As part of my #FEVirtualResearchmeet event, my MPhil colleague Garry Nicholson and I explored the purpose of education through the concepts of ‘Becoming’ and ‘Bildung’, as we research our settings in adult & community education. We’re developing the conversations around the hashtag: #BeingBecomingThriving.
Dr Christine Challen responds to Garry’s presentation in this guest blog:
Guest blog by Dr Christine Challen
In the last few months I have been reading what would not necessarily be classed as educational or pedagogy literature, including Phillip Pullman, Nan Shepherd and more recently Tove Jansson. It has however provided me, through their writings, much to reflect on how we can enrich, inspire and engage our students towards global citizenship through creative curriculums.
While attending a #FEVirtualResearchmeet session this week, I was fortunate enough to be in a “breakout” session with Garry Nicholson, who brought up the very interesting concept of Bildung. This “refers to the German tradition of self cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation.” This immediately ignited a spark and enhanced how the literature I had been reading had so much relevance and overlap to this idea. More importantly was how we could combine these to better prepare pupils towards enabling them to make contributions to society through confident opinions and choices.
This is so necessary as it ultimately affects “cultural equality” and the ability for pupils to successfully participate in discussions with a healthy respect for different ideas/opinions that evolve through experiencing different environments and cultures” Challen (2020). Additionally it also enables a “built in” ability to control and self regulate emotions in a safe conducive environment which in turn can result in less behavioural challenges; a much needed move away from exclusion booths.
So much of our education system today is controlled by targets “getting pupils through exams” teaching to exams accountability everywhere you look. However this drive for learning facts after facts has meant we have totally alienated students not only from society but from themselves and more importantly their own autonomy/agency in learning.
So how do the ideas of Bildung, Pullman, Shepherd and Jansson relate?
How can we use this to provide a flexible enriching education that enables a continual changing and evolving platform.
In particular enhancing both subject knowledge and philosophical socio/environmental and economic discussions towards providing innovative creative solutions for a socially just society.
Forms of capital were first introduced by Bourdieu in 1986 consisting of economic, cultural and social. However Ofsted clung onto “cultural capital” and were going to use this as an inspection theme, however apart from the difficulty nigh impossibility of trying to evidence this perse it deviates from Bourdieu’s original theory that all three are needed as a “transubstantiation” for the function and structure of the world. However it is also pivotal for the holistic journey of being to becoming to thriving and as in the definition of Bildung wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation.”
Bildung offers the opportunity for students to have autonomy and agency in their learning it provides a window for them to state what they want to learn from a course and more importantly how they wish to use it. Surely this is going to be a more effective approach to engage students rather than bombarding them with facts that they will never need or want to use and then they switch off and more often than not the classroom dynamics and behaviour changes for the worst!
While Pullman, Shepherd and Jansson may not instantly be associated with educational pedagogy their ideas through different messages and writings not only support innovative evolving strategies but also the ideals behind Bildung. Pullman is a firm believer in the importance of exposing children to a wide range of literature, philosophers/ies and religious voices. This not only enhances deep and rich experiences through stories which ultimately in time results in a growth of both personal and cultural maturation as within the definition of Bildung. He goes on in his book Daemon stories to describe how he uses the technique of the film director David Mamet’s approach “where do I put the camera” as his story writing tool a way of questioning and critical analysis not only from the setting the scene but also from building his characters and their attributes. In many ways this is what we want from our students a journey of self actualisation, the ability to self cultivate and find out who they are.
In many respects Shepherd and Jansson are very similar in their ideologies. Both had a deep love of nature and were independent spirits able to explore freely their surroundings Shepherd the Cairngorms in Scotland and Jansson the beauty of a remote Island off the gulf in Finland. Both in Shepherd’s words “immerse themselves” in their environments mind body soul and senses. Shepherd states it is seeing the “world not just as we see it but as the world sees us.”
In a Summer Book Jansson describes a Summer spent on a remote island with an elderly artist and her 6 yr old grand daughter its beauty and relevance sings in how they discover/explore the island wildlife, birds flowers and grasses. It is however more its a journey of being and becoming through learning to respect and love each others attributes and fears nemesis and all. In A Winter Book Jansson has created a series of short stories which celebrate “the life of art.” However as with the Summer book the underlying theme of a spiritual and holistic journey is there lurking under the surface. The desire to face and self reflect on each life/time line as Ali Smith so succinctly puts it in her introduction “The stories face age, youth and each of the dark seasons with the same determination to make something light of it all.
The free wild independent spirits of Shepherd and Jansson effectively enhanced their imaginations but more so their innovative self questioning towards a determination to thrive. Pullman in his use of stories from all “cultural backgrounds” also create an imaginative self actualisation and freedom to emotively feel express in a self regulated manner.
Education must not just be about subject knowledge but be subjective; it needs to explore the world through developing physical, spiritual and sensory methods that enable emotionally engaging experiences. This requires not just enriching creative curriculums but the ideology of Bildung wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation.” Such strategies will enable students the opportunity to find out who they are as well as allow a journey of self actualisation and provide them with an education that they can truly thrive but more importantly effectively contribute to the evolving problems of an ever changing society.
Bourdieu, P. (2010). Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Abingdon: Routledge.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood.
Challen, C. (2020). Rethinking higher education policy and leadership for the 21st century: Enhancing strategies for global citizenship and justice. Journal of Higher Education Policy And Leadership Studies, 1(1), 77-81. DOI:
Jansson, T (2006). A Winter Book. London Sort of Books
Jansson, T (2003) The Summer Book. London Sort of Books
Pullman, P. (2017). Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling. Oxford: David Fickling Books.
Shepherd, N. (2011). The Living Mountain. UK: Canongate Books.