I always get the same visceral queasiness at this time of year, something between excitement, expectation and terror for all that lies ahead…I’ve metaphorically sharpened the pencils and honed reading lists, course outlines, learning objectives and dotted some ‘I’s and crossed some ‘T’s of sessions I must teach. I go through the same steps as I did last year (and the year before, and before, before, before) of purchasing a hefty paper diary and filling it in, despite so much of my calendar being, necessarily, online. I’m a little shamed by the pleasure I take in completing my details and marking commitments, despite this being clear duplication and apparent ‘time-wasting’. It is all part of my disciplined ritual for holding onto some sense of who I am (pretty much the same as last year…bit more frayed around the edges…) and my ‘worth’ as set out in terms of what is required of me and what I have signed up to deliver in my role as education lecturer. So, there are some things that appear as – de facto – certain, in the months that lie ahead. And yet, this is illusory. Of course, I have no plans for changing my name, or disguising my date of birth, but beyond that, pretty much everything inscribed on the currently pristine pages may adapt, reconfigure, reposition or fall by the wayside, so that those, oh so certain, commitments may be rubbed or scrubbed away.
Despite my need to control, Perpetua and I have become excited by allowing ourselves the possibilities of embracing wholeheartedly the merits of being ‘uncertain’. That is one of the motivations for our setting up of this website. We want to make it a platform for engaging with those of you for whom this ignites some excitement and interest (even allowing for it to also challenge the apparent certainty of our uncertainty!) Being uncertain, is a not a command to be less organized, or to know less or ‘nothing’, but rather it is a rallying cry to consider differently (and more humbly) the possibilities of what might be produced when we allow ourselves to venture into a terrain of ‘not knowing’ (so certainly) in aspects of our daily rituals and our practices and pedagogies. I have recently read the introduction to a prose sort of poem about the First World War (published in 1937), entitled, ‘In Parenthesis’ in which the author tells his readers about the title: ‘I have written it in a kind of space between – I don’t know between quite what…the war was a kind of parenthesis…and also our curious type of existence here is altogether in parenthesis’ We hope this blog space gives you permission to explore the in-between of similar productive uncertainty and experience it as emotionally and intellectually engaging, affecting, curiosity-inducing, dynamic and enjoyable.
Fostering a sensibility towards uncertainty has been necessary for both Perpetua and I as we have written our ethnographic research about schools and aspects of schooling over the last few years. This has become especially important to us as we have tried to capture our research in words on the page in ways that do justice to what we have noticed. We have had to will ourselves to remain open to ‘troubling’ things that may hold the illusory quality of seeming ’bleeding obvious’ (to us and to others) in some ways, in order to hear and engage with different ways of seeing things, and alternative versions of making sense of things to produce richness, depth, and contingency in what we have to say about our research experiences. This is our way of contributing to ongoing ‘research conversations’ in our educational fields of study.
Our research has given us the privilege of being with, and participating in lives of, children and adults in very hardworking schools where pupils, teachers, administrators, parents/carers navigate the complex, multi-faceted and the demanding space of school where they are asked to conform in their garnering of garbs of assuredness. These garbs are alluring. They suggests that – as long as we all try hard enough – we can all be taught to know what it is we ought to know to, in order to not need to be uncertain and to be controllers of our destinies and to do things ‘right’ now and in the future. We live in a period of the supremacy of the ‘knowledge curriculum’ and of ‘mastery’ of aspects of the curriculum (for teachers and children especially) as proof of individual and collective worth and of the point of going to school and becoming educated. So much of the knowledge curriculum and of mastery is enabling (we gain necessary qualifications), encouraging (we get praised for getting things correct), comforting (we know what to expect), and testament to the subject knowledge and skill of teachers and pupils alike. But it is not all that can or, indeed, should, be known in school. There can – and should be – space for the parenthesis. It is this possibility that we want to explore through this website by engaging with readers and contributors in different ways.
Finally, in my looking forward to a new academic year, I want to cast a glance back to the football World Cup in June and the excitements generated by the unexpected success of the English football team. In a Radio 4 interview with a sports educator, Matthew Syed, was asked about why the team seemed to be doing so well and playing with a renewed sense of self-belief. Matthew Syed noted: ‘The sort of dominant model in football is to position the manager as the boss and the players as like mute labourers who unthinkingly carry out his instructions. But I think the problem with that, and we saw it against Iceland a couple of years ago, when something unexpected happens, the opposition score, the players panic and they’re looking to the bench for new instructions….’
So I won’t be ditching my paper diary (yet). It holds reminders within it of things I need to know and that will be highly detrimental to me and others if I forget. I like both the comfort of conforming and following instructions like the ‘mute labourer’ described by Syed, (and also of the possibility of controlling things and giving instructions). However, I know, too, that I must rub things out and re-work things, and embrace uncertainty to challenge only forever being the ‘mute labourer’ who follows instructions and nothing else. This applies in everyday matters and in aspects of my ‘knowing’, and in my practice and pedagogy as a teacher and researcher, because – as Éamonn Dunne & Michael O’Rourke suggest - in their work on ‘The Pedagogics of Unlearning’, ‘if the system is too tight, too ordered, nothing new can happen’. As researchers and educators, we are all concerned with generating the possibility of new things happening both now and in the future for children and those who teach and guide them. Let’s embrace the possibilities of uncertainty in this academic year.
 David Jones wrote this ‘war poem’ in 1937 and it was published in 2014 by Faber and Faber
 Ethnographic research is research that means that the researcher is immersed in a place or environment for a long period of time in order to gain a myriad of insights into what might be going on
 Dunne, E., and M O’ Rourke. 2014. “A Pedagogics of Unlearning.” In The Para-academic Handbook, edited by A. Wardrop and D. Withers, 61–70. Bristol: HammerOn Press.