Tuning the Ear to the Displaced Child


November 2016

For the past few years, Drama PGCE students at Birmingham City University have been working for a day with Big Brum, using their current TIE programme as a starting point for exploring professional questions about inclusion, transition and diversity.

Central to this has been a text from the SCYPT Journal (ICTIE Conference, Amman, Jordan, August 2000), which considers all children as a displaced people – and how actor teachers and drama educators can respond to this.

The following is extracted from that text. We offer it as a stimulus to your thinking and practice, and invite your reflections and comments.

Tuning the Ear to the Displaced Child

 If the fictional world is a rich one and accurately reflects the complexity of the individual, social, political and economic relationships we negotiate in our daily lives then it follows that:

The actor teacher, in signing response, questioning and discussion in the course of the exploration for meaning, has to listen from the standpoint of complete immersion in the complexity of those relationships.

In signing response, questioning and discussion with the children, listen from the standpoint of owning a pre-determined meaning. If the actor teacher has pre-determined the meaning, then the complexity of relationships between phenomena will be reduced and the child’s exploration will become formal and arid.

 If the meaning of the exploration is pre-determined then the actor teachers will simply facilitate a structure and fail to facilitate the actual process of learning that is potential.

The actor teacher then must be sensuously brim-full of the social, economic, political, individual-psychological environment of the fictional world. For now, in historical terms and in terms of future development. To be truly attuned, then, the actor teacher needs to know / must strive to know themselves as natural, historical, social and creative beings; be unsceptical that this is also true for the child, confident that in listening to the child the question / concerns emerging out of the practice of the drama will become apparent. Listening with every sense at two levels:

  1. What is being observed, commented upon, challenged at the particular level?


  1. What does this reveal, as an avenue for interconnecting the web of meaning available within the fictional representation of our human cultural reality.

This identifying, resonating, reflecting back, developing, connecting of the sense perceptions of the children is the process of accumulating meaning. Determining now, newly, in this moment, the new knowledge that is coming into being.

In formal education in British schools today children are in a very real sense a displaced people. Through the curriculum and the increasing privatisation of education, they are denied access to their historical sense of self and community in the most aggressive manner. The process of education is no longer recognised as the art of living freely in the world as social historical beings.

In TIE, making the world tangible for considered exploration, reflection and abstraction; with the actor teacher listening for the interconnectedness of the particular to the general conditions informing the event, we can replace children in a powerfull sense of self, social and historical continuity.


6 thoughts on “Tuning the Ear to the Displaced Child

  1. Are drama teachers displaced also? Are they denied a historical sense of self and community through the sanitisation of their profession and practice? Are they at risk of being caught between the idealistic, humanistic and liberal intentions of drama in education and the pro-technical, skills based, measurable outcome driven education valued by some in senior leadership?

    I am finding from my experiences and research that as a result of drama’s slithery nature and its contested purpose as a pedagogy, there is a creative challenge for drama teachers. This is particularly heightened for those who are new to the profession, in that whilst this situation (drama’s purpose in education) is confusing, complex, rhizomatic, contradictory and liberating, a lack of experience, coupled with intensified risk averse surveillance within the field can lead to formulaic and mechanistic teaching, whereby a PGCE or an NQT potentially focuses on ‘performing’ the act of teaching based upon what they will be judged on. This enacted fantasy could lead to PGCEs and NQTs suffering “value schizophrenia” where their commitment, judgement and authenticity in practice are sacrificed for impression and performance; ultimately leading to a displacement between values and practice. How do drama teachers, particularly those new to the profession, manage this challenge and resist a formulaic approach?

