Please note: there was considerable interest from the Whitechapel Gallery in the fact of our Radical Education Group and they were hopeful that we would stay in contact and form links. Let’s – who’s keen to be involved?
Vicky Carmichael is Curator of Schools and Learning at Whitechapel – firstname.lastname@example.org is the person to contact.
Annette Krauss is based at Utrecht and a publication about her work is available from CASCO Office of Art and Design, Utrecht.
I went to a talk given by Annette Krauss at the Whitechapel Gallery. The topic was the project she has been involved in with two schools in London on the subject of the hidden curriculum. Here’s a link that explains that Annette Krauss is the artist-in-residence at the Whitechapel Gallery and that she has a particular interest, as a conceptual artist, in the intersection of art, politics and everyday life.
“Krauss engages students and teachers of St. Paul’s Way Trust, Tower Hamlets and Cumberland School, Newham with her ongoing project Hidden Curriculum. This project investigates forms of learning in school outside the official curriculum, and the informal ways in which secondary school students learn from one another. Together with the students Krauss aims to find possibilities to address informal knowledge, unrecognized and undesired learning in the context of institutionalised normalization processes. These specific interests inform an investigation into the schools and the Whitechapel Gallery itself. ”In the video in the link, students who have previously discussed their unofficial knowledge about how to run through the corridors of their school without being recognised – and then retitled this process as Undercover Studies, as more fitting to their age (Y10) – then filmed the ways in which they negotiate the spaces of the Whitechapel Gallery, discovering their invisibility to some of the other users of the gallery, and their transgressive appearance (not shown) to some of the guardians of the galleries. What was particularly interesting to me was the playfulness of their film e.g. when two students rose slowly from behind a table of books in the book shop, hiding their faces behind open books, lowering these partially to show their eyes, turning their heads to the right and then to the left, and then, still with the books concealing their faces, sidled off camera. This wasn’t meant to be in italics, by the way, but I don’t know yet how to turn it off, having turned it on by accident.
Work with the students tended to begin with the naming process – i.e. an exploration of what the words ‘hidden curriculum’ might mean to the students. (Krauss herself offered us a broad but admittedly ‘working’ definition as ‘everything you can learn outside the ‘intended’? curriculum’.) Were there ways in which students wanted to rename, or appropriate the term in ways that were meaningful to them? Different groups took up different ways of thinking about this, and one group came to the conclusion that they wanted to understand it as ‘Undercover Studies’. From this, themes like ‘MISSING LESSON’ emerged, and one product of the students’ discussions and learning from each other was a collective act that Annette called ‘the poetry of excuses’, in which students shared and then compiled a poem that drew their statements together. Annette suggested that in the process, students articulated to each other how they negotiated the requirements of the formal curriculum, and emphasised that as important as the filming and photography that the students were involved in was the discursive aspect to the project, in which students had to explain to other students ‘what they are after’ – that is, ‘what are we doing when we go along the corridors?’ In this process, students tell each other, explain, describe, conceptualise their understandings of the hidden curriculum. These exchanges – which also engaged the students in articulating their understanding of ‘the forbidden’ – revealed, not surprisingly, cultural, social and political differences – between groups in different schools, and across different national education systems – Annette has also run this project in Germany and Holland. Students in one group used short performative video sequences to represent the forbidden, and also further categorised this concept into ‘public’ and ‘private’. Annette, who, throughout the talk, included her own experiencing of the process, said she thought that nothing would be categorised as ‘public’ and was surprised to find her expectations overturned. Further discussion with the students also raised questions about how one can talk about secrets without revealing them.
For me, the negotiation of ‘hidden’, ‘secret’ and ‘private’ was of particular interest, and seemed to crop up at various points in the talk and discussion. From my psychoanalytic perspective, the re-negotiation of what is public and private to the adolescent’s subjectivity, is of great significance in their development, and it was interesting to think about how these students were engaged in sharing their private knowledge with Annette and with an unknown public, as well as performing/enacting various aspects of their knowledge in the public domain of the school, with friends and other students, teachers and other workers in the school environment around them. An example that came from the very interesting and lively group of school teachers who made up the audience (of about 12 of us) was from an Art Teacher who had recently become a Head of Year. She discussed the drawing of penises, and about how these are made semi-public by the persons drawing them, or by the teacher revealing them to others. She commented too on her own artistic reaction – that’s not how you draw a penis; that’s a good one; etc – to the quality of the visual representation. Again, for me, I was interested in the transgressive nature of drawing penises – about wanting to make some kind of public visible representation of the forbidden, to whom, and what for…
Annette explained that editing was done on the film away from the school but that students saw each edited version and that the editors took their instruction from the students’ views about changes. This included having to edit out bits of the data that Krauss herself would have liked to have kept in. The process was monthly i.e. Annette returned to the school with the edited version once a month, took back to the editing team the instructions of the students, and returned a month later with the newly edited version. The version we saw had already been through four repeats of this process.
