Thursday 10 February 2011

Educational Aesthetics and 'Huggy' subjects

The softest aspects of education are hardest to understand, whilst also being the most important. In so many educational situations - particularly those dealing with 'widening participation' students who have had a rough time both in school, and often in home, the natural instinct of compassionate teachers is to give them a hug, if not literally (which perhaps we ought to do more of!), then metaphorically. The experience can be transformative - a 'back to basics' moment which puts everything into perspective.

Unfortunately, our instinct is not to trust our instincts. Often with good reason - physical contact between teachers and learners is like walking a tightrope: clearly dangerous but potentially remarkable. It's easy to break the trust that is necessary (and it only takes one individual to do it), and so it is easier not to trust. But this is a tragedy for education.

Some subjects 'hug' people more than others. I studied music. That hugged and caressed in wonderful ways (and still does). Art, literature, drama, dance all do the same. Engineering doesn't hug so much. But we don't trust the hugging, so we withdraw the funding from those subjects that hug and put it into those that don't. Why? Because we are told those subjects which are 'hard' are useful; huggy ones aren't. But what we mean is that we can rationally justify the 'hard' ones because they are based on reason, and we don't understand hugging.

I think a way of dealing with this is to work towards a deeper rational understanding of huggy subjects, and the efficacy of hugging in general. For most artists, reaching a rational understanding of their art is something they wrestle with as they create. There are good rational places to start. Somehow we have to sort out the relationship between the inner-world of experience and its relationship to the outer world of material and social life. This feels like a 'game'... both Kant and Gadamer thought so... but what's the game? what are the rules? what does the board look like? Harre's Positioning Theory helps me here, as does work on Distributed Cognition.

Maybe with some better models that try to explore the 'game' might we begin to understand what the hugging is all about. Maybe one day we will realise what a terrible mistake we are making in not trusting our instincts!

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