I was really proud of all the Pearson Creative Research Fellowships in British Library Learning but it’s exciting to see it continue with current fellow Lizzie Ridout. She has this great way of finding the extraordinary in the archives of the most demotic, banal and domestic items. At a time that the British Library is focusing on innovation, exploiting the assets of its patent collections and opening a business centre, Lizzie reminds us that many innovations can be very silly – such as backward-walking shoes. We need to learn from forgotten mistakes and wasted efforts as much as we learn from the iconic inventions. Just as Jonathon Swift (in Gulliver’s Travels) cautioned us with his institute of inventors in Balnibarbi, trying to make ice from gunpowder, ploughing improvements using pigs and so on. I’ve been thinking about innovation this week having been to a NESTA conference about how to nurture future innovators. I’ll post about that some more soon, but for now enjoy Lizzie’s work on her new website.
Today was ‘One Day in History’, a campaign by History Matters to get everyone blogging their day for it to be archived in perpetuity by the British Library. See http://www.historymatters.org.uk/ Interesting how, with the internet, history is so much more about everyone’s story, and the mundanity and specificity of life. The idea is that precious grand narratives can be woven out the billions of threads of banal information because it’s all tagged and searchable. It’s all part of the British Library’s programme to archive websites, because of course they change constantly, so if we don’t capture screenshots of the future form of publishing at regular intervals masses of information will be lost to posterity. Well, I thought I’d log my day’s blog in my own blog too, so to speak, with apologies for its banality, because it might raise some interesting thoughts about how we live, record, remember and narrate our history:
The morning was more autumnal than usual – I went in the garden to take photos of snail trails snaking over the greenhouse roof, pumpkins and orange ivy.
Megan (6) told a stunning story over breakfast, that she had dreamed up. It was about how the gods had become one from many. An explosion in the clouds killed all the gods but Ineks. The skeleton of Hirajo fell on Ineks and he struggled for months to push it off. Then he dug and dug and dug a hole in the clouds until he reached down to earth. When on Earth, he met some children and they changed his name to Imax and introduced him to computer games. It descended into less mythical territory and dragged from that point on. Then she went off to school skooting down the hill at 1 minute to 9. I worked for an hour, building a website allowing mapping of places for creative and cultural learning. (Coming soon on http://www.playce.org.uk/ ) But I took most of the day off work to help my daughter’s school on a day trip. Class 2G are exploring two linked topics, buildings and the Great Fire of London. On the way in, on the bus, we noticed that the concrete octagon behind County Hall was being demolished (at last), spotted the Houses of Parliament, saw a Japanese couple being snapped in full wedding regalia in front of Westminster Abbey (who are they kidding!). The children had been talking about how Whitehall had been a giant palace and how Trafalgar Square had been a big courtyard of stables for it.
In the National Gallery, after an early lunch (essential for little ones) we looked at 17th century Dutch paintings by Pieter de Hooch, Molenaer, Rembrandt and Italian paintings e.g. by Crivelli, noticing materials, patterns and details of buildings. I’m afraid the lady that ‘took us round’ could have been more sparky and alert to the children’s desires to give their own interpretations. I can’t help being critical as it is my profession. The children did manage to squeeze in some great observations though. (‘Why is there a flying gold pole in the sky?’) Afterwards we made drawings, trying to sketch the lines, shapes and patterns, not just the people and animals.
We had a quick look at buildings and materials in Trafalgar Square, including the bright white marble of Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn on the ‘fourth plinth’. Then we took the long bendy bus back to school.
A little later, back at home with tea, I worked some more at the computer and Megan watched a DVD. Her hilarious screams of laughter reassured me it was OK to work. My husband cooked dinner – baked sweet potato and moussaka – and we ate together. As we’d been looking at paintings and buildings, including those beautifully lit domestic Dutch interiors, I couldn’t help looking at our house in terms of light, perspective, pattern and detail.
I just have to do a little plug for my husband’s blog http://bdmckenzie.blogspot.com
I’ve noted it before but it’s grown since then.
No, not really. These are the most important subjects, no contest. They cover the three things we need: to deal with the visual world, to think analytically and experimentally, to access information and communicate. My ideal curriculum takes for granted these essentials and therefore integrates them into authentic enquiries, based on human needs. Really it is based on the two disciplines missing by name from the English National Curriculum; anthropology and environmental studies. Without understanding global cultures or the environment we fail to embrace the most compelling problems of our time.
The starting points of learning: The Cultural realm
- My story (myself understood as story)
- My language (how I grow through communication with others)
- How I imagine the world (fantasy, invention)
- How I begin to make sense of the complex world, in the many groups and situations that I live in (copying others, knowledge)
- How I must behave
Growing towards: The Cultural Realm
- Global complexity & diversity
- Systems of exchange (trade, language etc)
- How humans represent the world and their understanding of it
- How representations differ between us
- What we preserve from past knowledge, what is valuable – How can I make new representations that help me & others understand the world?
- What is good? How must we behave in the future?
The starting points of learning: The Natural realm
- How my body works – ‘Myself and other animals’
- How my body can be better (PE, food, health)
- How I can make new things, mend things and build the world (craft, design etc)
- How I enjoy being in the world (dance, music)
Growing towards: The Natural Realm
- How humans use and change the natural world (geography etc)
- Concepts for understanding the mechanisms and fabric of the world (maths, physics, chemistry etc)
- The world beyond and before culture (prehistory, animals)
- The universe beyond this world (astronomy)
- How can we improve the way we live to survive changes in the environment?
Essential for exploring these realms are abilities to:
•Investigate (question, experiment, seek knowledge)
•Record and model (using words, images, numbers, technologies)
•Dialogue (challenge, debate, interrogate, collaborate)
•Narrate (express, engage, characterise, connote)
I’ve been thinking about the relative validity of creativity and culture in education, what they mean together and how they interact. In many ways, perhaps as a reaction to the overemphasis on bodies of knowledge in the National Curriculum, culture has come to be seen to represent the status quo (continuity, knowledge, authority, heritage, national identity) whereas creativity represents something far cooler and acceptable (innovation, joy, productivity, challenge, individuality, style). They seem to operate in the following pairs of concepts, with the number 1′s more about creativity or activity and the number 2′s more about culture or education:
1) Cultural Studies (‘them’, other cultures, diversity)
2) Cultural Heritage (‘us’, our history and values)
1) Skills (virtuosity, doing, showing)
2) Entertainment (consuming, seeing, interpreting)
1) Creativity (imagining, inventing, making new culture)
2) Critique (questioning, researching, analysing)
1) Aesthetics (form, design, quality)
2) Values (meaning, ethics)
I have a hunch, supported by observation of a lot of creative learning initiatives, that creativity is meaningless without culture and vice versa. Projects that focus on creativity often suffer by not exploring specific themes (except ‘what is creativity?’), not developing critical enquiry with cultural artefacts and not doing research.
I’m not at all opposed to creativity. I just feel that without application to knowledge, history or values there is no effect and no dialogue. Creative activity remains superficial, a kind of marketing of itself as a concept.