Another aspect of Hidden Curriculum that was explored by the Y11 group was ROUTINES. In this project, the group examined the taken for grantedness of the routines of the school by exploring changes to them. One example was how students walk down the stairs – and the video material showed students finding alternative ways to traverse the stairs. The significance lies both in the visual performative representation of challenges to how the space is used and why, and in the discursive explanations to each other about these. Another video example of students exploring the ways in which they negotiate the corridors was ASTRONAUT WALK, in which students playfully represented themselves ‘walking in space’ by lying on the floor and moving along, but inverting the camera angle to look as if they are moving through space.
In the photograph of ROCKING CHAIRS, students explored their informal knowledge of ‘rocking on your chair’, something that is mostly forbidden by teachers. The photograph showed a composite of various students in various poses on destabilised chairs, but significantly, in an interlocking arrangement that meant that all the students depended on all the others for the composition to be stable. As Annette said, not only was the photograph the students’ commentary on the concept of ‘rocking chairs’ but also drew the students into a discussion about trust and how they dealt with comments like ‘I’ll fall over’ from other students.
In the video, BACKWARDS, students walked backwards through the corridors to destabilise the implicit ‘rule’ of school: “walk forwards”. They also, on their visit to Whitechapel, got on the bus backwards, and negotiated the busy thoroughfare of Whitechapel Street and into the gallery.
One interesting comment by Annette concerning her own role was the different ways in which the students related to her in school and in the gallery. In the familiar environment of the school, she felt they were very much in charge, and that they were confident and directive towards her about what they knew and what they wanted to do. In the gallery, she was surprised to find them wanting, in her words, ‘to hold her hand’. For,me, this was a touching illustration of the adolescents’ plight (although by no means confined to adolescents!) in inhabiting in a new way the worlds of dependency and autonomy.
In fact, I found the question of who Annette was for the students of particular interest. Krauss had been a teacher and she admitted that she found herself feeling like a teacher when working in the school with students. I was interested that this didn’t lead to a discussion about how the students themselves might be positioning her that way too. But perhaps artists don’t talk in the smooth and sometimes rather over-rehearsed way we academics do about this topic. Nevertheless, I admired the ways that she had found to work with students that allowed them to know what they knew, if I can put it that way – and to represent it visually and discursively. Making and discussing the video seemed to have two important functions, neither subordinate to the other – the production of a visual representation of knowledge in itself; and, separately, the verbalisations that accompanied the process of making, editing and reflecting on it. Annette was interested too in the similarities and differences that students experienced in the school and gallery spaces. Here, she collected audio discussions, rather than visuals. Students were asked to walk round the gallery and, if they spotted something that reminded them of school, to audio-record their comments about it. The final artefact was a kind of unusual audio guide to the gallery, that drew the listener’s attention to particular aspects of the gallery in terms of their reference to an elsewhere, either because of similarity or difference.
In the discussion, I commented on Annette’s perception of her ‘difference’ for the students in different locations and hoped that this would entice her into discussing this further, in terms of the students’ sense of the project and what might be said or not said, allowed or disallowed, in representing and sharing their knowledge in the particular contexts and relationships in which this was being sought. Unfortunately, it got rather tangled up in a discussion of health and safety, as in whether the students were to be ‘supervised’ and in how boundaries were kept about what students were ‘allowed’ to do – by whom, for example. I felt that my question got turned into a policing question – were the students safe? Did they want to do dangerous things physically? – to which Annette felt obliged to give reassurances. However, the discussion about boundaries was interesting. For example, the cultural differences in supervision of students in Germany and Holland. Annette, herself German, explained this in terms of Germany’s reliance on a psychological concept of abstract knowledge, which she said led to a teacher-led mode of supervision until students were quite advanced in age. She quoted a German expression that says ‘Teachers always have one foot in the prison”! By contrast, the Dutch were much more relaxed about whether students needed supervision or not.
