Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Bricoleur: Speaking through the Medium of Things


During dinner, a week ago, I realized that Rob and I are raising a bricoleur. Our son makes stuff from found things.

He repurposes.

He tinkers.

He's in the process of altering a computer he built a year ago in order to make it more energy efficient and when I asked him what he planned to do with the components he's removing from the computer, he told me matter-of-factly that he would keep them on hand so he could (re)use them in new ways.

Bricoleurs make do with materials they have at hand.


I've wondered about bricolage for a long time and thought about its potential as a way of being at school and owning your learning be it as student and/or teacher. Some years ago I likened bricoleurs to certain types of teachers.  I explained there:

In The Savage Mind, Lévi-Strauss (1962/1966) referred to bricolage as the make-do activities a handyperson employs while working. The bricoleur is one who tinkers with the materials at hand. Lévi-Strauss explained that “the materials of the bricoleur are elements which can be defined by two criteria: they have had a use...and they can be used again” (p. 35, italics in original)...Lévi-Strauss wrote that the bricoleur "derives his poetry from the fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: he speaks not only with things...but through the medium of things. Throughout the year, Mr. Krantzman uses the work he and his students create as a means for further inquiry and dialogue. Resituating and transposing ideas, hunches, and products is the modus operandi in this class.” (2009, p.376).
The idea of speaking through the medium of things interests me and I wonder how often children and their teachers are afforded such permissions, especially in these days of overly scripted curricula. It's hard to teach reading or writing well when tied to someone else's language, some company's sense of pace, or another person's selection of texts.  Attending to such commitments actually pull us away from the here, the now and in their place substitute an epic sense of teaching.

One truth of an epic world is that you cannot alter the events. They are sealed. Delivered whole. Untouchable.

There is little emphasis on learning in scripted programs--as these methods tend to see the complex world of teaching and learning largely through the teacher's eyes. The teacher is being told what to say. The child is held mute.  Such schema is most often arranged within the epic world where the script an be transferred whole, untouched for others to enact.  The clash comes when we notice that the world where scripts make sense is in conflict with learners and fine teachers who reside in the present.

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