As we come to terms with a crisis unfamiliar to any but those who lived through war, the pandemic has been further compounded by the Black Lives Matter protests and mounting awareness of the Climate Emergency. How might one capture this unique moment in time? As we think about the future it might be timely to reflect on the final years of WW2 and the period immediately after it, when horizons and perspectives shifted. Are there lessons to be learnt from that period in history? What role could education play as a means of investing in the future after a time of national trauma? How might that learning inform the way we navigate our way towards an uncertain and potentially perilous future?
The story of the New School film
In 1944 an 'Emergency Training Scheme' for teachers was set up alongside the drafting of the 1944 Education Act planning for post-war recruitment of teachers. Progressive and forward-looking pedagogical ideas were on the rise and the Ministry of Education commissioned the Crown Film Unit to produce a film to highlight these new ideas and assist recruitment. Titled New School, the twenty -minute film was written and directed by Rodney Ackland who, as he set out to produce a finely crafted film, observed that 'teachers needed nerves of steel and the courage of tight rope walking lion tamers’. The film itself heralded a new age of holistic, creative and resilient education. It was emblematic of a drive to heal the trauma of the war and inspire younger generations.
After years of tireless searches, a copy of New School has recently been found and donated to the College archive after many years of it being lost.
One of the most outstanding features of New School is the utopic vision it advocates, whereby the future would be intrinsically linked to creative practices and all children and their educators should embrace numerous art disciplines and traverse gender boundaries.
Navigation in the face of catastrophe
Tightrope Walking is an arts project, which takes its cue from Ackland’s reflection about the heroic skills required of teachers. It will reflect on the ways students, staff and alumni of Homerton College view the times ahead, specifically in light of recent events and current conditions. In the coming months, I will gather impressions and generate conversations relating to this uncertain future. Have we learnt anything important from the pandemic regarding the role and type of education we’d like to see in the future? Which are the ideas and aspirations we have come to value and wish to take forward? How might we nurture resilience and develop critical thinking in relation to the big issues we face?
In order to generate these conversations a series of visual and textual prompts will be sent out to Homerton College students, staff and alumni. This will be done ‘in real life’ as well as via social media. These provocations will reflect on Homerton’s rich pedagogical legacy and the film itself in order to ask questions about the way the past informs and impacts on the future.
Eventually, a new artwork will be produced that draws on this research ad join the College's collection and archive.
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