I’m having a really confusing day, because almost everything on my To Do list, for several different projects, paid and unpaid, is to do with the review of the English National Curriculum and the role of culture and creativity in it. I’m contributing to the Cultural Learning Alliance response to the DfE consultation on the National Curriculum. I’ve been at a project pitch this morning about the role of art in Primary National Curriculae across the four home nations (and the fact that we have four National Curriculae, with culture & creativity placed differently in each, is confusing enough in itself). We’re about to start a project looking at how the review of the National Curriculum and changes to teacher training will affect provision of museum education. We’re also looking at how teachers network online to develop professional practice in the arts.
And now, in a very timely manner, I hear from the tweets of the RSA/ACE conference State of the Arts 2011 that Darren Henley has been asked to follow up his Henley Review of Music Education with a second review on cultural learning. The task of this next report seems confused as it was described in two ways; ‘how children can receive a solid cultural education’ and ‘defining creative education’. These scraps of information raise more than a few questions that I hope will soon be answered. Is this review intended as a diktat on the need for a Hirschian cultural canon, ensuring that children emerge from school knowing the story of their island nation and how it rests on the finest artefacts and ideas of human civilisation? Or is it intended to be a restatement of the value of creativity in education and for the economy, given Ed Vaizey’s talk today promoting a ‘creative ecology’ – a context in which value can be more rapidly propogated from the public and commercial creative sectors? Or, both?
The background to all this is the Government’s three priorities for cultural & creative education, which were stated to be: That every child should have access to a good music education, that every child should learn to sing, and that every child should have a solid cultural education. If we translate this to Science as a metaphor to explain why this is category-oddness, it would be like saying: To have a sound education in human biology (above all); to have a chance to conduct experiments in human biology; and to have a solid scientific education.
It might have been more sensible to review the whole domain first (‘a cultural education’) then to ensure the health of each subject which helps delivery of cultural learning, including music. Instead, the Government focused first on one particular artform and have assumed that lessons can be applied to all other domains of culture, as number 36 of recommendations for the Music Review is: “As suggested in the recent White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, it is recommended that the lessons from this Review be applied to other areas of Cultural Education including Dance, Drama, Film, the Visual Arts, Museums, the Built Environment and Heritage.” (Notice, by the by, that literature, libraries and design are missing from this list.)
It would be interesting if they actually did extrapolate the lessons from the Music Review, although I doubt it would extend to pledging to spend £82.5 m spending on each area.
Is it possible to apply these lessons in similar ways to two distinctly different categories of culture: a) forms of art practice (including the histories of those practices) and b) institutions or environments in which we can experience culture and find their histories archived?
Is this about creative practice in schools or is it about the role of cultural organisations as service providers?
I welcome the fact of a review of cultural learning, and in particular I like the fact that it is embracing the MLA & heritage sectors alongside the Arts to consider cultural and creative learning in a broad way. This is essential in the light of the merger of the MLA into ACE, and may be a great opportunity to consider consolidation of infrastructure to serve providers and schools. I think it is possible to consider creative learning and cultural partnerships in synthesis, as long as care is taken not to conflate them. The danger is that the terms of the report will use music as its starting point, and open out to describe ‘the arts’, without addressing the cross-curricular role of the nation’s extraordinary cultural and heritage resources. So, despite welcoming this news, I’m concerned about its scope. It seems not to be a neutral consultancy exercise but an extrapolation of lessons from a synecdoche (music) to the whole (culture), in order to generate a neat statement about the need for cultural knowledge.
Moreover, what kind of power will this statement hold if the arts become non-statutory subjects in the new National Curriculum and if the capacity for delivering cultural learning beyond the classroom is diminished by cuts? I think that’s another blogpost.
I’m working on a project right now that involves looking at the Learning Outside the Classroom scheme. This has been running since 2006, supported mainly by DCSF. It began as a manifesto to promote schools getting out to explore the natural and built environment, to get active and engage with culture. It has now grown to include a Quality Badge for providers and guidance on how to get the best out of different sectors.
It looks to me a scheme that will survive whatever bonfire (and regrowth) of quangos happens after the election (though don’t hold me to ransom for saying it). One reason is that it has been established, and is well run, as an independent charity (the Council for LOTC). I also think it will succeed because it is comprehensive enough to provide an efficient infrastructure for maximum value. It’s not focused on single regions or sectors of provision.
However, the more comprehensive any scheme the more robust you need your information system to be. It is extremely difficult to portray the landscape of ‘enhancement providers’ or resources for schools. That challenge is being tackled by BECTA in a major taxonomic exercise in the creation of a digital content ecosystem for education. LOTC is only dealing with a subset of that, offers that are primarily outside the classroom. But I think their information system is rather confusing, as you can see in the sliding racks on their home page. There are several categories of provider that don’t fit their categories, such as libraries and science centres. Museums and galleries are within heritage, which is unusual. There isn’t an overt attempt to explore a range of practice that blurs the boundaries between the classroom and beyond it (e.g. using mobile technologies or creating museums in schools). I wonder whether, if this could be redevised as a strongly digital service, responding to users’ own terminologies and heirarchies, it would function much better.
