Lines are everywhere

Today, I’m learning my lines. I feel a little stupid as I realise that I don’t know a great deal about lines.  But when I start thinking about them I’m overwhelmed, lines intertwine with, and, connect my world. I just didn’t notice! My brain is suddenly flooded with images of lines from my nursing:

  • Straight, thin, confident, direct lines which joined carefully placed dots recording a patient’s temperature, pulse and respiratory rates  with carefully placed dots on an observation chart
  • graduated lines on thermometers and sphygmomanometers (I’ve surprised myself that I got the spelling correct first time), where measures were taken as mercury crossed them or when it bobbed or blipped (B/P) in a one-off and rhythmic gesture
  • centile lines for measuring babies’ and children’s growth and development in relation to ‘norms’
  • lines of patients, in lines of beds along either side of Nightingale wards with under-bed trolleys and bed castors all facing in a line
  • imaginary lines across the kneecaps of female nurses which the uniform dress must meet
  • lines on student nurses caps denoting their year of training (replaced by lacy caps once qualified)
  • the crossed lines our aprons made across our backs
  • the angry, painful, red lines on my neck before the new paper collar softens with the help of white soft soap

Enough, but you see what I mean, lines were and are everywhere. Continue reading

Paying attention and noticing

Astonishing splashes of colour: a good read by Clare Morrall; a quote from J M Barrie’s “Peter Pan’ (for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there’ and my way to describe a gallery space in South Square, Nr. Bradford, W. Yorks.  There’s an exhibition in The Calver Gallery  (scrolling down required) until 2 August, by artist Lauren Iredale and I went along for a second look.

I’d had a first look a week before and needed to take time to look a little more closely. I wanted to look at sections of the paintings and notice. Something I’m learning about since taking up photography. So, instead of just looking directly, I looked through the lens of my camera. I focussed my noticing on the lines, their thickness, direction, shapes, colours; as lines are just not lines in these paintings. The lines convey directions of travel, single, multiple, signal interconnections; they become grooves, changing colour and strength. They stretch, becoming thinner then suddenly disappear, transform or retract becoming thicker once again. Sometimes there’s a flow to these lines, other times there’s interruption and change. The one you see a part of above this blog appeared to give my eyes direction; upward from left to right and then right to left along the lower part of the painting.

Does it matter? It was about appreciating the paintings and how they were. Robert Henri describes art appreciation as:

“The appreciation of art should not be considered as merely a pleasurable pastime. To apprehend beauty is to work for it. It is a mighty and an entrancing effort, and the enjoyment of a picture is not only in the pleasure it inspires, but in the comprehension of the new order of construction used in its making.’

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Looking  through the camera lens focused my seeing on sections of the paintings. I scanned them in a logical way noticing tiny splashes or fragments of colour, gaining some insight into the order of paint application. Sometimes, like the little section here, it was almost like a warp and weft weave, then abruptly a change in order, a colour overlayed or the line going under when it was expected in turn to go over. Then a sudden broad overlay of more translucent colour. And there’s layers, with colours, shapes, forms underneath.

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Ah! An abrupt change. There’s 5 oil paintings and then a drawn collage. There’s a small part of this collage which is different, very different. I didn’t see it on my first visit. In fact, it’s almost as if I had my eyes closed. There is just one circle and you can see it in the middle toward the very bottom of this section. It is in fact a black round ball, asymetrically inside a circle. Wow.

Looking, seeing and noticing is a series of discoveries. Perhaps this is part of what Alain de Botton means when he discusses art as a tool. In ‘ Art as Therapy’ Botton explains how ‘art is a therapeutic medium that can help guide, exhort and console its viewers, enabling them to become better versions of themselves.’

