which contains about 600 pages of experienced history, 2) the book Minkälainen Suomi meidän on luotava? (What kind of Finland do we need to create?) by Martti Pihkala, published in 1918 as well as3) in 1944 together with Finland’s President P.E. Svinhufvud designed and implemented a book entitled Testamentti kansalleni (The Testament to my nation) (Svinhufvud, 1944), published in name of President. I regard this material as an experience report more than as an event report (Squire, 2008; Gready, 2008). In the material, the subject's voice varies between the first person and the first personality of the plural. The material is historical, it is an experience documentary and a one narrative from the first half of the 20th century. Pihkala's book in 1918 made clear his political agenda. The 36-year-old father of five children, the special teacher, showed that he was politically outspoken and ready for radical practices so that the future of Finnish people would be down the line with the vision of the movement he represented. (Pihkala, 1918). During arts-based part of my research I trace the polyphony of happenings in 1918. Crocheter Alma (Virkkaaja Alma) is my performative project, which lasts same period than the Finnish civil war lasted a century ago. Starting point for the project is a portrait on my grandfather’s mother Alma Gummerus painted by artist Kaarlo Atra (1879–1961) in 1929. In the portrait Alma is crocheting something. She is weared totally black including black scarf on her head. Position is profile, left shoulder towards a viewer. Each day, totally 109 days, I crochet 50 white and 250 red stitches and ask someone to take a photo with my mobile phone to publish it in instagram. Expected outcomes/results (up to 300 words) The results of my arts-based research are partly in visual form and partly verbalized experience. That is base for the next turn and stage of my research. Radicalization can be seen as a serious lack of solidarity (Saari, 2011). Through the art process, it is possible to build common experiences that are the basis for solidarity. This opens up the role of art and art education in creating solidarity. Crocheter Alma –project made room for encounters and political discus in everyday life. So far, one outcome is understanding on how the feeling of superiority as a starting point for a teacher's work is difficult, even dangerous. Until the Second World War, the teacher could, until radicalization, work for one nation and one religion. Since the 1950s it has been possible for a teacher to release of model citizen role (Rantala, 2002, Rantala, 2005). In the current emphasis to global social responsibility and justice for the teacher's work began to form since the 1970s. The ethical focus has continued to grow at the turn of the millennium. (Ahonen, 2002; Atjonen 2004; Tirri, 2002). This could be seen also deconstruction of superiority. When a teacher does not see her/himself as better knowing and better citizen, equally human dialogical setting is possible to build up and even strongly different political and religious views may encount. Preventive work against confrontation and radicalization has become part of teaching. The suggestion based on research process so far is that maybe radicalization should study in context of everyday and ordinary. Framing the issue too early with heroism or guilt, creates narratives which may not give understanding how individuals and small communities with so called good reputation and behaving could ever go radical. Radicals are not necessarily from the margin of society or margins should be re-defined.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2018
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research - Bolzano, Italy
Duration: 4 Sep 20187 Sep 2018


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research
Abbreviated titleECER
Internet address


  • arts-based research
  • radicalization
  • education
  • societal
  • history

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