Education is (still) the answer
A metro station (and most classrooms) are not learning places
Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists of our time, decided a few years ago to play in a Washington metro station pretending he was one more street performers. He played, thousand passed by and only 27 stopped and listened. At the time his concerts were sold out all over the world. An article by Pulitzer Prize Gene Weingarten gave this unique performance a worldwide coverage and helped question the appreciation for beauty in the modern world. Are we too busy to stop, listen and enjoy? Are we unable to open our eyes and look around? Have we all become bystanders, passively consuming predigested knowledge and unable to detect the value of the unknown, the emotions of beauty?
Bell alone on a corner went unnoticed as would have happened to most artists in the same conditions.
In my understanding, Bell’s metro concert raises another question regarding the aesthetic or learning function of space.
Are we ready to accept that any place like a metro station be a concert’s place? Do we have enough “brain plasticity” to consider that any place like a metro station can be a learning place?
Aren’t we fully conditioned by the predetermined meaning of a place and therefore only able to accept that learning can take place in a classroom? Even the MOOCs haven’t fully succeeded in breaking this “glass ceiling” and remain secondary learning options.
Joshua Bell decided to come back a few years later and give it another try. But this time, the outcome was different. He brought with him a group of young musicians and publicized it. People came and listen… The venue was the same but the very meaning of the space had changed. Instead of standing alone in a corner, Bell was now the center of attention on a stage set for the occasion. We were told in advance that the metro for a few hours will be a concert’s hall and we got prepared to it.
Bell’s announced success condemns in a way serendipity learning. It says that learning always happens in predetermined conditions. We all have in mind the picture of students sitting passively in a classroom and listening to their teacher, How many are really learning? How many are thousands of miles away lost in their dreams? How many of those listening to new Bell’s concerts were really listening to the music and how many were just enjoying the fact they were among the happy few in a once in a lifetime cultural event?
For me, nothing will substitute the exceptional experience lived once by 27 people that stopped and listened to the beautiful music of an unknown music star.
The problem is that hardly no one is prepared to listen when not told to do it or actively learn outside the classroom if not allowed to do it. No education system is ready to commission Joshua Bell to go and teach music in a metro station to students on their way to school… certainly for fear they’ll arrive late…
While learning is restricted to a classroom with four walls, students can’t be emotionally challenged to learn outside and get used to sit and stare.
Are the teachers mere followers of innovative trends in the classroom or true entrepreneurs that deeply transform education everyday? Are they artisans that are reinventing their work everyday or visionaries that use technology to change the way we learn?
Are the teachers “bricoleurs” or “entrepreneurs”?
Bricoleur is a French word described by Claude Lévi-Strauss in ‘The Savage Mind’ as “someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’”.
Alex Beard from TeachUK once argued that “teachers will be bricoleurs” and that by 2030 “adaptations, mash-ups and bricolages will be the norm”. The teachers-bricoleurs will be “continuously using, adding to or adapting new resources for new learning needs, inviting peer-review and providing evidence of learning results”.
“Whatever is at hand” is exactly what the Israeli artist and educator Hanoch Piven experiences when engaging teachers in thinking about their practices as if they were bricoleurs experiencing the art of mash-up with everyday objects. Hanoch asks teachers to use objects in a distorted way in order to think creatively about what they do in the classroom, and why.
Hanoch and Alex reinvent Huberman’s vision of a teacher “who is always busy, creating or repairing learning activities of different kinds with a distinctive style or signature”.
Bricolage is not a second best solution neither for the teachers or the students but has to be central to creative thinking. In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.
How do we combine “bricolage” and technology?
The bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom, in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.
In his article ‘Mashing up the Institution’, Hanley argues that the bricoleur-teachers will have to disrupt existing representations of teaching and learning by asking “students to make meaning through new conjunctions of sound, image, and text”.
Hanley asks what happens when teachers within public school systems think of themselves as bricoleurs rather than the users and clients of sophisticated Learning Management System that are increasingly used in schools to connect with students and parents. And he answers: “we’ll have to abandon our institutional identities as users and clients to embrace more inventive, experimental, self-conscious identities”.
The bricoleur-teacher will emerge as a strong figure in these times of changes when technology tries to make its way in the classroom and when at the same times schools face lack of resources and “the daily scramble for a dry-board marker that still has some ink in it.”
Teachers can no longer be seen, as Eileen Honan states it, as “policy-users who compliantly follow instructions and programs laid down by policy developers” but as “bricoleurs” that design artisanal solutions that will fit individual and community needs.
In the end the teacher bricoleur is the true innovator, the closest representation of a teacher entrepreneur.
And the good news is that there are many of them!
 Huberman: the model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations in: J.W. Little & M W. McLaughlin (Eds) Teachers’ Work : individuals, colleagues, and contexts (New York, Teachers College Press) 1993
This post is a revised version of a text published in this blog in June 2013.
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox
Join other followers