What we learnt from time travelling together (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series, that critically examines our experience (Suvani Suri and I) of guiding a group of design students as they explored the theme: ‘time-machine’. You may begin at the beginning or read on.

 

As we saw it, the fundamental question was: How could we, in such a short time, transfer to our learning community, our existent potential for learning together? The hauntingly naïve but desperately true answer we uncovered soon enough, was that we had to nurture a space where ‘spending time’ meant quite something else from what it meant in the world outside. We needed to have our very own time zone in that clock shaped classroom. There were a lot of reasons why this was not going to be easy.

To us, it was obvious that our goal was not the delivery of some absolute body of knowledge, but rather to invent possibilities for action out of a fuller perception of the world around us 1. Freire tells us that the kind of education that prevails almost everywhere now, leaves learners with a ‘fear of freedom’ 2. We are products of a system hell bent on eliminating uncertainty. In the web-app age, something is better than what came before because it reduces a specific form of uncertainty – WhatsApp, FitBit, Uber, your microwave, even your timed commercial breaks, all follow this logic.

timetravellers38
Photo credit: Krishnan Ghosh

The goal is to squeeze more out of every experience in your day. Your productivity is far higher than the average was in your parents’ time. Why shouldn’t the things around you reflect this? So things are best of all when they reduce uncertainty and save time. These days, I use google because it is faster than anything else. Period. Time is constantly running out. It is being constantly underutilized! Once, every place had its own socially-sanctioned limit to patience. Now it’s the same race everywhere. Patience is passé.

In such an age, who can imagine setting out to find their way through a forest without an internet enabled smartphone at least? What Freire calls ‘the banking system of education’ 3 does not imbue a student with the self-confidence to confront a blank slate, especially when starting out on an uncommon line of enquiry. We needed a ‘base map’ to lay out in front of the community and say: here is a part of the forest that we must find a way through, now let us begin together.

To greet absolute freedom with enthusiasm, learners have to feel confident in their ability to respond to any situation. Typical academic and professional encounters condition students to feel like there are appropriate formats for responses; not knowing the appropriate one is akin to being illiterate. Since we were confronting a strange theme – ‘time-machine’ – we knew we would have to help them overcome this bogey of the blank slate. Our approach was to transform the situation dialogically.

Consider an example: in her social foundations classroom, scholar TR Berry’s discussions with her students led to a compromise, where the “students expressed a preference for writing rap and poetry to deliver their ideas, rather than the essay style writing required in the syllabus [she had] developed.” 4 Through this compromise the students could free themselves, to think and respond unencumbered by doubt – confidently.

Along with similar compromises, we also became storytellers. As guides, we would tell stories that we’d read and stories we had lived. Crucially, every story was couched as an invitation. We took it one full discussion at a time, and together we found ourselves transported back to the cherished storytime of our childhoods. Storytime: that half-real place of unspeakable wonder, when breathlessly you’d hang on the storyteller’s every word. In that clock shaped room at the edge of a nameless city, I tell you we had our own time – a time of ripe silences, silences bursting with the promise of revelation.

It gave us great satisfaction when the learners lingered to reflect with us long after the sessions were officially over. We found this invaluable in identifying the directions we could set out in the following morning. As each participant’s concerns permeated the collective enquiry, we community of time-travellers nurtured our very own, very unique compass. Attention, time and loving care were like manure with which we tended the garden that was our learning community.

Read Part 3.

Notes:

  1. See Paolo Freire’s concept of Conscientização: “learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” in Paolo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Preface.
  2. ‘The banking system of education’. See 3.
  3. “It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings. The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.”
           “Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality. The former attempts to maintain the submersion of consciousness; the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.” From Paolo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 2.
  4. Theodora Regina Berry. Engaged Pedagogy and Critical Race Feminism from The Journal of Educational Foundations 24.3/4 (2010): 19.
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