MY SCHOOL EXPERIENCE WAS NOT VERY COMMON
By Amanda Piña
I was invited to write a text about how art can suggest other/ alternative possibilities of learning (in comparison with the traditional school system), and I decided to start writing about a different but similar question that I think is related, namely: How learning inside the school system can or could suggest other possibilities of living?
My school experience was not very common. In Chile, where I was born in 1978 we had a military dictatorship and public education became very authoritarian (even more than it used to be before). Children had to sing the national hymn every day in public schools, young boys had to keep their hair short and where punished if they didn’t do so. The use of uniforms was (and is still) a rule in Chilean public education. It was dangerous to talk about politics with your classmates, to sing certain songs, to read certain books. The military-authoritarian mentality impregnated every institution all over the country.
Fear was in the air.
Waldorf pedagogy made in Chile
In this grey scenario my mother decided to look for alternatives and finally found a small private school that was affordable for middle class parents. It was an educational project developed by some young teachers who wanted to do something different than what normal education offered for teachers and children in times of such strong political repression.
They wanted to create a good atmosphere in which learning could take place, and also a good school where to send their own children. They rented an old big house and founded the school that was inspired in Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf pedagogy but made in Chile, meaning (as I understood later on) without the traditional aspect of other similar schools in Germany, Switzerland or Austria.
The school was an experiment and was not recognized by the ministry of education. There was a maximum of 25 Children per year and we had a class that was concerned only with balance. This balance class consisted of going into the garden with the teacher responsible and climb over different wooden fences and obstacles. The teacher would hold our hands at the beginning. The best part of this class was when we where encouraged to jump from a wall holding a rope that was attached to a tree – it was like flying.
This is the clearest memory I have from elementary school. The experience of letting yourself go with the dynamics of weight and speed over a long trajectory, flying far away from the ground at high speed.
This action demanded a leap forward, a moment of decision-making, and taking a risk. In this moment one had to lose control and give in to the unknown, and depending on the impulse you took you would fly closer or farther from the tree trunk. It was dangerous but also a great feeling.
In my school this “balance class” was considered as important as mathematics or history.
Experience (which always happens embodied) is full of content, a content that can be later put into words becoming language. All that passes through the senses is strictly “aesthesia” (the ability to feel or perceive sensations); this felt experience can be later analyzed, understood and judged.
Some experiences though are very difficult to express through words, they are inexpressible and they will remain unexpressed even when expressed.
Coming back to the rope scene, that experience was not verbalized, the teachers didn’t talk about what they where trying to achieve in the lesson, there was no need to “educate” us about how to do it correctly, it was the mere physical experience which informed us about other issues, far larger issues than this particular jump from a wall, holding a rope that was hanging from a tree.
A large knowledge on experiential learning
Experiential learning offers as much content as verbal learning but the meanings or implications of an action must be created or deciphered by the subject. This makes him or her responsible of the own learning process. In this sense experiential learning or Enactive Learning* as cognitive Biologist Francisco Varela would call it, is a process that informs the subject through action again without of the need of an “educator”.
And here is what I think our field can offer to the school system, a large knowledge on experiential (enactive) learning to pass on.
If somewhere, then it is in this collaboration where I can see some social potential in contemporary performing arts. That knowledge is something that the artists working in this field can share with teachers and students.
In my experience working in performing arts, the same situation like in the balance class of my school comes up: A leap forward is required, it is implicit in the way creation works, at least for me. There is a risk to take, one must leave a safe position and move from what one knows, into something that one can’t fully control.
Knowing is like being anchored; there is no reflection possible if one doesn’t leave the position of knowing, one must doubt in order to be reflective and creative.
What I like about my work is that gives me possibilities of learning that emerge from approaching a new idea, way of working, concept, performance, etc. I can learn through working on an issue or a theme. This way of learning that doesn’t need education, is a byproduct of the work itself, and is for free.
This job keeps me interested, and offers learning
This is the reason why I'm doing this job, or one of the main reasons; because it keeps me interested, and offers learning. I think I came to performing arts because I was interested in the immediacy of action as a cognitive tool, the information behind action, movement and presence.
The pressure of the art institutions representing the art market of course shadows this process of learning through the artistic work. This could be compared with the program the ministry of education hands out to the teachers in most schools of the world. This program of contents is imposed on teachers and on children and often does not respond with the biological rhythm of development and interest of the children (not to forget that the development of children often differs in time and rhythm from one child to another).
In a similar way the artist (living in the few cities in the world where is possible to live from artistic work) must provide a concept in order to raise money long time before the idea he will work on is shaped in any way that could relate with practice. If the artist wants to live from his work he/she must be part of the art market or be a teacher, or figure out other ways I haven’t figured out yet.
To be part of the art market, often means to produce more or faster than he or she would want or need to.
The person working in art must become an expert in strategy in order to survive in economic and artistic terms. And maybe this is where the artistic quality really lies, not in the product but in the strategy of coping with pressure in order to maintain the purity of intention?
In order to manage to live from one's work, and at the same time stay in some way faithful with one’s real interests, rhythm and motivation, one must find a strategy.
How to do this?
Here is where ethics and aesthetics become one.
And I’m sorry but I don’t have an answer for that and probably I will never do, because this art of strategy is probably something one must always negotiate with oneself and with others, and redefine again and again.
So … It is not enough to jump from the tree, one must take the right impulse and of course, think about the landing. But more than that …
One must be able to find support to get up on the tree once more in order to jump down again and again.