Worlds of Education

Image: Marco VDM
Image: Marco VDM

From poetic pedagogy to a poetics of pedagogy

published 25 July 2023 updated 25 July 2023
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Pedagogy speaks of children. Poetry is addressed to children – the children we once were. In this alliance of words, it may then be possible to find something still unexplored, or something so simple we have not thought of it. Something that would open new doors or paths by giving children a new way of looking at school.

I’ve often been asked what poetry is for. (…) I’ve thought about it a lot, and now I know: poetry is like a pair of glasses. It's so you can see better.”

Jean-Pierre Simeon

Would using poetry to think about pedagogy be like putting on a pair of glasses to see better? Because it speaks of children and because it is addressed to them, pedagogy should be light, airy, and not too heavy to carry. That is why it must constantly reinvent itself.

Poetry, meanwhile, touches emotions and feelings. It educates children in humanist values – the sublime – and lifts them up. It gives power to words and to speech. It leads them along the path of knowledge by speaking to them in their own language, as youngsters are capable of delicious wordplay. It appeals to their creativity.

Using images and metaphors, pedagogy deliberately takes on a poetic function and is interested in rhythm. The rhythm of children; syllabuses; learning. Everything that gives poems their music – beat, pauses, meter, movement, tempo and cycles – echoes another score played in school, with the pupil. “ Music above all else” Verlaine reminds us in his Art poétique.

School is a garden

“The gardener does not make a plant grow. The job of the gardener is to create optimal conditions.”

Sir Ken Robinson

As teachers in a school in the Reinforced Priority Education system [1], we cowrote a book, L’Ecole est un jardin. L’élève, un être en fleur, which puts forward this approach and explains it. The floral metaphor implicitly offers an innovative approach, with a poetics of pedagogy: the school is a garden; the pupil is a living being in bloom; in the making. Through various experiments, the natural environment – be it real or imagined - is a resource which can be used to renew the relationship with learning and knowledge. This resource is effective, easy to use, immediately available and transposable. It places the environment and its impact at the heart of educational issues.

Our school/garden is rooted in a concept of the environment as mediator. This conception means perceiving all the inflorescences at the heart of syllabuses, and paths to re-create links between disciplines. It also means exploring other ways of reconciling pupils with learning. To use one of the principles of Reggio Emilia pedagogy for early childhood, the environment thus appears as “the third teacher" which, supporting teaching staff, parents and peers, can promote learning and develop pupils' potential. The environment therefore becomes at once an educator and an educational object. Educating through and in the environment means transmitting a unique heritage and sharing values. It also means remotivating pupils by using their immediate environment, working on both integration and the journey to the heart of knowledge. All schools, now more than ever, have their place among the trees. The reverse is also true. In his book, Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future Edgar Morin reminds us of this when he speaks of: “ a civilized Earth, humanity’s common home and garden.” It is a matter of becoming aware and conscious of both their own complex identity and their common identity with all humanity.

Making school resonate

Above all, school is a place for relationships – human connections. Through educational alliances and values like cooperation, solidarity, creativity, trust, and compassion, we can forge links – social bonds that develop and optimize our relationship quotient. This is a pedagogy of resonance, as set out by the German sociologist and philosopher Hartmut Rosa. For him, education is a space for fundamental resonance: “ At school, the relationship with the world is developed in very dense processes of interaction with people and well as with things, inside the classroom, but also in the playground, on the way to school, on school trips, and so on.” It is also part of a poetic relationship with the world. This is when the teacher uses resources with resonance: artistic and cultural practices, reconnection with the natural world, student engagement, and so on, “ so that, for the pupil, the world begins to sing.”

It is a social issue because these poetic glasses are a chance to return the power to act to the citizens of tomorrow, in the words of François Cheng. “ If human beings naturally need to make things, it is not only at the level of material production that is directly useful on a social level; it is, above all, in the dimension the Greeks called poiein, which means ‘to make’ in the sense of poiesis or ‘creation’. It is through this creative ‘making’, through working towards fulfillment, that a person gives meaning to their life, becoming the ‘poet’ of their own life. This is their vocation – what they are called to do.

Yes, thinking about teaching through the prism of poetry really is like putting on a pair of glasses to see better. It is an approach that stresses a systemic view of education and is ultimately intended to induce a process of change in society – a process in which we are all stakeholders. We are both the whole and a part: if we each cultivate our capacity for wonder and creativity, we can change everything.

Is it not at once obvious and invigorating that the ability to find poetry, joy, and the sublime in the world around us – and even more so in teaching, art and science – builds the person of tomorrow?

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In France, priority education policy is based on networks of primary and secondary schools known as REP and REP+. These are intended to reduce the achievement gap between students enrolled in priority education and those who are not.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.