THE MATHEMATICISATION OF SOCIETY: A new project
Annette with others also has a project on the mathematicisation of society. That is, the perception that things are being made more mathematical than previously. By this, she seems to be saying that we are living in a society where the processes of quantification are becoming increasingly dominant. She included in her analysis of this the increasingly formalised ways in which we experience social, political and economic processes. I found myself waiting for further clarification as these seemed rather sweeping comments. I did find the way in which her seminar pursued this – in Utrecht – rather interesting though. They formed a reading group who decided to read Maths textbooks, starting with the ones they had used themselves as children, and focussing on what do artists see when they read maths text books, the politics of text and image. They asked themselves what do images in maths textbooks do, and how can one approach the visuality of numbers. She found – unsurprisingly – issues of race and gender, in the texts and images of the mathematics textbooks she read but – surprising to me – said that German textbooks were rather behind the times compared to what I think of as a topic that has been seriously addressed in the UK. I felt I might be missing some more subtle argument around visuality of number though. One interesting illustration of the politics and economics of mathematic textbook images was of two ‘real world’ representations of geometry, that used the emblems for BMW and Mercedes Benz cars. Krauss said that these were present in the textbooks she had used as a student and were still present in modern textbooks, indeed 75% of car images were of BMW and Mercedes Benz ! Another contributor to the discussion objected, however, to the mathematicisation of the study – why were they simply counting stuff!
Note: at our last discussion, we were feeling in complimentary mood about quantification in research and policy and its empowering capabilities.
- Please also note that Annette is interested in hearing from any of us who might be interested in pursuing this project and who would like to join the seminar group meeting on 18 July. This will be in collaboration with The Showroom http://www.theshowroom.org
- It will involve a Number Walk, noticing number and what sense we make of it in our environment, and its social, political and economic significations. In the evening seminar at Whitechapel, a discussion will be led by Annette and her colleague from Kings, London, who is a professor critical mathematics and a co-author of the mathematicisation project.
It was a real pleasure to be in this group of mainly art teachers. There’s something slightly anarchic about art teachers that I always like and these particular ones were thoughtful and clever and spoke with real warmth about their work and their students. They didn’t even mind that I was the only non-practising teacher among them. One group, including Henry Ward, Deputy Head (and art teacher) came from Welling School in Bexley, where the art department has a very high reputation. They have also produced at least 2 editions of an art paper called ae (Art Education).
The discussion group raised the following issues:
Gatekeeping processes and “Do we get credits for that?”
How did Annette gain access to the schools; how did she negotiate space/time in the school. How did Annette persuade the school that an Art project was not silly and pointless. She said it was important that a project on the ‘hidden curriculum’ should not be an ‘after-school’ activity but was rather vague – due to time limits – on exactly how this was negotiated. I think being artist-in-residence, and with the backing of the Whitechapel Gallery, probably helped! She also commented that the problem of the irrelevance of art arose within the groups – “What we are doing is just a JOKE.” But that this was a useful way for the group to think about the relationship of the project and the hidden curriculum to the school . If it remained a joke, Annette said the project would be counted a failure.
However, there was mention of students being ‘taken out of lessons’ and split classes, or on a Wednesday “Enrichment Time” – and Annette did say that entry and acceptance of the project did take a lot of negotiation. However, she also commented that negotiating the acceptance of the project was also useful in that it could lead to discussions about hierarchy in the school, as when the students had to see the headteacher twice to explain what they were doing.
I wanted to ask how far the school was interested in or was involved in the project, but didn’t. I was curious though about whether teachers approached students or researchers out of curiosity, whether the researchers talked to the school as a whole, how teachers’ objections – “could you make less noise please?” – were dealt with, etc. But I was anxious not to seem – after my previous question – to be asking procedural, behaviour management questions so I kept quiet.
Students initially explored the nature of the project they were being invited to participate in by asking if the project would form part of their formal curriculum. In one school participation in the project did go towards their coursework. Hence the question: Do we get credits for that?
Authorship and Originality
Teachers were interested in how far the students felt authorship for the work, given that they were often stimulated by seeing others’ versions of the work, and saw themselves as ‘taking’ things that they could try out. Students were impatient to get on and do things but they got their ideas from previous workshops, often asking “are we allowed to do this?”