Botton and joint author John Armstrong (described as a philosopher and art theorist), suggest there are 7 functions of art:

  1. Remembering
  2. Hope
  3. Sorrow
  4. Rebalancing
  5. Self-understanding
  6. Growth
  7. Appreciation

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I’ve learnt how important it is to stop and take notice. T0 pay attention to the familiar (lines) and notice how and when  they become unfamiliar. To pay far more attention to shape, colour, density, flow and direction. Seeing these paintings through my camera lens has made a difference. Taking photographs has made a difference. I’m finding it extremely difficult to voice an explanation. This picture contains little splashes of colour, yellow on blue. Can you see them moving from the first complete grid square to the more central one below? These tiny, flashes take me back to playing ‘Battleships’ as a kid when we mapped out the grids on paper and drew in the ships. The memories flood back of sisters, mum and dad, my younger brother having a battleship set made of plastic and, of playing it using pencils and paper with my son in a hotel room during a wet, cold Majorcan holiday. The emotional and sensory meaning of those little shapes was remembering. How extraordinary! I’m so, so glad I noticed them! They’re brilliant in their own right too.

In struggling to know how to finish this blog I stumbled upon a No. 68 – ‘Lines of the same weight and density, colors of a similar tone, or comparable textures will tend to occupy the same visual plane in space and create the sensation of flatness.’ There’s no flatness in Lauren’s paintings. Kit says that it’s all to do with atmospheric perspective. The art historian Ernst Hans Gombrich’s  theory states that ‘artwork invites the individual not only to look outside but also within, to the subjective memories, ideas and emotions that form his interpretation. The capacity of art to help us look within our own minds….’ Well, he seems to have that spot on for me. I know there’s far more to Lauren’s paintings than lines. Who’d have thought tho’ that some of those lines stimulated memories and an internal sense of noticing something important, creative and colourful.

Oh, I’ve just had a thought about a future blog topic. I’m wondering if we wouldn’t need the current promotion of ‘character building’ in school curricula if we had more teaching and focus on the arts? Oliver Beach seems to have the same idea too.

If you want to see more of Lauren’s work take a look at those on permanent display in an NHS setting in Scotland.

Oh, and No. 68 is in ‘101 Things to learn in art school’ by Kit White. No 2 and link is in a previous blog.

The language of photography

I’m learning a new language. I’ve previously tried Italian and the language of nursing, pedagogy, teaching, health economics, statistics, and research to name a few.

However,  my new language is about light, colour, contrasts and shadows. It’s technical too with shutter speeds, f stops, depth of field, ISO’s focal points and even hyperfocal. distances. There’s a whole lot of mathematics in this language including Fibonacci numbers, which even  Melvin Bragg has identified as being significant.  Rules abound; thirds, odds, symmetry, orientation and shape. And then there’s the equipment, DSLR’s, SLR’s, bridge, compact , small, medium and large format ones, mirrorless, and I’m sure there’s many more awaiting my discovery. Oh, and there’s accessories (bare necessities) such as lenses. It’s understood by the language experts, that the general lenses you get with a camera package are pretty nondescript, but they do give you a starter for 10. Then, when you develop your language skills further and know what type of photos you want to take you need to buy different lenses: prime, zoom, telephoto, wide-angle, fisheye, etc., all of which have different numbers on them to signify aperture and help with focal length calculations. Oh, by now you need a bag to carry them around. Perhaps a tripod to hold them steady when taking a long duration shot, say anything longer than 1/100th of a second.

It’s a challenge, and, that’s before you’re wanting to know which button, menu system or number on your camera you need to get a photo.

If you were writing a theory now around f stops indicating the size of the lens aperture I’m sure you wouldn’t start from here. When f2 means the aperture is larger than f8 and way larger (more open) than f22 which is a pinhole size, this is when  you realise that latin verbs are actually quite logical.

cropped-cropped-sam_0505.jpgI just didn’t get it until I saw some maths. At f1.0 there’s diameter of 50mm and a radius of 25mm with an area of 1,963 sq. mm  potentially in view. There is no way all of this can be in focus at any one time so only part of it will be focussed and the rest will be blurry. exhib 1This can create a great effect. whereas at f22 the diameter is 23mm, radius 1.1 giving an area of 4 sq. mm and therefore all of this can be in focus all of the time. I’m sure this differs with specific lenses but this is what helps me remember a little bit about focal length.

