A few years ago I was producing a theatre company in residence at a school in Inverclyde. We had been working closely with the English department who suggested the 5th year pupils could do with a different approach to understanding Chekov. In response we invited a highly regarded and experienced director to work with the class for a day to bring their set text (Cherry Orchard) to life. After 45 minutes into the workshop it was clear the pupils seemed disinterested. The director intervened and asked if everything was alright. One pupil simply said “how will this help us pass the exam?” The workshop continued but the comment stayed with me.
Hidden Giants, in collaboration with some of the most inspiring creative learning teams in 5 of Scotland’s local authorities, have created a day long ruckus ‘Will this be in the test?’ In many ways the event sets out to answer the pupils question posed many years ago in a stuffy English classroom in Greenock. However, it also comes as a reaction to the measuring, tracking and assessment culture that dominates our school system. As an artist and creative practitioner I wonder where this culture will lead us so have assembled a programme of provocateurs to engage delegates in a ruckus that will help us see where we go next.
For several years now I have internally and publically wrestled with the role and function of the artist within education. Even the word artist has caused concern as much of what I do seems very far from the main stream arts world. When I first started out my agenda was set by the company or school. As a freelance artist it was difficult to be innovative or disruptive. I was employed to run drama workshops or create pieces of theatre. I fulfilled the brief and happily took the daily fee.
However, since my early freelance days, the world has changed in ways we could never have imagined. I believe there is a need to free up the curriculum and prepare students for a world of unknown unknowns. My work ultimately encourages teacher autonomy and pupil agency. It is therefore crucial I constantly ask myself ‘how have I changed?’ And what is my agency?
One of the key changes I’ve made responds to the belief there are differences between an arts education approach and creative practise. I would suggest an arts education approach is focused on the development of the pupils artistic skill based, i.e drawing, improvisation, learning an instrument. Whereas creative practise focuses on critical thinking skills and participation. The first endorses the traditional education system and the former challenges it. The first is product driven and the former is process, often never producing a tangible output. My work obviously lies within the former.
Every education system in the Western world is in desperate need of radical thinking. Teachers are being asked to do more with less time. This has led to a culture of online teachers’ resources and repetitive practise. We only know what we know. It often takes ‘the other’ to shine a light on what we can’t see because we are so busy completing the ‘task’ or to remind us we are human. This role is something that artists naturally inhabit – the other, the questioner, the disruptor. However, what if we can achieve this without producing a piece of art, or what if it wasn’t obvious we were being artistic at all? As an artist who works in schools I now believe I should stop making art.
This doesn’t mean I think children should have less access to art, or that art is not of fundamental importance in every child’s life or that schools should be removing the expressive arts from the curriculum. I just think our skills need to be redirected to resolve some of the bigger challenges we currently face that demand our process skills: disruption, collaboration, risk takers, researchers, imaginers and leaders. The education system does not need another output that can be measured – we should be challenging the direction not reinforcing it.
Hidden Giants is currently engaged in several projects exploring what learning, education and schooling looks like in the 21st century. Our work evolves within a system faced with a variety of complex challenges that require creative and innovative thinking. The ‘Will this be in the test?’ event will bring together artists, teachers, creative practitioners, local authority teams and students. We aim to work without an agenda, other than the belief we all have agency within our education system and can be part of identifying and solving the challenges it faces.
If you are interested in our day then follow us on twitter #wtbitt