The Knowledge Project and the Pop Up School

Our growing concern over the denigrating deterministic reading of communities provided the impetus behind the Knowledge Project research. Communities are read through levels of formal education and levels of income (Connell 2013). What is valued is what directly links to the economic standing of community. The place of education as a consumerable item can be observed in Australia through the publication of NAPLAN (National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results coupled with the linking of results to socio-economic status of school students published in ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) data. These results have become determining in school choice. Those who can afford to move, do so to geographical areas that allow access to schools that are generating higher results. Those who cannot may feel the weight of a predetermined path to life time failure. Success in addressing educational disadvantage is measured by an increase in NAPLAN results. In her introduction to Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition Margaret Canovan writes:

Her {Arendt’s} contention is that since these economic concerns came to be the centre of public attention and public policy, the costs have been devastation of the world and an ever-increasing tendency for human beings to conceive of themselves in terms of their desire to consume. (Canovan in Arendt 1998, p. xiv)

National and International testing and resultant league ladders and national ratings of schools and their local areas are the most recent war machines on the already striated spaces of our official learning environments. What is portrayed and what is betrayed in the public ‘portrayal’ of knowledge and knowledgeability is the community itself.

We determined to bring to light the valued knowledge held in these local communities. We sought the knowledge which the community claimed as important in the functioning and living within their community. We were seeking that deep knowledge which is beyond the often publicly represented local cultural knowledge. In an alternative reading of knowledge Geoff Bright (2012, p. 322) discusses the importance of ‘sedimented counter-knowledge’ as critical in the development of a sense of hope to counter the fatalism of neoliberalism. The project, constructed through a theorisation of educational consciousness (Bellingham et al. 2019) sought the knowledge from the community members by asking them what they valued as knowledge. We have based our theorisation of educational consciousness on the well-established work by Seixas (2004) on historical consciousness. Seixas’ work is distinguished from the study of History, which is the study of the past, and also from historiography, which examines how historians view the past. The study of historical consciousness is the study of how the public look at the past. In our work on educational consciousness we were seeking how people view education and our reading of education encompasses the fields of ‘knowledge’, ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’. As for historical consciousness, we argue that educational consciousness has its roots in community narratives, family collective memory, political allegiances, popular culture and social media rather than rational schoolbased cognitive learning (Reilly and McCully 2011; Donnelly 2013). The nature of knowledge in Educational consciousness has similarities with that in the concept of funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll and Amanti 2006). Like funds of knowledge educational consciousness offers a thinking about knowledge that values lifeworld, community and cultural understandings as legitimate forms of knowledge and as important means to engage people in schooling. Findings from the Knowledge Project broadens this as it recognises that knowledge is more than discrete bodies of knowledge for financial, social and educational value. Knowledge is dynamic in the way it participates in the constitution and representation of the learner. It is also fluid as it is reconstituted in each learning and teaching encounter. The focus of the project on educational consciousness shifted in the initial roll outs as it became clear that when the research participants spoke of the knowledge, they valued they were speaking of knowledge that was living in their lives. They were asserting this as their own knowledge. They were concerned to articulate this knowledge as it operated in their lives. They were not concerned to focus on what knowledge they had learnt in educational sites or in formal ways or from their cultural heritage. The force of this attention to their own knowledge brought to the notice of the research team the authority the participants were exercising in these knowledge claims. The project shifted from attention to the broad remit of educational consciousness to this reading of knowledge.

The Knowledge Project studies how people value, view, perform and experiment with knowledge and education and it does this within a specific local area to address the role of place in this community knowledge. This project aims to focus the research on one particular community and it was determined that the research site would be limited to the geographic boundaries of a suburb. In Australia, a suburb is a geographic postal subdivision of a city. In Melbourne for example there are 524 suburbs. Each iteration of the project involves a prolonged period of research involvement in the suburb. This is based around interviews of the local people in community groups, local industries and in public locations such as public libraries and shopping centres. As part of data generation, a free community event called a Pop Up School is held which entails local people teaching and sharing their knowledge. We chose this performance for its generative capacities. Here the community is able to come together to celebrate and share their particular knowledge. They come together to teach and to learn. Any community member can ‘teach’ or ‘share’ their knowledge at the event. The only limitation from the research team is that this cannot involve selling or advertising. The research team organises and provides event management of this Pop Up School. During the performance, the research team also interview attendees regarding the valued knowledge in the community. Following these interviews and this performance the knowledge offered by the community is brought together by the research team and is communicated in a publication. This curriculum is published in hard copy for local participants and also on the PPI website (Charman et al. 2020; Bellingham et al. 2019; Charman et al. 2017;

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