Oh, there’s so much more to this language. I’m reading a little book by Ansel Adams ‘The Camera’ where he asserts that there is a ‘magical potential’ to the creativity of photography and its outlet as a form of expression. He questions  the prevailing impression that the acquisition of equipment and the following of rules assure achievement. He quotes Edward Weston; ‘ composition is the strongest way of seeing,’ and sees rules as no more than artifice.

Well, I’m finding rules very useful as a beginner, a novice. However, I do relate to Adam’s when he says that his photographs ‘represent me, not photography.’ I’m certainly not fluent in the language of photography. Having just completed a couple of superb photography courses at  ‘The Artworks‘ in Halifax, W. Yorks., I’m just getting to recognise light and shade (I honestly haven’t really noticed it before), understand my camera a lot more, and have the confidence to get out and about and take photos.

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My teacher reckons I have a way with taking pics of people. I’ve included a couple here for you to see and judge for yourself. If you want to see more of the photography work that goes on at ‘The Artworks’ they have an exhibition currently on until 2 August.

Go see.

Coding interviews and identity: people with Alzheimer’s -2

Yesterday we left Celia thinking there was something else going on after her interviews with caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Something else was going on with me too, as my head was awash with images and sounds from ‘Brief Encounter.’ Celia Johnson was great, as was Trevor Howard, however I find the accents so awful, but love the way it told the story. A great archive review can be found here. If you want to know more have a look at these links.

So, back to our researcher, Celia. She states how uneasy and perplexed she was after the first interview and two more interviews followed fairly swiftly. After these she began coding, writing notes and impressions in the side margins of her transcripts, her unit of coding being each line.  Celia goes on to state that categories emerged but doesn’t really tell us how but it was at this point that she realised that her expected category about the ‘profoundness of placement of the Alzheimer’s person was not there with the richness she anticipated. The issue of decision making was not so very paramount in these interviews.’

Celia found herself drawn to other categories and says that after reading and re-reading the interviews she could ‘literally see the disquiet she had earlier experienced.’ It was how the interviewees commented that by the time of making a decision around care homes the person they once knew as husband, wife, mother or father ‘was gone.’ They were ‘strangers,’ and as one interviewee said ” M died a long time ago.” She reflected on the comments each had said; “different,” “gone,” “I don’t know but I know he’s not the same person!”

Identity loss was the central theme from the data

It was during these interviews that Celia’s focus changed from decision making to identity loss. Her key questions now included: ‘Tell em about your …before the onset of the disease; what was he/she like?’ ‘What were the first changes you noticed?’

She describes how she sat for ‘days on end’ with the transcribed interviews spread out before me, ‘absorbing them into my consciousness and letting them float about. I wrote memos on whatever struck my fancy, or as one professor called them, my “flights of fancy.” Sometimes writing several pages, at other times just a paragraph, recording whatever came into her head. Notes of all shapes and sizes began to pile up of non-linear thoughts and questions around identity:

  • how is identity perceived?
  • what constitutes identity to the average person?
  • why, if the person was ‘gone’ did the relatives hang on to the caregiving experience for so long?

Instead of making notes one day Celia decided to wade through the pile and placed them into developing categories:

  • silent partner, helper, and neighbours was abstracted to social relations
  • memory, clock and rituals were placed in temporality

Slowly, four major themes emerged around the identity loss process;

  1. Social relations
  2. Reciprocity
  3. Moral obligation
  4. Temporality

Celia describes how she set aside her other notes, talked to people working with Alzheimer’s disease and did more interviews; coding and writing memos as she went along.

“But most of all, I walked; I sat; I daydreamed.”

Participant observation: people with Alzheimer’s

I’m reading a fascinating chapter from The Qualitative Researcher’s Companion.  Originally I highlighted Chapter 15 due to its Grounded Theory approach, and, as I’m reading it I’m seeing things I haven’t noticed before. What’s standing out to me this time is how the author, Celia J Orona, arrived at her research topic. This is a difficult area to explain to research students. The common assumption is explained in this  Youtube video. Also, the majority of students think this should happen quickly, and, I particularly like the timeframe in Celia’s journey.

