Introduction: Aesthetic Play Matters to Curricular Conversations
Curriculum as “complicated conversation” (Pinar, 2010) has much to offer to the nature and role of education and the reframing of knowledge. Complicated curricular conversations orient away from commodities to be controlled and inciting competition, toward investments in schools, educators, students, and communities, laboring “to understand themselves and the world they inhabit” (Pinar, 2003, p. 31). This book provides access to educators (and others) to the significance of such curriculum making, attending to the aesthetics of process alongside their students. Therefore, curriculum is understood as genuine inquiry into what is worth knowing, rather than simply a curricular document. It importantly assumes that within the inquiry process lives a worthwhile direction, a medium for teaching and learning that asks teachers and students to participate through adapting, changing, building and creating meaning together. This is the nature of curriculum as aesthetic inquiry. Curriculum is then restored to its etymological roots of currere (Pinar, 2009, p. 51), invested in prompting, sustaining, and nurturing a movement of thinking that forms the complicated curricular conversation. Artworks embody this movement through aesthetic play. And, the chapters that comprise this book turn toward artworks to reveal how aesthetic play matters to the formulation of these complicated curricular conversations. It seems there is much to be gained from the elemental nature of play and its aesthetic presence and potential within educative settings across disciplines and interests of all kinds. As a curriculum theorist, teacher educator, and arts educator, I am concerned that educators world-wide have become weary of cultivating genuine interest in learning, given the lengthy barrage of like-minded global policies and practices concerned predominately with compliance and uniformity (see, for example, Day, 2004; Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2009; Kemmis & Smith, 2008; Korthagen, 2001; Loughran, 2006; Smith, 2006; Taubman, 2009). The consequences still the movement of thinking undergirding curricular conversations. Thus, the aesthetic play nurturing and sustaining complicated curricular conversations becomes estranged and foreign. The costly consequences for learners, learning, and the future are apparent as multiplicities are discounted, orienting teaching/learning toward oneness, resulting in generic learning processes and products, and thwarting differences as catalysts in coming to know the self and other(s). Complicated curricular conversations are completely undermined. Increasingly, I am cognizant of how this translates into disinterest on the parts of educators (and their students), unwilling to navigate the given multiplicities and complexities of any educative situation as the aesthetic play integral within all curricular tasks. I encounter educator disinterest as resistance, disregard, distrust, and fear. Dewey (1934) warns, “When the linkage of the self with its world is broken, then also the various ways in which the self interacts with the world cease to have a unitary connection with one another” (p. 247). Dewey identifies how sense, feeling, desire, purpose, knowing, and volition then fall away into separate fragments instilling resistance, disregard, distrust, and fear as ways
to exist. His warning is the reality I confront and it does hold frightening significance for teacher education and professional knowledge as teaching is realized as being “severed” from curriculum (Pinar, 2009, p. 11). This book “intimately” and “necessarily” (Dewey, 1938, p. 20) reconnects teaching and curriculum, providing access to the formative terrain of sensemaking for all educators and students through aesthetic play. It is written for anyone wishing to pursue play seriously in their curricular practices, drawing on aesthetic traditions and engagement, including experimentation, multisensory attentiveness, and non-linear as well as linear ways of thinking and acting. It matters that teachers do not know the formative matters of aesthetic play and thus the complicated curricular conversation is a non-realized possibility. It matters that students do not get to play within complicated curricular conversations, encountering and navigating differences through interaction, deliberation, and debate. This book foregrounds the lived consequences of aesthetic play that are all too often resisted, dismissed, distrusted, and feared by many educators, their students, and others. Each chapter’s insistence on complicated curricular conversation as a fully human activity, assuming ways of being in the world that do not separate knowledge from interest, or theory from practice, seeking pervasive qualitative wholes, is intended to confront such stances. And, the book as a whole addresses such resistant, dismissive, distrustful, and fearful stances as constraining and calcifying aesthetic significances for curricular practices and associated understandings of professional knowledge, teacher education, and the nature of learners and learning. Thus, given that the formative nature of all learning seems very unfamiliar, it is curricular terrain more apt to be deliberately avoided by educators. The result is a language of impossibility that quickly consumes and calcifies educators’ attempts to aesthetically engage within their curricular practices. These concerns speak directly to the curriculum field because it is the enactment of curriculum that matters (Thornton, 2005). Finding ways to interrupt the seductive acceptance of what Alexander (1998) terms “maimed versions” of curricular experiences becomes this book’s primary task (p. 12). Alexander (2003) explains, “To inhabit the world is not to dominate or renounce it, but to play in it, learn from it, care for it, and realize the beauty of its meanings” (p. 149). Gadamer (2000) insists the reciprocal interactions and modifications entailed within play are fundamental to being human, identifying play as the “clue” to such ontological reciprocity (p. 104). Thus, to learn about other(s) and in turn self, to create and concomitantly be created, is the elemental play ontologically fundamental to being human and integral to the movement of thinking inherent within curriculum as complicated conversation. This book delves into the texture undergirding this clue, exploring how aesthetic play caringly connects self and world and how such reflexive engagement becomes continuous and varied, forming the curricular matter that very much matters. Philosophers for centuries, from across varied cultures and traditions, have turned to aesthetic experience manifested in and through art forms as means to
give expression to and interrogate the play or encounter between self and other (e.g., Bakhtin, 1919; Bourriaud, 1998; Crowther, 1993; Dewey, 1934; Gadamer, 2000; Garrison, 1997; Greene, 1995; Hegel, 1835; Kant, 1790; Merleau-Ponty, 1964; Schiller, 1795; Winston, 2010). The location, purpose, and lived world of the knowing subject are addressed from multiple perspectives, but all value the arts for their capacities to reveal the “in-between” reciprocal space of self and other. Davey (2006) explains how art “works the [in-between] space,” stating:
By bringing to mind what is in effect a transcendent totality of meaning, the artwork reveals . . . the particularity of its rendition of its subject matter and reveals accordingly that its response is one of many other possible responses. The successful work commands the space that it opens, carefully refining the space between reference and rendition. It is in its ability to disclose and maintain this tension that the dialogical capacity of a work resides.