Monday, 3 July 2017

How an Opera reminded me of the importance of the small gestures in Gender Equality

On Saturday night I went to see Olivia Fuch's production of the opera Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss.

To be honest I've never been a fan of Opera.  I like it but haven't loved it, as I love the theatre.  I can count on both my hands the number of times I've been to the Opera.

All this has now have changed.

Why?  Because I saw an opera directed by a woman and her version of the story spoke directly to me - like none of the others.

Der Rosenkavalier is about an Marschellin around her 40s who has a young lover, Octavian.  She realises her young lover will leave her and rather than wait for that time, she encourages him to leave and find new love.  Meanwhile a hideous buffoon and noble called, Baron Ochs is planning on marrying a young girl to secure her money and rid her of her virginity.

The small things spoke the loudest
During the production I kept on checking myself. There were small changes in the way I'm used to seeing things in this medium.  In the world of unconscious bias and gender equality they're called micro-inequities.

These small details are the  subtle ways men put down women with a condescending tone, a patronising patting gesture  or the way they give credit to a man over you.  If you're watching the Handmaid's Tale on Channel 4 - it's the subtle change of Ralph Fiennes character from (almost) loving equal with his wife to controlling superiority in Gilead.

These small details in the Opera were different in this production - the defiance of Sophie (the young girl) was not a churlish childish defiance but a strong, determined defiance.  The way the chorus run away from the leching advances of Ochs's men - was not giggly and fun, it was menacing and frightening.  Octavian who goes on to outwit Baron Ochs, is portrayed as a feminist who respects women, not wins them.

The imagery was powerful
Olivia used the presence of an older woman with such beauty.  It really touched me.  I realised that we, as women, can hold that older woman, that mother in our sights as we age.  We see how they lived their life and if we have lost them, how they died and we compare our selves to them. It also had the power of another technique used in facilitation "Imagine you are 80".  This is when you ask the delegates, if you were 80 what would you tell your present self. It can be a very powerful exercise.  Seeing our life from the end can help us make braver choices now.

We were shown time is passing with sand falling from the flies, as if an hourglass was always reminding us of our time.   As Dylan Thomas said in his beautiful poem, UnderMilk Wood "Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes."  This production helped us tune in and listen.

The hourglass dripping time away one grain of sand or one moment in time after another, reminds us of our time left and if we listen closely enough we can learn to be brave.  Rebecca Evan's Marschallin showed us a woman that was powerful, compassionate and brave. She also gave us the complex subtleties of the role not the cardboard cutout version of that type of character I've seen so many times before.  

The hourglass, the mother and the leader.
I'm left with a feeling.  The hourglass of time is ticking and we need to be brave as women.  We need to be willing to speak out the truth of how we see the world.  We need to have more female leaders changing these small micro inequities.  We need to be brave and lead as women, with all the subtleties and complexities we have.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A guest Blog by Fred Garnet: Purpose of Education and Learning: Wealth or Wisdom?

Tomorrow at BeBright Projects we are starting an "Open Space" discussion on What is the Purpose of Education: Wealth and Wisdom.  BeBright Projects is two businesses at the moment, a nursery for 6 months to 5 year olds and a Training Centre for adults, parents, entrepreneurs, businesses and Learning professionals. It is a new collaborative venture between Kate Faragher and Cher Walker Moore.

Fred Garnet is visiting research fellow at London Knowledge Lab and City University. As he says himself he "now work "liminally" on any project that will help create a socially-just participatory democracy". 

He certainly knows about education and has written this blog which are his ideas about the discussion title: What is the Purpose of Education and Learning: Wealth or Wisdom.  Here are his views:

Purpose of education and learning; wealth or wisdom

I regard education as a *system* designed by policy-makers and owned by academics.

Learning however is what each individual comes to understand about the world when they address it in whatever context they are in, formal, non-formal or informal. Mostly learning takes place despite the disciplines of education, and often takes place in failing to follow it's structures. Consequently one of my mottos is "learning is owned by the learner" and we should respect that (see "Trust the Learner" for more).

LINK to "Trust the Learner"


I learned most about learning and education when I arrived at Lewisham College to teach computing in 1982 having been kicked off a PhD in political science at a rich American University; a drastic transition from near the top of the pile to near the bottom, or so it might seem.

I quickly learnt that everyone wants to learn, especially in colleges which we call "post-compulsory education" but may not have the "literacies" required to understand the extraordinarily odd educational settings that we provide for learning; formal, hierarchical, authoritarian, rigid, inflexible and power-based - all captured in how we structure "our" knowledge in our subject taxonomies.
After learning the craft of teaching as a lecturer (which teachers in the main do not) I realised that what I needed to do to be effective, and useful, as a teacher, was to act as a "broker" between a daft education system, which I vaguely understood due to my "success" within its confines, and "my" learners aspirations and, more precisely, their interests. In FE, unlike the more obsessively monitored confines of our National Curriculum school system, I could operate "androgogically" and negotiate learning outcomes with each individual. Not only this but I made it my personal mission to teach my kids how to think. You can't teach wisdom but you can enable people to find their own way in the world with thinking tools of their own. This exercise in mutual respect, once I was trusted (which really had to be earned in Lewisham) meant we both benefited. They became empowered to deal with the world as *they* saw it, and I felt purposeful because I had made a difference to ordinary people. And that can be the only purpose of working in our appalling education system; trying to make learning happen. Not to better understand the taxonomies underpinning academic structures, not to learn the valueless greed of capitalism, nor to try and offer shortcuts to the worlds wisdom, but to provide the people you are with, however they are labelled, with a belief in themselves and some ways of thinking that can enable them to engage with the world for themselves.

In my view our singular Education system creates "losers" and then blames them for their inability to behave in the predetermined academic manner, whereas no-one loses out when they are learning.  Learners are people who have leaned how to think for themselves and can solve new problems that arise in the world, which is a kind of wisdom in the now. They are not interested in the false dichotomy of wealth or wisdom, nor in stealing shortcuts to them; that would only impoverish others... Perhaps a better form of wealth lies in not making others poor?

If you trust the diversity of people they will figure things out for themselves, and so for all of us.