I needed to test Gliffy, a free online tool for making diagrams, so I spent a quick 20 minutes working up a visualisation that shows a spiral of provision outwards from the classroom. I didn’t particularly like Gliffy, and because it was a bit clunky, I didn’t make a very clear or finished diagram. But, the picture is starting to suggest a more complex but understandable way of categorising offers outside the classroom. The only issue is that my model assumes a fairly urban context for schools, where built environment is more accessible to them than countryside, wilderness or adventure. Most schools are in such a situation but not all. Maybe the LOTC service could be developed so that you could configure the map according to your context?
Overall the point I’m making is that LOTC has been devised mainly as a manifesto, an accreditation system and a means of ensuring child safety on trips. There is a mountain of great, worthwhile guidance in here but it is all one way, and relatively buried. It hasn’t been devised as a digital service. The website has emerged to provide information about LOTC. But this is different from an approach where tools such as visualisation, user tagging, data feeds and also a wider web strategy, are fundamental to the thinking about how the service can be effective.
If the brilliant LOTC scheme is to survive and be effective it should really be looking now at reinventing itself with digital engagement, including more voices of teachers, CYP and providers, and more visual content.
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.
We went to the launch of the Big Draw, an event called Amazing Space at Somerset House on Sunday. It was extraordinary. The programme of events was so enormous, it would have taken an hour to digest before we’d even started. There were drawing activities not just everywhere you looked but everywhere you didn’t get time to look, throughout all the buildings including Kings College and the Courtauld. As usual, with any summer events around Somerset House, the kids enjoyed running through the fountains most of all. But there was quiet enjoyment of the drawing too. We enjoyed queuing at a booth to have our portraits drawn by an artist (or was it a machine?) hiding inside. We visited Willett & Patterson’s Camera Obscura (http://www.amazingcameraobscura.co.uk ) and we knitted a vast drawing of the building out of recycled cloth strips with giant needles. Oh, and we designed a whole new way of travelling down the Thames in the time it took to eat an ice cream. My best bit was listening to live music while being absorbed in drawing architectural details onto a disc with a turning viewfinder. I was only sorry that we didn’t have time to draw in the galleries. Anyway, we (Flow Associates) have produced some online resources for the Big Draw. http://www.drawingpower.org.uk/menu2.htm
They’re a few of the drawing games of the 85 that we’ve developed. We hope to publish them in a book next year, in time for the next Big Draw. If you have any unusual drawing games you want to share for the book, do send a comment. Do note, we probably have all the familiar ones already.
Anyone who has worked with me will be shocked. I’ve said ad nauseam that museums are all about learning more than any other function. So what am I saying? I’ve been thinking hard about learning in the process of setting up a new company Flow Associates. What if we said that schools and other learning centres are not about learning but about making, if their purpose is not primarily to impart & test facts & skills but to make makers? But how can making be valid in the information age when craft is less important than abilities to access information across many modes? I mean that we need makers of:
Self: Reflecting, growing, relating
Things: Texts, artworks, products
Meanings: Seeing patterns, links, purposes
Solutions: New ideas and applications
Enterprises: Creating projects and businesses
Changes: Sharing ideas, applying solutions
The world: Expanding realms of action
At the weekend I might say to my daughter, what shall we make today? We’ll make cakes, pictures, dancing shows or plaits in her hair. I might also say, what shall we play? We might invent a new skipping game or a display of cuddly toys. I don’t think I ever say to her, what shall we learn today or what skills shall we practice today? That isn’t natural in a conversation between adult and child. As a fairly academic learner myself, I still struggled to be motivated by formal learning which is driven ultimately by prospects of certificates or good marks or by the threat of failure. Some rare people may be disciplined and able to practice skills for the sake of proving that they’re getting better at them or to be able to read a book when ordered. But what are they disciplined by? I would guess they are either disciplined by fear or they have an extraordinary ability to see a longer-term application of their efforts now, or an uncomfortable swing between the two depending on the particular activity. How many times have children heard teachers say ‘You come here to learn’? What if we changed the record to ‘You come here to change the world’?
I haven’t posted for a long time as I’ve been so busy with work, in particular working with a dynamic company called Metaphor http://www.mphor.co.uk/metaphor.html with whom I share a lot of beliefs about the importance of emotional engagement and narrative in exhibitions and museums. I’ve also been away from this blog rediscovering music, because I was recently given an i-pod and it’s got me so much closer to the lyrics and the structure of songs than listening to CD’s. It inspired me to write some songs and I churned out nine – but I’m still working out how to make them sound good. I used to be very involved in music but I’d not been able to give it any time for years. I don’t know how much time I have to give it now but I’m really going to pay attention to how music and song can be used in museums and exhibitions. I’ve also been on holiday to France, where we visited the Museum of Bande-Dessinee (Comics) in Angouleme ( http://www.cnbdi.fr/ ) in the same week that the very earliest representation of a human face was discovered in Angouleme ( http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1791174,00.html ). I would love to write a complimentary review of this museum’s displays, as they had put so much effort in to make it theatrical and quirky, but I admit I enjoyed the shop and the library more where I could actually see the comics. One day, I’ll write some more about comics and also some more about drawing the human face.
I just read Douglas Rushkoff’s blog http://rushkoff.com/blog.php and he makes a good point about fun at work as opposed to fun as work. This is explored more in his new book about innovation in business Get Back in the Box. http://www.rushkoff.com/box.html It relates to my point about fun and creativity in education. I don’t believe in just adding the arts as rewards or light relief extrinsic to the process of learning. I believe that fun in education happens when you feel as if you are making real, valuable stuff happen, when you are being inventive and being sociable.