How can higher education contribute to tackling today’s complex challenges?
In this wide-ranging book, Anke Schwittay argues that, in order to inspire and equip students to generate better responses to global challenges, we need a pedagogy that develops their imagination, creativity, emotional sensibilities and practical capabilities.
Schwittay proposes a critical-creative pedagogy that incorporates design-based activities, experiential teaching, serious play and future-oriented practices. Crucially, she demonstrates the importance of moving beyond analysing limitations to working towards alternatives for more equitable, just and sustainable futures.
Presenting concrete ideas for the reimagination of higher education, this book is an essential read for both educators and students in any field studying global challenges.
It’s day two of the Decolonial Pedagogies conference at Sussex, and 15 people sit on the floor of a large, light-filled room, waiting for the start of a body-mapping workshop. The conference handbook describes body mapping as ‘a flexible and creative tool to explore our inner worlds [that] can be used as a visual dialogue with ourselves to unpack facets of our experiences and as a way to communicate these to others’. The workshop facilitator begins by briefly tracing the origins of body mapping in social activism and shows some of the powerful body maps that have been created by artist-activists in a variety of contexts. Explaining that today’s session will focus on participants’ relationships with power, she asks them to reflect on questions such as: Who has power over us? What do we have power for? Who do we have power with? Rather than discussing these different dimensions on a theoretical level, participants explore how they connect with different parts of their bodies. They begin by tracing the outlines of their bodies on large sheets of paper and then set about filling these with colours, patterns, slogans and images. Their creative practice is guided by the facilitator’s prompts: How are your feet grounding and situating you? What and who do you hold dear and treasure close to your hearts? With whom do your fingers connect you for support? The smell of paint, glue and other crafty materials suffuses the room, against a backdrop of music and the hum of low conversations as the facilitator moves around to talk to each participant. An atmosphere of concentrated yet animated making soon takes over as everybody works on creating their unique body maps.
I grew up in a small town in former East Germany, located about 20 km from Weimar. A historical home to thinkers and artists such as Johan Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche and Rudolf Steiner, Weimar was also where the Bauhaus was founded. This design school opened its doors here a little over 100 years ago, as a radical experiment in arts and design education. Walter Gropius, its first Director, had chosen the name Bauhaus in a modern reference to the medieval guilds of craftspeople, called Bauhütten, and a combination of theoretical studio work, practical workshop application and communal living became the school’s signature characteristic. Its vision was of ‘an open, experimental structure to give students a wide-ranging character-building education’ (Friedewald, 2009, p 35). This vision was shaped by Gropius’ experiences on the Somme during the First World War, from which he emerged believing in radical social reform in which creative people played a central role. The Bauhaus attracted some of the most avant garde artists of the time, from Paul Klee to Vassili Kandinsky, Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Lionel Feininger. A Swiss educator called Johannes Itten developed the Vorkurs, the precursor of today’s arts and design schools’ foundation year, which focused on the development of students’ creative capabilities through cultivating their minds, bodies and souls.
On 2 November 2011 about 70 students walked out of Economics 10, Harvard University’s introductory economics class taught by Gregory Mankiw. The students, who were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement that had begun in New York’s Zucotti Park two months earlier, published their reasons for the walk-out in an open letter to Mankiw. They wrote that: ‘since the biased nature of Economics 10 contributes to and symbolizes the increasing economic inequality in America, we are walking out of your class today both to protest your inadequate discussion of basic economic theory and to lend our support to a movement that is changing American discourse on economic injustice’.1 The letter went on to question Mankiw’s class for its teaching of conservative economic theories and for an overreliance on his own macroeconomic textbook. Principles of Economics has sold over one million copies since its first publication in 1997; according to the Open Syllabus Project, Mankiw is the most frequently cited author on college economics course syllabi. He is therefore an authoritative source for many economics students, some of whom are beginning to question his teachings and the orthodox economics they underpin.
