Learning by walking about.

thecityinmanIt was just a walk; teachers and students following a circular 20 mile route around central London.

It was also a personal challenge for each of us; to keep going, to keep up, to map-read, to learn new things and to complete the walk.

It was also a team effort; working together and solving problems collectively.

It was also an experience of urban wandering, observing the public spectacle of city life, trying to make sense of people’s purposes and motivations.

It was also a venture into less familiar parts of our city’s public space, a psychogeographic exploration of new territory.

It was also a lesson in the sharp inequalities of our city from rough-sleepers to Ferrari owners, shops with no prices to people with no money.

It had a soft ambiance: the passing of time, the changing light, the weather, the pace of the day.

It had a hard ambiance: the buildings, sculptures, monuments, prompting questions about why, when, by whom and for whom they were built and how they were paid for.

It had a social ambiance: the buzz of the crowds, the diversity of the individuals in them, the conversations with new people, the sharing of ideas and experiences.

It had a historical ambiance: the clues to the past city and its people and how what they did shapes what we do.

For that day, the city and its people were our classroom and our subject, learnt through experience and dialogue, in short snatches as well as deeper conversations or Socratic questioning.

Guessing at the hidden city inside the buildings and below the ground. Looking for the money, exchange and power relations which make things happen and require people to move around the city the way they do as well as to build or destroy particular buildings.

Walking alongside different members of the group, testing views, exchanging perspectives, sharing stories about the past and the future.

Moving between conversations and making new links, building knowledge and understanding from facts and connections recalled, repeated, reinforced.

When we explore a new environment, we can only experience it through our own senses. The French Situationist philosopher Guy Debord said:

“People see nothing that is not their own image – everything speaks to them of themselves”

But this doesn’t mean that our experience of the world is entirely narcissistic, introspective or purely self-affirming, thinking ‘that’s like/not like me’ or ‘for/not for me’ about everything. Having new experiences or interactions while walking about in the company of others opens us up to the possibilities of change, of being different, thinking instead: ‘it’s possible / I could / I might’. The learner can only start from where they are but they and their teacher know that they can go further.

It was just a walk but it was also a whole curriculum whose apparent informality and randomness concealed objectives and learning outcomes.

The spiral, recursive, social, pedestrian pedagogy of the urban trail may not be the most efficient teaching method but every walk is an educational experience and ‘learning by walking about’ is possible. And great fun.

See also:

A Circle Line Quiz (November 2015)

Walking the Circle Line (November 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

Principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) East London. Blogging about education, politics and culture in a personal capacity. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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