Celia was a PhD student who knew her study would ‘ focus on issues of the elderly’ and towards the end of her first year of her of doctoral study had a 6 week program placement as a team member in an Adult Day Health Center for physically and mentally impaired elderly. Her plan was to be a participant-observer of the interactions between staff and participants who attended the centre 2 days a week. She quite clearly states that beyond this thinking she ‘had no idea what the experience would yield.’

Her first experience with a participant came when approached by ‘Rose’ who introduced herself as a volunteer and offered her help and knowledge ‘it was her job to know where everything was.’ It turned out that Rose was no volunteer but a participant. Her surprise at Rose’s ability to carry on what was a logical conversation and see her rapid decline over the 6 weeks caused Celia to ask questions about Alzheimer’s and what it was like for their families.

Celia describes how she was exhausted every day and would ask herself: ‘What must it be like for the families who know that this situation can only worsen and from which there is but one escape – institutionalization?’

‘My dreams during this summer were dark. Although I do not recall any of those dreams specifically (never thinking that I might want to use them as data).’

Celia talked to the centre director and sought out library literature and says that she was ‘drawn more and more to the participants who were labelled as having Alzheimer’s disease and each day new questions emerged.’

  • ‘How did the caregiving relatives cope after working all day to come home and care for their loved ones?’
  • ‘Did they spend their evening conversing with the Alzheimer’s person?’
  • ‘How did they manage to make the decision to institutionalize their loved ones?’
  • ‘How did they dress them?’
  • ‘Was this an inherited disease?’

Six weeks later Celia states that she was ready for a vacation, troubled, fatigued and also intrigued. She had her dissertation topic.

The next question was how to narrow it down?

Initially she thought that an important aspect of the ‘caregiving experience would be the pain and anguish when the time came’ for the relative to be placed in care. She thought good questions would be to ask:

  • ‘Would there be other such momentous decisions?’
  • ‘How did relatives define profound decisions?

I think this relates to the identification of a substantive area – an area of interest. Celia’s study  has a population of caregivers to relatives with Alzheimer’s disease.  Her topic is the area of the population’s decisions to place their relatives with Alzheimer’s disease in care.

Celia designed a small pilot study and following the development of a proposal interviewed 5 of her own relatives who had cared for, or were caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. The interviews were between one and a half and 4 hours in length. When she got to what she thought was a critical question, sitting in a sitting room with one relative she says ‘I could hear in her voice and see in her body the tiredness which had accumulated from the many years of caring for her husband. When I asked, what was the process of coming to the decision to place your husband in a nursing home?’ She leaned forward:

                  “Decision? Decision? There was no decision. When it came time, I had no choice. it’s like falling in love, no one has to tell you. You know.”

Celia recalls how the relative (interviewee) described the fatigue, physical hardship and how once when her husband was kept in hospital how she looked forward to an undisturbed night’s sleep, not having to dress someone who fought her all the way, could eat a hot meal. She told Celia that she just knew the time had come, she was caring for a stranger.

At the time Celia sensed that there was something else that she was hearing and she left perplexed and uneasy. She likened it to someone hearing a strange noise and becoming alert.  She tells us how she wrote up her notes, listened to the interview tapes and then did 2 further interviews.

I’m really glad to be reading this chapter again as I’ve always found Grounded Theory so confusing. Celia’s account personalised the experience of her topic selection, sets it within a timeframe, and gives us insight into her thinking about her experience.

 What happens when Celia begins her coding  – read more in Learning adventure – 14.

You only fail if you stop writing

I wrote a piece for this blog. I started before 9am as I wanted to get some thoughts down so as not to be posting it at midnight! My topic selected itself as I’ve been irked since reading a newspaper article back in October 2014.  It’s time had come. It was time to explore why this little article irritated so.  The article had a life of its own since I cut it out of the paper. It lived on my dining table for many days. I knew I had to file it in order to ensure it didn’t get trashed. But which folder, pile or bookshelf was it lurking in? Phew, thanks Progoff. Perhaps I was too hasty eschewing the structure and organisation of this form of journaling.