I have joined a group of final year undergraduate students taking a module about climate change and development; we are waiting expectantly to play an educational game called Sendai that has been designed by some of their classmates around the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction that the students have studied in class.1 When the game starts, students split into three groups representing Japan, Mexico or Myanmar and their first task is to answer a series of questions about their respective countries to show their knowledge. The Japan team has the least amount of questions, reflecting the country’s better-resourced and disaster-prepared state, and therefore finishes way ahead of the other groups. In the next task, the students use chairs to move across the room without touching the floor. Laughter and shouts fill the classroom as they lift, pull and push each other, in an experiential approximation of collaboration to strengthen disaster-risk governance, which is a central pillar of the Sendai Framework. Once again, Japan has the advantage by being able to use four chairs between the five players, while the Myanmar team has only two. This makes getting to the other side of the room impossible, and so the players have to ask Japan for help; it gives them two chairs but only in return for one of the resource cards each group was given at the beginning of the game. This shows Japan’s heavy involvement in development aid, especially for other Asian countries, but also the fact that aid always comes with strings attached.
It’s a wintry day in February 2020 and I am attending a teach-out on unruly politics organized as part of the ongoing faculty strike at Sussex University. In contrast to the grey weather outside, the atmosphere in the room in the student union building, where about 50 people are sitting in a large circle and chatting, is warm and animated. After a brief introduction of teach-outs as disruptive educational spaces, a colleague from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)1 explains that unruly politics are recent forms of direct political engagement that are located outside formal political and institutional structures.2 They often involve collective prefigurative actions that enact in the here and now changes that people want to make happen. He also talks about the contradictions of research and writing on unruly politics being a site of resistance, one that is located within the academic (and in the case of IDS, development) machinery. This is an ambivalent location with which I can identify. We then turn to our neighbours to discuss our own involvement in collective action, and share these experiences with the larger group, which mainly consists of students. They talk about their participation in movements such as the #Yosoy132 student protests in Mexico against unfair election coverage and for freedom of expression; participation in Occupy and Extinction Rebellion protests; the 2015 referendum in Colombia on the peace agreements; and fighting gentrification in East London. The speakers explain how most of these experiences have made them more committed to the various causes and changed their perceptions of authority.
Capstones are prominent bricks laid on top of built structures or the outside walls of buildings for everyone to see. They are manifestations of completed work that showcase to the world the culmination of a project. Over the last decade, the term has been adopted for educational use; capstone projects are final projects undertaken by more and more university students in their last year of study.1 Drawing together many different elements of learning, they are the crowning accomplishments of students’ learning journeys. They are also catalysts that launch students into their lives after university and therefore often linked to the employability agenda I critiqued in the previous chapter. However, from a generative theory perspective, capstones can open up spaces for students to imagine and work towards radical alternatives to current challenges.
I therefore see capstones as a fitting end to my book on critical-creative pedagogy, especially as their spelling encapsulates the main elements of this pedagogy – creative, analytical, practical – CAPstones.2 By presenting the conclusion to Creative Universities as a series of experimental capstone projects, as prototypes of potential future uses of critical-creative pedagogy, I also shift from imagining in steps to dreaming in leaps.
In 2010, as a faculty member at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Auckland, I was teaching a course on microfinance to a group of postgraduate students from New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific. One afternoon, one of the most engaged students in the class came to my office hours and asked me, in a tone somewhere between anger and resignation, whether there was any hope left for development. Was microfinance, a popular and widely celebrated development intervention that she had until now regarded very positively,1 really just another in a long line of programmes that was not working? And, if so, was there anything that was actually helping marginalized people? And what did these doubts mean for her own plans to work in development upon graduation? The student was right. Based on my own research into microfinance I was highly critical of the practice and conveyed that to my students, obviously to great effect. The student’s questions did not bring me satisfaction or pride in my successful teaching but, rather, a sense of discomfort and unease. Especially because this was not the first time that I had heard such comments. Like many of the University of Sussex students whom I interviewed for this book eight years later, this particular student had “hit the wall”2 and was feeling “defeated” by what she was learning.