I have recently returned from two days working with Chris Celada and Margo Hobba, as a part of their workshop, ‘Teachers and Children: Being IN Research’. I am buzzing with ideas, insights and questions that were surfaced through our time together. The experience invited educators to consider knowledge from new perspectives, through participation in a shared research experience exploring and learning with and from materials.
Our shared research was a powerful reminder to consider, with great seriousness, how often we give priority to rational ways of knowing, over other less concrete and measurable ways of knowing – for example, valuing analysis and explanation far above disciplines that welcome imaginative, aesthetic and emotional dimensions. Are you like me, often found privileging explanation and reason, and only giving credit to other ways of knowing as an offering on the side? Are we perhaps like the university professors Ken Robinsion describes in his TED talk, ‘How schools kill creativity’, as those who find themselves “[looking] upon their body as a form of transport for their heads“.
The research we were IN created an intentional context for our ways of thinking to be made visible and open to question. By exploring an unfamiliar material together we discovered the essential place of other ways of knowing – ways that could take us beyond facts towards deep and complex understandings. As we participated, we found ourselves playfully introducing imaginative, emotional and aesthetic ways of knowing, because it made sense to! We needed more than logical reasoning to build knowledge.
In the workshop notes Chris and Margo quote Vea Vecchi (2010:6), who suggests, “Rationality without feeling and empathy, like imagination without cognition and rationality, build up partial, incomplete human knowledge”. How often do the experiences we design for children lead to only partial and oversimplified understanding? Do we prioritise the learning of information over the development of complex understanding?
Chris added a twist when she asked what right we have, as educators, to preference the rational ‘above all else’ in the way we approach learning experiences for children. What other ways of knowing, that children bring to their learning, do we outright dismiss when we guard most highly the acquisition of facts and information – curriculum designed and shaped by what can be measured and used to compare one student against another?
This questioning led me to wonder about the de-humanising impact made by our society’s persistence to work predominantly with rational approaches to knowledge building and learning. When we work only within the ‘known’, focussing on facts, information and logic, what possibilities are we, by default, not seeing, recognising and listening to? In a world increasingly shaped by rapid change, uncertainty and complexity, is it possible we are neglecting the very dispositions that we most desperately need, to build towards a more hopeful future?
Vecchi, V. (2010). Art and creativity in Reggio Emilia. Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education. London: Routledge.