Anyway, knowing I had my blog on a roll from early morning I allowed myself to relax, just let my day leisurely unfold:

  • a walk. The experience of walking is both physical and an abstraction. There are heavy leg days. There are light, springy leg days. It’s about finding a rhythm for the legs.  A rhythm also for the mind as I learn to empty it of whirling stuff and notice my environment. I read somewhere how a taoist said that feet take up a tiny space, and it’s so apt. These little size 4’s have transported me many, many miles.
  • spotting just 31 horses in local fields. There’s something so relaxing about seeing them just grazing away. a couple noticed and looked in expectation. One looked from afar and started strolling toward me, but realising I was not stopping it stopped. One, in the distance appeared to be standing in a pond. I checked on my return and it was still standing there, its legs totally submerged. I’m wondering if `I should go back tomorrow to check if it’s OK
  • noticing the drizzle. Drizzle takes many different forms. This was fine, almost invisible like a Scottish mountain mist, making everything soggy
  • solving the daily issue of ‘what’s for tea?’
  • exchanging time and words with a supermarket cashier with just 30 minutes of her shift left. She was coping with this temporality by taping over the time on her checkout computer screen. Time flies when you’re not watching the clock
  • setting up a ‘Dropbox’ account in order to share tiff photograph files with my photography tutor ready for an upcoming exhibition. If you’re around West Yorkshire you might take a look. It appears as though I set up a Dropbox account in 2014. I’ve never used it to share before and it proved relatively easy to add tiffs and share. I’m amazed by the difference in file sizes. My stored JPEGs were 155kb whereas the tiffs were 93Mb’s! Too large to e-mail as the limit is about 24Mb. Apparently the difference is down to a compression process where the software selects details and colours to compress and leave out when creating JPEG’s. This happens in your DSLR camera also if it’s set to take pics as JPEG’s! It strikes me that by the time they’ve been compressed by software they may not really be what you saw through the viewfinder
  • learning how to export dng files as tiff files in Photoshop Lightroom 5. Not always an easy program to use. It just doesn’t seem as intuitive as some of its predecessors. I’m told it’s great for cataloguing though. I must try that as I now have some 1200 photos
  • tea – pasta parmigiana
  • unearthing my little school size exercise books in which I’d scrawled my feelings and thoughts about the newspaper article at the time
  • urging my cat to exit the house as she was about to heave up a hairball. This must be a horrible feeling, but she was quickly removed.
  • composing my blog directly in WordPress
  • stopping to watch the 9pm re-scheduled BBC 2 Only Connect quiz. A must.

A topsy, turvy day indeed.

This isn’t the intented, timetabled blog. This isn’t the blog I’ve drafted, amended, linked to and toiled over. This isn’t the blog where I identified and named my irritations, my irksome frustrations and partly understood what the article was about. This is a replacement blog.  After the quizzical interlude I discovered my jottings since 7.39pm had not been saved.  These early jottings were my workings out. In some frustration I deleted it. It will resurface and, at least I know where the newspaper cutting is and I’ve begun to unearth some of the edges which cause irritation. It’s time will come.

Meanwhile, as Ray Bradbury said ” You only fail if you stop writing.’

In an experience or experiencing?

Something is proving very difficult for me to pin down at the moment. Am I experiencing  or am I having an experience? Don’t ask me why this question matters. Or, why on earth it entered my head. All I can say in response is that it has.

Dennis Atkinson describes experiencing as a temporal process, a series of temporal flows; whilst experience is a more substantial entity. An experience is something that happened, a reduction of the flow of experiencing temporalities to the form of a series of signifiers. So, when experiencing I’m having temporal interactions with my environment, my landscape, my being. I’ve read that some individuals with depression experience changes in their temporal experiences of time. The flow of being in an experience, absorbed, tends to change our perception of time. On the one hand time goes more slowly yet it appears to whoosh by unnoticed.

Husserl appears to have considered temporalising and here’s a great paper considering temporalising consciousness. I’m going to need to consider this more, however, the stand out words at the moment are: “The present is not simple. It is fundamentally complex.” So, temporal flows abound during the process of experiencing, perhaps chaotically, disorganised, numerous and jumping back and forwards in time. I can somehow go with this. It creates an image of neural networks sparking reactions multidimensionally, multilayered and in all shades of colour. I feel that experiencing and experience are both simultaneous and asynchronous.