Annette commented that in the project, the schools were named and she wondered if students should also be named. After each video clip, she had thought to add the students’ names in credits. She also pointed out that students exercised their right to take back information – to have it removed from the video material but that, rather more common, was that students would get bored by the process and would ask Annette to decide. In the dilemma of trying to remotivate them or follow their wish, Annette did sometimes decide for them. I am assuming this is about editorial decisions about the video.
Wider contextsOne teacher wanted to know how far the students hhad a sense of the wider project – were they aware of the wider parameters – geographically – of the project? Annette commented that some groups – in Germany or Holland – had said that they’d like to meet up with other groups for a follow-up, but when the time came, there wasn’t any interest. But in fact, in the London project, there is to be a joint presentation by the two schools where they will present their work to each other, and to a public audience at Whitechapel Gallery – 17 July. This will be followed by the final exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery of the project in September 2013.
Location There was interest in the effects on the students of the different environments of school and gallery. Annette commented that she had noticed that there was a different energy about the project when the students were in the gallery, and she wanted to capture this. She had not recorded the discussions and reflections before so she set up a rather formalised/performative event in which students made comments about this. She felt it was rather ‘staged’ though. She commented that students generally tended to be impatient with the reflective process: “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s just do it.”
She did comment however that the Y10 group had reflected that, in presenting their work to a wider public, they wanted to take on her function – that, just as she had encouraged them to think about what ‘hidden curriculum’ meant to them, they wanted to take on her role and do this with the public audience.
Younger students Some teachers were interested in what the differences would be if the project were undertaken with younger students. In fact, some of the students involved in using their bodies as measuring devices around the school (part of the mathematicisation project) were Year 8. In general, Annette said younger students were less inclined to reflection and tended to want to explore everything through enactment but that they were more open, therefore, to doing things.
ReflectionAnnette commented at one point that students didn’t actually want to discuss images, but they did want to use cameras and perform/enact, and so organising the project around that process provided a setting in which the discursive part of the project was facilitated. She commented on the different age levels at which students were encouraged to talk about social and political issues. Again, Germany tended to do this later rather than earlier (on the basis of capacity for abstract thought), in contrast to Holland where discussions on these issues begins at 8 years old.
Hidden people and spaces.There was interest in the idea of extending the idea of the hidden curriculum: the hidden spaces in the school was one aspect. Annette had explored with students the question of what they would like to do in a school that they couldn’t do. Students showed considerable interest in knowing what went on in spaces within the school where they could not go e.g. boiler room, staff room. This extended to their excitement around the idea of wanting to stay overnight in the school, much to the surprise of adults who assumed students couldn’t wait to get away from it. One teacher commented that they had managed to raise a lot of money by raffling permission to camp in the school grounds. In Holland, the fantasy was to be able to cycle inside the school, which says something perhaps about a national obsession with biking.
Another dimension to this was comment about the spaces people found for themselves when they wanted some peace and quiet – especially teachers who found these spaces for themselves. And this led to strong interest in a project about the hidden curriculum for teachers – the ways they had of managing routines; what they learned that was not part of the intended ‘curriculum’ of ‘how we do things’. This was where the penis discussion occurred as the teacher recounted how different teachers reacted to penis drawings.
An important dimension to the topic was the idea of hidden people. What did we mean when we said the school was ’empty’ – maintenance workers, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, secretaries. What were their hidden curricula?
Teachers’ own activities Teachers described activities they had undertaken that related to exploring the hidden curriculum: –
- Leftovers: one teacher described how he has made an archive of all the notes that students wrote and left in the classroom. Fuck Jade and her mother on a tiny piece of paper fascinated him in terms of the carefulness with which the message had to be executed on such a small piece of paper. Annette was initially not very encouraging about this project but she warmed to it and when I left she was in discussions.
- Backstage: teacher took students on tours of parts of the school they did not know about.
- Follow the Leader. Students had to take the group to a place in the school that had significance for them and explain its significance, give a narrative of it.
- Marks of interest Students photographed marks on the wall and, on video, told the story of how the mark came to be there. That was where me and him had a fight, and that’s the mark his bag made when it scraped along the wall. A formative experience in a simple mark on the wall.