Becoming Somebody Different- Drama in Education Conference
An Initial Response
Recently I was fortunate enough to visit colleagues in Budapest where we were beginning to discuss an application to Erasmus+. This EU funded project, in collaboration with colleagues from Greece, Italy, Ireland and Hungary, is going to explore the role of drama in creating democratic spaces for meaning-making and how we engage people from diverse backgrounds. It was a harmonious meeting coupled with lively debate. It was clear that we all valued the role of drama and its importance for young people in education; whether that be through giving them a voice or by using drama to engage. Following my return, the country was changed by the referendum result. Suddenly, I was aware that I had become somebody different. This sense of ‘becoming’ is constant.
What words can be used to describe the impact of Brexit? What is the future for us as drama practitioners as we become somebody different?
The practical reality of the Brexit decision is likely to be messy and the words that seem right to describe the difference made are “disruptive” and “uncertain”. We are in a kind of limbo while the politicians take a step back from the blustering of recent months and start to work out what kind of a deal can be cut. The country, our schools and ‘we’ are becoming different.
Added to this, the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey and Iraq, and the rise of racial hate crime in the UK, the need for young people to have democratic spaces to understand, explore, challenge and test what it means to live in the world in a meaningful way, are important. If we consider Neeland’s call for a humanising curriculum and his assertion, that debates over curriculum have long been a distraction from the more important issue of what drama does for students, then this too is essential.
The title of the conference- becoming somebody different- was borne out of a realisation that values change practice and that practice changes our values. This is demonstrative of drama’s slithery nature; what is it? What is it for? Why are we doing what we are? What do we hope to achieve? Why is it important?
What is recognised is that by imagining and reasoning ‘as if’ and as an ‘other’ understandings of different contexts and peoples are created. Thus we can see, feel and imagine who we might become or indeed, who we might want to become.
Today we heard about the different areas of research from our MTL colleagues and this gave us much to consider. I hope that it could re-focus our thinking in terms of the meaning and purpose of our practice in school contexts. Additionally, it was interesting to re-consider our collective attempts at making sense of our practice in light of the recent DfE white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere and the intended plans to academise all schools by 2020 and the continued enforcement of the ‘importance’ of EBacc subjects, although I suspect that a lot of this will be put on hold following recent developments.
However, given the current debates surrounding secondary education in the UK, which has seen an increase in testing, ever narrowing curricula through the rise of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and Progress 8 and a greater focus on measurable outcomes, DiE is also becoming something different. Consequently, “the most commonly withdrawn subjects” from UK schools in light of the EBacc “are drama and performing arts, which had been dropped in nearly a quarter of schools” (Greevy et al 2013:36). Being mindful of some of these current debates and controversies in the UK’s secondary educational system elevates the importance of a meeting such as this.
Human experience is endowed with meaning and the moral and ethical choices we face by living in an uncertain and changing world can be explored through drama. Perhaps our practice is all about becoming somebody different. It seems that the world is on the edge of something yet un-imagined and that humanity is forgetting to remember itself. One way to remember what it is to be human in this time of crisis and to explore what the world means, is to “turn to art” for a “necessary response” (Neelands 2010:121). However, if we turn to art we must consider its place in education and the challenges that it faces in existing in that structure.
Ultimately, the fact that we were all present today, aside from the pastries, means that we are confident in our ability to change things.
More notes from the content of our discussions to follow…