My latest book
Fiction and truth: the mythopoetic imagination and educational research
Educational research has a tendency to ignore the thinking of our more penetrating philosophers, novelists and poets, as if their insights have no relevance to what goes on in a classroom. Where is our thinking informed by insights such as Aristotle’s that all humans desire to know, such as Spinoza’s that all life strives to preserve its own being, or such as Deleuze and Guattari’s that everywhere there are desiring machines at work, producing flows and interruptions? Where is there evidence that we’ve understood what Freud and all novelists and poets have repeatedly told us, that life is as animated by those invisible and often unconscious forces nudging us to behave in unexpected ways?
My new book - Imagined worlds and classroom realities: mythopoetic provocations for teachers and teacher educators [Sense 2015] – is an attempt to get off my chest some of the frustrations I’ve felt over a lifetime as a primary, secondary and more recently a tertiary teacher, frustrations borne of the stubborn refusal of those who lead us to learn from our deepest thinkers and observers.
Mythopoetics and post-structuralist thought
My book begins with an essay which contrasts the structuralist thinking that dominates much of our educational world with a poststructuralist perspective which makes room for the insights of philosophers and artists.
The structuralist imaginary sees a world characterised by a single narrative with atomistic individuals and groups (teachers and students, for example), some at an early developmental stage (students) needing to be inducted by others (teachers) into a workable way of seeing and being in the world. It imagines space (the classroom, the staffroom) as a collection of closed and contained systems, susceptible to structural analysis and measurable outcomes. It assumes the existence of established hierarchies and relationships.
The post-structuralist imagination sees a quite different picture. It imagines space (a classroom, a staffroom) as an open, contingent, fluid and chaotic site containing not a single narrative but many. Instead of given identities, it imagines identities shifting and being shaped by context, discourse and circumstance. It imagines multiple intersecting life-trajectories, affecting and being affected by common worlds with complex and fluid interactions and relationships. The post-structuralist imagination suggests that we come in and out of awareness of the myriad flows and shifting rearrangements, and we never know them all completely. Life is, to a significant extent, shaped by the invisible, the chaotic, and the complex.
This post-structural sensibility, I argue in this opening chapter, allows us to see more complexity.
The nine stories in the book
But that’s pretty much where the theory in the book ends.
The rest of the book is an attempt to put my money where my mouth is, to be performative, to tell fictional stories set in various classrooms, and to tell stories which allow us to see more complexity.
So I tell nine stories.
· A young woman sits in her first teacher-education lecture and wonders what kind of a tribe she is joining.
· A preservice teacher clashes with his mentor teacher on a practicum, and things career out of control.
· A teacher and students inhabit an online space with unpredictable consequences.
· A student and her class visit the Universarium. What kind of a place is this?
· A boy tells his therapist a story; the therapist is undone.
· An English teacher struggles to free herself from an oppressive discourse about the nature of teaching.
· Two siblings support and console each other through their complex inductions into classroom lifeworlds.
· A secondary student goes missing and police, the media and his teachers wonder why.
· A teacher-education academic wrestles with elusive ideas in order to prepare a lecture that he hopes will make a more-than-passing impact.
The book ends with a section outlining practical ways school leaders and teacher educators might use the nine stories in their professional development and teacher education courses.
[Shann] gives us a collection of gorgeous, complex stories about teaching and learning that serve as catalysts for our own reflection. They remind us that every best practice must live within an uncommon reality, that every move we make professionally has unintended consequences, and that the more we profess to know, the less likely we are to grow….
I’m a voracious reader, and my work inspires me to consume dozens of education blog posts, a small pile of journal articles, and a book or two about research-based practices every month. Some of these pieces are heady while others are quickly digested. Regardless of complexity though, these texts are typically expository. Steve’s reliance on story is atypical, and the implications for professional learning are profound.
His characters are as multifaceted as the challenges they face, and the use of story enables Steve to illuminate this reality without imposing his own claims directly. This is more than just refreshing—it’s transformative.
Angela Stockman (the full review can be read here: http://bit.ly/1Inb3vx)
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories, which bring to life the challenges and rewards of teacher training and early classroom experience. Steve Shann brings to his writing a refreshing combination of theory, keen observation and understanding of human nature.
Stephen Hall, Amazon review
'Imagined Worlds and Classroom Realities' provides thoughtful and nuanced stories that stimulate conversations about teaching and learning in a way that is real - connected to the space that educators (teachers) and students understand and know. It doesn't provide codified ways of managing a classroom, rather it provides a space for thinking about,and understanding, your own convictions and feelings about teaching.
Catherine Jean-Krista (Amazon review)