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Noticing Funghi: Thinking about Learning

by James on November 1st, 2012

I was working at a school recently, talking about my artwork with students and staff, and was told by a teacher that my art was all about noticing. It’s a nice, direct, simple way of looking at it and I like it. You can spend hours writing articles and statements, but yes my work is all about noticing.

But why is noticing important? Why are these images that I took yesterday on a walk in Savernake Forest important?

My work shows me that on the whole, and our education system is devised to teach you what to think, how to think even. As class sizes get bigger in schools and school life becomes more narrow and more focused on passing tests, people are funneled through an experience of school that becomes less about developing themselves and appreciating the world around them, and more about learning what the government thinks they should.

People can come out into society from what feels like a bit of a sausage machine,  having been encouraged not to deviate from the set path, not to notice, not to use their senses fully or their imaginations, and certainly not to pay attention to the richness and diversity of life that surrounds them every day.

Of course there are wonderful schools and teachers and parents doing their creative, inspirational best, this is not a criticism of teachers and the work that they do, but of policy. When our whole culture is focused on producing people with a certain set of skills, in order to better compete in the ‘global economic race’ as the government keeps putting it, rather than enabling each person to flourish as a healthy, happy, positive member of society, then we aren’t going to be paying enough attention to or valuing our sensory experience. We also aren’t going to be valuing our creative capacities, our individuality, or the rich, beautifully complex systems of which we are a part (although if we did people would learn better and be more employable anyway).

And that’s sad. Its not only sad, its damaging and dangerous. Damaging for our well-being as we don’t fully know ourselves and don’t develop the capacities for mutual understanding and empathy that we need to get to know and respect each other. Its dangerous because that causes all kinds of social problems amongst people who are already disillusioned and devalued. It also stops us noticing what damage we are doing to our environment, and stops us caring, because we haven’t had chance to experience a sense of connection with it.

So… this may seem a little like a rant, and perhaps it is, but it is so important that we create opportunities to learn, for children and adults, that enable them to experience themselves as integral parts of their social and ecological systems, to experience themselves as unique, but a unique part of a whole, not separate. A whole that is richly diverse and tantalising to our senses, that enables us to come alive, through sound and touch and smell and imaginative response.

So that’s why noticing is important, it brings us alive through our senses, and enables us to build a picture of ourselves through what we notice, what we value. It enables us to take back control of our identity, to widen our sense of who we are and what we’re capable of.

It’s a democratisation of the senses (my phrase of the moment), and it’s vital in order to respond creatively and with care, to the changes that are happening in our world right now, caused by the very blinkered approach to learning that we seem to find so hard to break way from. Its actually pretty simple, or would be if we could just give ourselves the permission to do it. We have all we need, our senses, our bodies, an ecological system that supports and provides for us, and our inbuilt creative capacities.

If we trust what we were born with, and support each other to notice and work with our own unique set of skills, needs and imagination, then we’ll learn all we need to know, within the context of those systems on which we depend, and in ways that each of us are uniquely equipped.

  1. The first thing I noticed (!) was the amazing photographs. How beautiful the world is down near the Earth. Then I read it and agree with every word. I wrote a post with similar intentions, about Compassion and the Achievement Culture in education, just the other day. I neglected to mention the importance of noticing the world so I’m happy to be reminded of it.

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