A Pedagogy of the Streets November 19, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education and the Environment, Engaging Learning Environments.
Tags: democracy and education, education and transformation, learning communities
by David R Cole
When we exit the university or school and walk down a street we are still learning. Some of us may wander and stare at our mobile devices, musing at the latest posting on Facebook or the info-feed on Twitter. Others, perhaps more like myself, may look outwardly at the particular scene in which we find ourselves and try to take in the atmosphere of the ‘street situation’. You might be surprised to hear that on one such an occasion I was stopped in my pondering by a street performance, that has made its way into my thoughts as a professional educator and researcher, and I would like to share with you now. Many municipalities in the UK sponsor festival ‘street artist’ events, which are specifically designed to shake us out of our subjective shells and make us think about what is happening ‘in the moment’ and in reconciliation of our relationships with the streets. I had stumbled unwittingly into one such scenario, and was forced to reconsider many of my assumptions and beliefs out there, ‘on the streets’, away from the safety of controlled pedagogic action, assessment and institutional regulation.
Who is Jeremy Farquhar? This was the first question that I was made to confront. My cynical self could say that he is just another street performer, a character created for general amusement purposes. But if I permit myself to be moved more deeply, I could wonder how and why a clown should confront me on the street and simultaneously have knowledge of the workings of global capitalism. The truth is that if we are to be able to appreciate the ‘pedagogy of the streets’ we need to set aside the conditioning and anaesthetic of professional learnt knowledge and the networks that keep this knowledge in place. The edifice of our shared culture shields us against questioning the deeply held assumptions that ironically we want our students to be able to engage with and learn about. The clown said to us: “you are not watching T.V.”
Once I had let my guard down and allowed myself to engage with the ‘pedagogy of the streets’, I could ride with the ideas that were presented. For example: we communally commit war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by not questioning the continued use of force in those lands. One may counter, “well it is better there than here”. But is the war on terror really better if it is fought overseas? How and on what grounds can we make such a judgement? Jeremy Farquhar didn’t give me the answers; he just provoked the thought, and took away the comfort of living in a privileged country far from the battlefield for an instant. It turns out that Farquhar is a butler, who listens into the conversations of those in power without making any decisions or affecting a singular course of action. In short, Farquhar is a corridor, an ear, a portal to a place where the truths of our globally unequal society are understood and enacted.
We are all walking on a tightrope. On one side of the rope is the continued reliance on debt to make everything in our world work, and the so called inevitable “fiscal cliff” that the debt produces. On the other side of the rope are the consequences of the evolution of a ‘one world system’, and the mono-culturalism that this system ultimately entails, including environmental disaster, over-population, and the global mass movement of people away from places of shortage, war and conflict and in search of a ‘better life’. What is the possibility of resistance to falling off the rope? What can we do in the face of such negative, unwholesome and divided options? Farquhar transforms himself into a sadhu, a modern Gandhi figure, advocating non-violent revolution and the counteraction to the ‘politics of fear’. I let myself be transported to a place where a solution to the current predicaments was possible, where politicians did listen to the facts of environmental science, where the education system teaches wisdom in preference to personal efficiency and the fundamentals of fitting into ‘one world capitalism’. If there is hope today, it lies in ‘a pedagogy of the streets’ and communally thinking through the real conundrums that face us in a profound and deep manner, rather than the continued farce and cover-up of political life. Thank you Farquhar, whoever, and wherever you are…