    Often I can see this displacement in the tension that my colleagues feel between valuing what is assessed and assessing what is valued. It is relatively easy for me (in my ‘ivory tower’- as helpfully identified by Gove (2014)) to make judgements and recommendation about what could be done through drama in schools, but I understand that drama teachers probably do not share this ease and are faced with a displaced rationale on a daily basis. Arguably, this is changing what it means to be a teacher? Drama teachers are at risk of being displaced from their art.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In response I’d like to say that I think Drama Teachers are indeed displaced in the education system but more than this is the frightening realisation that Drama, or rather that which drama embraces and strives to evoke; the essence of our humanity has become, and is becoming ever more, displaced in western society. How can we even begin to tackle the issues surrounding the position of Drama in schools, the role of drama teachers and the impotence that I fear is strangling this most valuable of mediums, without also addressing the massive changes that we have seen over the last 10 years?

    Perhaps I am alone in this but I am increasingly fearful of the overwhelming reliance upon technology; ‘the screen’, cyber relationships, data input/data output, tweets, status updates and an unnatural preoccupation with experiencing the world second hand, through a machine. In my opinion, we as Drama teachers are needed most to reflect and remind pupil’s of the visceral world. The screen has become a monstrous barrier between ourselves and the tangible world. It is imitation. It is as alive as a photograph.

    “For the photograph’s immobility is somehow the result of a perverse confusion between two concepts: the Real and the Live: by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolutely superior, somehow eternal value; but by shifting this reality to the past (this-has-been), the photograph suggests that is already dead.” Roland Barthes.

    We will surely continue to be ‘displaced’ until the screens that light up those faces are switched off, our pupil’s are unplugged and there is a conscious reconnection with each other; with our humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think one of the biggest things that has hit me as a trainee teacher since embarking on my PGCE is the amount of times that children and their needs simply aren’t considered during Drama. I entered in to my training with a rather narrow minded vision that I was going to create the next generation of actors and actresses and that pupils would love learning about ‘monologues’ and ‘circles of attention’, because well, why wouldn’t they right? My eyes were soon opened once I realised the near limitless possibilities Drama can have with regards to helping young people discover things about themselves and the world in which they live.

    The idea of placing the child at the centre of the learning is essential in my opinion. I have come to the conclusion that I must try my best throughout my future career to allow the pupils to guide and discover their own learn learning in every element of the classroom environment (within school parameters obviously, even Drama teachers have boundaries sometimes).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The essence of Drama is to allow individuals to speak freely; explore new ideas, concepts and cultures – so as I go forward in my PGCE, I want this idea to form the premise of my teaching practice. To create a safe space for young people to express themselves, and feel comfortable in doing so.

    By placing pupils within the drama, I would hope that individuals could relate to themes, issues and even characters, and think: ‘that’s what I need to do’ or ‘now I know it’s not just me’. By doing this, pupils, and people of all ages, have the ability and potential to see themselves through someone else’s eyes or even to see themselves through someone else’s action. Pupils are given the opportunity to challenge ideas and views, perhaps even their own, and begin to consider how they fit into the bigger picture in society. For me, Drama in Education is absolutely about allowing young people to ‘open a door’, or ‘take someone by the hand’, as a way of finding out who they are and express themselves in a way that they had never even considered. If young people feel protected and safe, may be they’re more likely to be reflective of what they want and aspire to be and do in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can certainly relate to what has been termed ‘value schizophrenia’ and am very aware of it in my day to day teacher training. I’ve not yet figured out how to fuse my values and practice together and therefore feel a great sense of displacement. I’m working on that one!

    Some comments in the blog post really resonate with what I aspire to achieve as a drama teacher. Particularly the practice of truly listening to children. I believe that structuring drama work so that teacher and student are fully absorbed into the fictional life of the story can enable great learning to occur. The teacher then must listen our for comments on a personal and interconnected level, so that children’s voices are valued and utilised in the progression of the story. This enables the story to become ‘our story’ and can restore that ‘sense of self’ that may otherwise be missing. Exploring stories together in this way where voices are heard and contribute to the collaborative process can be an empowering experience for both teacher and student. Maybe this kind of approach would reduce the sense of displacement many feel in school.

    Liked by 1 person

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