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Diving into marvellous worlds, and the power of expression
I caught this morning on the radio a snatch of conversation between an author and a painter.
They were extolling wonders of the world, and the delicacies of representing them in words and images; thinking of the fascination with edges, other-worlds, human experience and communication, 'thinking hands.' I heard a brief sentence or two, but it struck so many chords with how creative educators are striving to connect with children's imaginative worlds and 'hundred languages', and create worthwhile educational environments in which children can relish them.
It was such an inspiring lift: I discovered that the two were Robert Macfarlane and Norman Ackroyd (surprise and delight!)
"The landscape painter and print-maker Norman Ackroyd meets the writer Robert Macfarlane.
Norman, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, invites Robert to his studio in Bermondsey, London. They discuss their fascination with wild landscapes and islands, and how they attempt to come to a deeper understanding of place. They also share their thoughts on their working methods: for Norman, printmaking is like writing music - trying to capture and fix light and weather. For Robert, writing is a strange and solitary process: he reflects on the rhythm of prose and reads his latest "selkie" or seal-folk song.
Norman has been etching and painting for seven decades, with a focus on the British landscape - from the south of England to the most northerly parts of Scotland. His works are in the collections of leading museums and galleries around the world.
Robert has written widely about the natural world: his book The Old Ways is a best-selling exploration of Britain's ancient paths. Last year he published The Lost Words, a collaboration with the artist Jackie Morris, in which they aimed to bring nearby nature – the animals, trees and plants from our landscapes – back into the lives and stories of Britain's children." (BBC)
Here is the 'listen again' link: I hope that you will also find his inspiring and remindful of what is important for us as educators, in our quests to create heartening educational approaches, and to all children. (If the link doesn't work for you, do email me, as I downloaded the file.)
Brilliant sparks: In reading up today, I've found that Macfarlane & Morris' book has inspired at least 17 crowdfunding campaigns to make the book freely available in schools, and the John Muir Trust has made an Explorers Guide to the book. It's so heartening, isn't it, when popular actions like these are inspired by heartfelt connections and beautiful expression?
[images from Norman Ackroyd's website; BBC; Amazon]
"Imagination is more important than knowledge"
That banner-statement of Einstein's came back to me yesterday, as I was reflecting on the questions and uncertainties of an enthusiastic team of educators with whom we're currently working. Keen to thoroughly shift their practice from 'instruction' to 'construction', they are encountering that 'rug-pulled-from-under-their feet' feeling of what it might mean to do things differently, with a different mindset:
"What should we do if we're not instructing?"
"What if the children have different interests and ideas to ours?"
"How can we understand what to do?"
Their imagination is kindled, nudging them towards 'doing things differently', yet like many/most of us, their own experience of 'what education is' had been solidly instructional: that's what they'd had, and that's the common practice in the schools around them. Very unsettling, to say the least. I recall how education students participating in our Floor Four exploratorium also discussed how they felt initially de-skilled by the challenge of beginning with listening and observation, rther than predefined ctivities (as they'd been taught in college.)
How different the challege is to work with imagination at the fore, rather than repetition and ingestion.
What a positive call of encouragement Einstein's famous proclamation is, and I was prompted to hear more, so I tracked down the 1929 interview. If you click on the statement , you can read the full interview too - I hope you enjoy it as much as did I. Einstein discusses so much, so elequently - the artistry of being, thinking, examining, living - and the serious danger of living withough so doing.
"Life," Einstein said later in a letter to his son, "is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."
Maybe that is good enough advice for us educators too, as we learn, uncertainly, but with inner energy, how to do things differently: learning how better to work with our children who themselves are also born natural examiners of worlds.
"Ultimately only life educates, and the deeper that life, the real world, burrows into the school, the more dynamic and the more robust will be the educational process. That the school has been locked away and walled in as if by a tall fence from life itself has been its greatest failing. Education is just as meaningless outside the real world as is fire without oxygen, or as is breathing in a vacuum." Vygotsky, L. (first published in 1926) Educational Psychology
I have this quote on my desk, thanks to colleague Mary Jane Drummond, and when this morning I heard about the UN Global Youth Survey, it seemed to be a fitting comment.
Here is an extract from their pilot study, of 10 - 18 year-olds:
"The most alarming result Irom the test run of the Global Youth Poll is the common agreement by all participants that school is not a place they enjoy spending their time. Vietnam and Mexico show the best results among the 11 different regions, where only 29% and 28% of those interviewed answered with a clear NO when asked if they had enjoyed their time at school in 2017. Other countries such as the U.S. are clear with 44% of young people turning their back to the vision of education they experience from secondary school up to university. In the U.K. the frustration is at 42% of the respondents. Together with the other questions asked around education in the Global Youth Poll this sends a stark alert to all in charge of education ... "
At the moment the poll is for secondary age children: HERE is the link for more info and for children to participate.