The curious incident of words landing in my notebook: A pedagogy of wonder

Words are never still. Words I scrawled during a recent talk by Dennis Atkinson have unexpectedly led me to the foot of a formidable ridge. There’s no rhythm, no boundaries, just sharpness, jagged edges, escarpments and sheer verticals. I’m struck by the form of the words which have landed in my notebook. They are not smooth peaceful words they’re active, sharp, direct action words, and I wonder what they are communicating about the world of teaching and learning. I believe that words work physical magic, creating ‘Castles in the air,’ landscapes, maps, architecture and spaces. Words shape how people think, feel and judge who and what we are. As John Humphrys states; words and “language reflect back to us the way we live.” My first thought was ‘Crikey.’ I’m just talking about a few little jottings. I was unprepared for the strong feelings they engendered. Ideas like atoms are darting around my mind and making many molecular connections: Freire, Biesta, Boydell, Arendt (of whom I must read more), experiential learning, bell hooks, transformation, a little Foucault and Mezirow to name just a few. I embark on a journey with Tom Boydell and his Manchester Monograph No. 5 ‘Experiential learning.’ A little gem which deserves a future blog, but the sharpness, the jaggedness doesn’t sit well with this. Yes, words are dangling like washing on a line, but they are democratic, experience, action, perceptions, community, and, it’s not about this. My molecular connections take me to Aristotle’s poiesis and praxis, but it’s not this either, not this time. It did connect with my ongoing processing of an article I read a little while ago, about Doug Lemov, a future blog perhaps as my current draft is too raw. I realise I’m just getting in my own way, something you might appreciate if I share some of the words and phrases:

disjunctive temporaiity     trespass  and violence    

                             ruptures     fracture    punctures                                            

disturbance      disjunctive synthesis        radical disruption

Whilst Biesta calls for us to “reinvent a language for education which is responsive to the theories, practices and challenges we are faced with today as …it influences…what can be said and done…” I’m wondering, is this it? I recall a few words from pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides ‘a small observation, a word is also a bigger picture, a reflection of our reality, of our being in the world, of the world.’ This really didn’t set my mind at ease. I went back to my notebook and found a few more scrawled words:

poietic materialism          states of uncertainty      immanence of learning  

journey of practice – little events

something mysterious            some truth may come to pierce a hole in them   

Oh, how I wish I had more scrawls, but I have bought his latest book ‘Equality and Learning. Pedagogies Against the State.’ My word tussle continues. I just don’t know why they’ve stopped me in my tracks. I’m left wondering what it is about them I cannot speak of. It’s just not a pattern of language, a code I understand and have been shaped by; they just don’t sit well on the paper. It’s a little like trying to explain what I feel about a picture, a piece of art, a building or a space. Something makes an impression, connects with a memory, draws something from a deep within which makes my soul sing. These words are not connecting; they’re shapes, unknowns, with no form or composition. I lack the imagination Arendt argues we need to bridge the abysses to others. There’s nothing for it but to dive headlong into the book. I’ve already had my truth of what makes an academic text pierced as there is no index! I would give anything to understand much of what is written. I really like the reference to Rachel Jones’ development of Descartes value on the feeling of ‘wonder’ and how this precipitates a search for understanding. In ‘Passions of the Soul’ Descartes wrote: When the first encounter with some object surprises us, and we judge it to be new or very different from what we formerly know, or from what we supposed that it ought to be, that causes us to wonder and to be surprised; and because that may happen before we in any way know whether this object is agreeable to us or is not so, it appears to me that wonder is the first of all passions. My first rope bridge! Jones states that ‘cultivating wonder is a way of remaining open to the otherness of the other without seeking to appropriate or assimilate it.’ Whilst Atkinson forges links with Kant’s ideas on the notion of the sublime (a sense of awe), Lyotard’s temporary moment of impossibility and Butler’s moments of unknowingness, I recognise my word encounter as an attempt to categorise. I was seeking assimilation to known established knowledge and experience. I’m gripped by how I was looking for ‘sameness.’ I was seeking what was known, a path or rule to follow, the right way. I was stuck until I started to write. In Esther Freud’s ‘The Sea House’ an artist states: ‘You can only get to understand things by drawing them.’ For me it’s writing, perhaps too generous a word. Scrawling and pencil scratchings may be more apt. My thoughts return to Nicholas Burbules’ aporia  and the sense of disorientation, ambiguity and discomfort brought by the unfamiliar, and the joy of recognition when links and connections are real. I don’t have an answer, a destination from my encounter with Atkinson’s words. However, I don’t feel stuck as I did before. I was looking for a material ‘it’ from my thoughts; maps, plans, bridges and ropes to use in supporting students who also may be stuck in sharp, pointy, disorienting places. If you ask me how I’ve made it out, away from the formidable ridges and escarpments, I haven’t. I’m still there, still thinking about ‘wonder’ and how Deleuze and Guattari’s striated space leaves little room for wonder. I’m wondering why these particular words landed in my notebook. What would the language of a ‘Pedagogy of Wonder’ look and sound like? If you want to read a little more then Dennis Atkinson’s book has many of the sources. Gert Biesta’s ‘ Beautiful risk of education’ also helped my thinking. I’d just like to share a couple of moments of wonder: A ‘Moment of Wonder’  by Philomena Cunk I Wonder by Rodriguez Thank you for reading and thanks to Mark Haddon, author of ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time’ for the inspiration for my title.


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