Article by Occupy the Future guest contributor Gosia Winter.
“A wound awoke me,
Opened the lids that lie closed
Over the eyes of the longing
That lives in the sleeping soul
To be whole;
And a word woke me
Into the wounds of the world –
And the wounds
Christy MacKaye Barnes
As human beings striving for a future worth occupying, we hear our wounds speaking. My wound speaks about the education of our children, the kindling of future strengths and of human purpose. How are we supporting these beings in their becoming? What is necessary now?
“Here my idea is to declare that art is the only possibility for evolution, the only possibility to change the situation in the world. But then you have to enlarge the idea or art to include the whole creativity. And if you do that, it follows that every living being is an artist – an artist in the sense that he can develop his own capacity. And therefore it’s necessary at first that society cares about the educational system, that equality of opportunity for self-realisation is guaranteed.” Joseph Beuys
The attention shown towards standardised testing, education’s growing dependence on technology and institutionalised academia at increasingly younger and younger ages begs the question: who profits from these measures? The impulse of many reform initiatives is put in place largely by forces that deal with the economic and political spheres of society[i] – while education itself is a cultural endeavour. There is an enormous pressure on schools, teachers and parents to step into line with these economic and political concerns, and spend less time on the cultural concerns unless they ‘add value’ to the former two spheres.
Reiterated again and again in media and publications, in research and dialogue, is that success in treating education as an artistic vocation is measured with proof of better test scores or higher percentages of graduates entering university. In the same way we measure a country’s worth by GDP, we measure schools through their currency of standardised test results – and in some countries these school results get publicly published in such a way that suggests this is the singular worth a school has[ii] – as if young human minds, just as the labour force or food today, are a commodity, and you had better invest in the best stock.
We have been trained in the western world to think in terms of commodity, rather than community and this is one of the factors that has led to the crises we experience in education today.
“I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people, we have to move to a model that is based more on agriculture. We have to recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. You cannot predict the outcome of human development, all you can do is, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” Ken Robinson
To create such a shift in education is to reimagine the role of the teacher and of pedagogy itself. We must respond to our human need of connecting with our individual, authentic purpose and bringing our agency to the communities we are part of. When such agency works in a necessary and timely manner, true positive organisational change can occur.
The farmer lives in such a way, enacting certain rhythms and rituals in order to prepare the soil – these acts are performed at the correct phase of the year so as to ensure the strength and success of the plants. Children, a class, also have seasons and stages and the ability to deeply listen and to respond to these as a teacher ensures their healthy social unfolding.
“The aesthetic – as opposite of numbness, of the anaesthetic – is closely linked to our ability to respond. In this space – beyond the linear, the liberal, the discursive – where the creative imagination weaves and moves, we are moved inwardly to become internally active.” Shelley Sacks
An aesthetic treatment of education does not leave out the politics, economics or science of teaching, but places them in context to the human being[iii]. With human development and social balance at the centre, this approach fosters meaning and learning within students, teachers and the community surrounding a school. Schools have the possibility of being key birthplaces of new social order.
Schools as organisations can be places of discovery and play. It is all too easy to fall into the traditional structural hierarchy of a school, yet many teachers yearn for more autonomy and more delegated responsibility. They yearn for the right kinds of relationships with their peers – relationships that stimulate their innate passion and curiosity for education and social process.
“…Human organisations are not like mechanisms… Human organisations are much more like organisms; that’s to say they depend upon feelings and relationships and motivation and value, self-value, and a sense of identity and of community. You know, the way you work in an organisation is deeply affected by your feeling for it.” Ken Robinson
It is interesting to see school autonomy being taken up by the debate of ‘value-adding’, entitling policy such as paying teachers who produce better test results, more. But this is simply the occupation of culture, once again, by economic-political forces. To be truly responsible in their vocation, teachers must first and foremost be accountable to themselves, which requires their autonomy in the cultural pursuit of their work, rather than the statistical measurement of their ‘effect’ on their pupils. Given the right form, teachers are responsible for their class, their school and are consciously, visibly learning as practitioners.
Working in this autonomous way can be a great leap of faith and requires much more from the individuals who take part than a traditional hierarchy, or a pay-for-performance model. Furthermore, taking such intentions into a classroom can be very challenging for teachers used to asserting their authority, rather than owning it.
What strikes me more and more as a teacher is the child’s sense of entitlement. The children I am teaching today feel entitled to many things, and are not in the least afraid of authority. This brings new challenges, but also new possibilities to a classroom.
“To be in a room with others where keeping a question alive is more important than thinking one has the answer.” G.I. Gurdjieff
I must make clear that I am not an advocate of children running schools (as is done in some democratic models). I believe that the organisation is the playground of the adult, that it is our social-artistic material. We work with our peers to create a cultural environment in which children can flourish. With careful observation of the children, the teachers know in which direction things should move, that is our art. This is also why it is so important that teachers are teaching children, rather than only teaching content.
For a healthy future in education, we must also go beyond the existing pedagogical models. It has never been as simple as taking existing models and enacting them. An education bound to existing models is an education bound to routine and convention; it is a job a teacher fulfils. In the end it does not matter the ‘branding’ by which a school operates, but that the work is done with meaning and purpose, that teachers are working in a way that is both science and art.
What matters is that teachers themselves are learning, observing, researching, taking risks, making intuitive choices and being held responsible for the outcome. When in education we move towards treating the social substance of a class or school as plastic, as malleable, as we would clay when modelling or air when dancing, our serious play thrills and feeds us to give more of the conscious, passionate agency we have.
“ To be a teacher is my greatest work of art. The rest is the waste product, a demonstration. If you want to explain yourself you must present something tangible. But after a while this has only the function of a historic document.” Joseph Beuys
Gosia Winter lives in Berlin, where she teaches at an international school, plays with her band and works on her self-directed study in organisational management and aesthetic education. She was born in Poland and raised in Australia where she worked for 5 years as a Waldorf teacher after her studies.