Atkinson states that there’s a reduction in temporal flows when experiencing transforms to experience. Perhaps this is our cognitive filing system coming into the foreground, anchoring meaningful temporal flows with our existing representations of subjects and establishing new ones where the temporal flow is unknown, unrecognised. I can potentially see where an overload of temporal flows which cannot be reduced and linked to signifiers might be almost ‘dangerous.’ I can also see where this idea of disrupting the flow of experiencing can lead to learning through possible disorientation, and, as Atkinson states disjunctive temporality, ruptures, punctures and disturbances in our experience of a subject or topic.

I don’t know enough about education, teaching or learning. All I know is that my temporal flow take me to Gert Biesta’s discussion of learning as a reaction to a disturbance:

“If we look at learning in this way, we can say that someone has learned something not when she is able to copy and reproduce what already existed, but when she responds to what is unfamiliar, what is different, what challenges, irritates, or even disturbs. Here learning becomes a creation or an invention, a process of bringing something new into the world: one’s own, unique response…. Instead of seeing learning as an attempt to acquire, to master, to internalize, or any other possessive metaphors we can think of, we might see learning as a reaction to a disturbance, as an attempt to reorganize and reintegrate as a result of disintegration” 

Is learning a series of temporal flows (experiencing) which have been reduced to a series of signifiers? Or is it because some temporal flows are themselves forms of signifiers which are unknown, and therefore result in reorganisation of an experience?

Perhaps this leaves me with more questions than answers. 

Dennis Atkinson: Art, equality and learning. Pedagogies against the state

Gert Biesta: Beyond learning. Democratic education for a human future

Achievements and aspirations

I’m overwhelmed! Utterly, utterly proud and humbled by the achievements of some of my previous students. They’ve done something that many of them thought they would never, ever be able to do. Something that many of their parents didn’t think was possible. Something perhaps which many of their teachers thought they would never do. Something which many of their partners didn’t see them doing. But this something was something they really wanted. And, they worked hard for this. This something was made possible by the ‘widening participation’ agenda. This something  clearly demonstrates the importance of FE Access courses. This is something which HE in FE does very, very well. Something which changes lives.

This something is a Bachelor’s degree. A second chance for many. A third chance for some.

Many of these graduates are parents themselves, work part-time, caring for their own parents and come from homes where English is not the preferred/spoken language. We must facilitate an equality of opportunity for them to blossom and flourish in an education system which may have failed them in the past. I know that the experiences these individuals have had during the last 3 years has changed them, and will go on changing their lives.  For the majority of them, they are the first people in their families to get a degree. Many of their children and grandchildren may now have aspirations they might not have had before. We should be proud of all of these things.

As they were preparing to parade through the centre of Oldham to their graduation ceremony, I had a brief conversation with someone sat beside me. To sum up, she asked what was going on and when I told her, said ‘that’s great because it’s usually behind closed doors.’ And she’s spot on. So, well done University Campus Oldham for sharing the event with the people of Oldham, helping to increase the transparency around such events and get people talking about them.

One student shared that her partner had taken a day off from work to attend today. His only day off for 20 years! Obviously he was a very proud man.

If you want to get a flavour of the event, just take a peek at these:

And finally…. I just feel so very, very proud of them all today. They did great!

Learning to draw is about learning to see

I didn’t think I’d be able to write a blog tonight. But, I seem to be getting into a habit and it somehow feels wrong, a little incomplete if I don’t produce something. I wonder if it’s something to do with ‘muscle memory’ which my Tai Chi master says will kick in sometime, and, when it does I’ll actually be able to remember the series of movements which makes up the Chen style form.

Anyway, I’ve learnt that there are tools called ‘spazzles.‘ Available from Toolstation outlets throughout the UK probably. I’d seen the exact same thing being used the previous day by chaps working alongside tarmac spewing machinery laying new road surfaces around Oldham. I love the word but it’s not what I’d call onomatopoeic.

