Pedagogical paradox and a daydream believer

I’ve had to turn my back on writing. Flashes inspire, disturb and disrupt. Shapes lethargically appear on the page, unoriginal and strung out like socks on a washing line; disconnected, dark, empty. A real paradox as my mind is full of whizzing thoughts, ideas, moments, experiences but as Roald Dahl’s BFG explains “I’ve been gobblefunking around with words and cannot be squibbling the whole gropflunking dream on a titchy bit of paper.” (

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. There are days when I must write. Writing which needs to be written, writing which explores and examines experiences. It’s just not finished! I can’t tell whether this is finished or complete, it just is.

My days are a patchwork of moments “…remarkable things all the time, right in front of us, but our eyes have like the clouds over the sun and our lives are paler and poorer if we do not see them for what they are…”(Jon McGregor ). How do we get to notice the little moments, the small stuff, the personal individual experiences, ideas and confusions? it’s all too easy to see the ‘big stuff’ of curriculum, assessment and outcome, bounded and subordinated to a body of knowledge with a defined, highly structured single trajectory. This paradox of tension between the big stuff and individual authentic moments is acknowledged in Palmer’s paradoxes of pedagogical design:

  1. The space should be bounded and open – bounded by a focus upon a topic, a text or data which is so compelling that students will find it difficult to wander. But as it’s a space it’s also open for discovery, different routes and different discoveries. Palmer describes the teacher as a host “expecting guests to have stories to tell.”
  2. The space should be hospitable and charged – open space is liberating, but it also raises the fear of getting lost. This chimes with the notion of Burbules’ aporia, the sense of being lost and not knowing which way is up. Palmer sums up beautifully how we support students in this charged space; finding them places to rest, places to find nourishment and shelter when feeling overexposed. However, he also warns of making students feel so safe that they may fall asleep; they need to feel the risks in pursuing the deep things of the world.
  3. The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group – it must invite students to find their authentic voices. Just as Generett’s Professor, Dr Gayles told her students to “Claim your space!” Explaining that it was their responsibility to articulate thoughts, ideas and opinions in the classroom. But, as Palmer goes on to say it’s also about learning to listen for the group voice affirming, questioning, challenging and correcting the voice of the individual.
  4. The space should honour the little stories of the individual and the big stories of the discipline and tradition – there must be ample room for the individual little stories of personal experience. But we can easily get lost in narcissism so big discipline stories must also be told, universal and archetypal in-depth that frame our personal stories and help us understand what they mean. A frame helps us approach everyday life and experiences differently, attending to its contours and terrain.
  5. The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of the community – learning demands solitude, where the deeper sense of the student’s interiority must be respected. Learning also demands community – a dialogical exchange in which our ignorance can be aired, our ideas tested, our biases challenged and our knowledge extended.  Is daydreaming in an early years context  really ‘off-task?’ I get it, we want our children to focus, to concentrate, to behave, attend and listen. However, I agree with Dr Seuss who asserts “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.” The days when we thought daydreaming was inactive appear to be false. Daydreaming is an activity, an invisible one, a process, a soundless dialogue with oneself. Watson explains how daydreaming uses a default brain network, where the mind makes connections between seemingly unrelated information, ideas or events. “…letting one’s mind go can have tremendous real-world benefits.” Whilst Edward de Bono paints an intriguing landscape of under 12’s thinking “a sort of daydreaming, reveries, contemplation, internal story-telling and imagination. It’s an exploration, not of past experience but of projected experience.” Is daydreaming under threat in the early years’ world?
  6. The space should welcome both silence and speech – silence gives us a chance for reflection, silence itself can be a sort of speech, emerging from the deepest parts of ourselves. Silence is a trustworthy, authentic matrix for student work of the deepest sort. Susan Cain reminds teachers to “…enjoy your gregarious and participative students. But don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow.” Can we really bear just 15 seconds of silence before we feel the need to break the tension?

“By holding the tension of opposites, we hold the gateway to inquiry open, inviting students into a territory in which we can all learn….it’s about being, not doing.” Palmer

19 December 2014.

A little update as I stumbled upon this blog from 2012 . If only I’d seen it before!

A little reading:

Teaching thinking. E de Bono

Quiet. S Cain

Critical perspectives on bell hooks. M del Guadelupe Davidson & G Yancy

The courage to teach. PJ Palmer

Future minds. R Watson


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