Attending to the micro
Attending the British Educational Research Association (BERA) 2019 conference, in Manchester, we re-engaged with TRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION as a platform for those interested in broad education concerns. Listening to others’ contributions, as well as the thoughts and feelings that these provoke, is helping us to revisit ideas about transformative education. This includes the importance of thinking together and attending to micro moments in schools.
In Pat Thomson’s keynote, she talked of ‘thinking in public’ as way of letting us in to emerging ideas that were productively rich for us. She imbues an ethical disposition of teachers and researchers coming together to co-construct new avenues for generating impact. This is something we hope to evoke and which we represent as the inclining i in TRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION. This is about a sensing and revealing of our proximity rather than distance to others, as well as the possibilities for teachers and researchers to ‘push’ against existing ways of doing ‘business as usual’ to open up opportunities to think and do differently in ways that can be about expressing their uncertainty. We respond to Pat’s call for greater equity and open-ended collaboration, by fostering conversations as ‘thinking in public’ between all those with a concern and care for the purposes of twenty-first century education.
Thomson outlined her understanding of the current educational landscape within a post-war consideration of it as a democratic good, closely attached to a history and politics of wider societal concerns. This resonates with our own work. Her analysis draws attention to the importance of looking more closely at the taken-for-granted. We think of this as requiring an ongoing curiosity that can prod and poke at those things that do not sit comfortably with us as part of a conforming landscape of educational provision within schools. This is similar to the way in which the child in our TRANSFORM-iN EDUCATION picture, observed with a finger straight up the nose rather on his lips, draws attention to how children sometimes want to go beyond classroom demands that they must sit quietly and still, listening to what the teacher knows. The child makes visible what is felt in the bodies of other children. (Perpetua has written more about this in her recent paper: Marshmallow Claps and Frozen Children).
A number of conference presenters registered the importance of attending to children’s ‘micro’ playful and embodied interactions within their everyday experiences of school and wider environments. Our inclining ‘i’ highlights these moments that offer possibilities for transformation amidst the dominant assumptions of conforming rectitude of current schooling and statutory curricula. (Informal education settings offer greater possibilities for transformation but possibly less clarity about the moments for conformity, as suggested in our discussion with Elsie Whittington during our BERA conference workshop on ‘Rebalancing and broadening contemporary education to include a focus on conformity and transformation’). Researchers from the MMU Odd project – ‘feeling different in the world of education’ - reminded us that it is not necessarily a bad thing to inculcate children into existing cultures, whilst also noting that we must attend to what happens in the gaps where norms might be altered and new possibilities for being/doing differently can effervesce.
David Roussell, also of MMU, spoke about his research in Australia. He highlighted how children’s minor environmental gestures offer new imaginaries that resist and deviate from consumerism and social injustice, which present possibilities for spreading virally and triggering macro changes. He introduced us to the work of Suely Rolnik, a Brazilian scholar, who stresses that attention to localised bodily sensations reveals forces that submit us to consume and offer possibilities to re-invent life.
Listening to presentations on the role of environmental education in the light of climate change, we were reminded of how ‘education’ is rooted both in educare, meaning to instil knowledge, and educere, to lead out into the world. The first includes curricular knowledge and the second questioning, thinking, and creating. Balancing conformity and transformation in the teaching of climate change therefore requires a science and citizenship curriculum, as well as children experiencing the capacity to be affected by the world. For Tim Ingold, to think is ‘to take a deep breath, to draw strength and inspiration from your surroundings, to wonder, to recollect, to gather, to marshal. It is to attend’ (The Life of Lines, p. 139).
Perpetua Kirby & Rebecca Webb