This led to a brief discussion about the Pluto fly-by and how it’d be great to see a photograph with a sign saying: ‘ This planet has been purchased to make way for a hyperspace bypass.’ You need to be a bit of a Douglas Adams fan to get this one as it’s from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I’m finishing off this evening with a quote from gem of a book I spied in a local charity shop. I was attracted to its form initially. It’s an unusual size, with a black rubbery cover which has a central cut out and white and black raised wording. As a book it has a really interesting feel, look and style; its use of black and white, reminding me of the concept of chiaroscuro I explored a little in a previous blog.  Anyway, beyond the beauty of the book itself it holds lovely treasures within. It’s ‘101 Things to Learn in Art School’, and I’d just like to share the fantastic No. 2 thing:

“Learn to draw. Drawing is more than a tool for rendering and capturing likenesses. It is a language, with its own syntax, grammar and urgency. Learning to draw is about learning to see. In this way, it is a metaphor for all art activity. Whatever its form, drawing transforms perception and thought into image and teaches us how to think with our eyes.’

The philosophy cafe

If each day had a word today’s would be praxis.

Following a morning at the Philosophy Cafe held at Manchester Art Gallery and an evening practicing Tai Chi, I’m using a single word to guide my reflections.

The questions given to us this morning were:

  1. Should philosophy be taught to children in primary schools?
  2. What might the advantages be?
  3. What might the disadvantages be?

After a chat over drinks in small groups we considered our questions further in gallery 6. Currently it’s exhibiting paintings, a couple of sculptures and a tartan dress representing Victorian views of Scottishness: A highland romance. The largest painting on display is by Richard Andsell, I think it’s called The Chase, although there seems to be a series of these. The one which really caught my eye was by Henry Moore, who I tend to associate more with drawings of coal miners and people sheltering in the underground, as well as his sculptures of course. Anyway, it turns out that this is a different Henry Moore. Following a discussion around how Mancunian Victorians engaged in the Scottish hunting lifestyle, bought paintings which they subsequently often bequeathed t to Manchester we entered into a full round discussion of the given questions.

I can’t really summarise the entire discussion but here are some of the main points:

  • some discussion around definitions of philosophy
  • how crowded the school curriculum already is and what will be pushed out to make room?
  • who will teach it? Will they have qualifications in philosophy?
  • children will turn off if teachers fill their heads with philosophy
  • it’s too early, perhaps it should be introduced at ages 12/13
  • there’s been some recent studies which show it has positive effects
  • if we teach children how to argue they’ll be arguing about everything
  • perhaps it should be part of the ‘friendship groups’ which happen in my children’s school. They take place at lunchtime.
  • it’s really about teaching children how to think, not necessarily about Kant
  • what about the poor parents who will need to respond to the children’s constant questioning?
  • teaching is about rote learning in order to meet set targets
  • the vocabulary already exists to approach philosophy……why?
  • it can be used to help children learn how to listen, question and learn to respect each other
  • perhaps we should be using an education system as  in America. (If you know what the USA system mentioned is please let me know).
  • rather than the theories we need to focus on practical philosophy
  • how will teachers be able to cope with the constant questioning by children?

I hope you can see why I chose praxis as my reflective word. I’m reminded of something I read in Biesta’s  ‘The beautiful risk of education,’ pages 132 on….., where he discusses Aristotle’s  2 modes of acting poeisis and praxis.  On praxis he states  “The orientation here is not toward the production of things but to bringing about goodness or human flourishing (eudomania). Praxis is about what sort of things conduce to the good life in general. It is about good action….good action itself is its end. The kind of judgement we need here is not about how things should be done; we need judgement about what is to be done.” Aristotle refers to this kind of judgement as phronesis, which is usually translated as practical wisdom.

The concluding summary of the Philosophy Cafe discussion was that if there’s a concern about including  ‘philosophy’ in a primary school curriculum we can call it ‘teaching thinking and how to be human.’ Phronesis indeed.

Perhaps we’re not teaching philosophy but doing it.

Also, take a little look at this visual reading list for aspiring teachers (powerpoint download).

SAMSUNG CSC
SAMSUNG CSC

And here’s a pic I took recently in a Todmorden supermarket car park, which sums up some of my thoughts today.

Values matter.