Dream Your School was a festival of workshops that invited people aged 5 to 85 to imagine how schools and learning could be different. Taking place on the 27th February, It spread out into every corner of the recently opened Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts at Falmer. It was curated by ONCA, an arts and ecology centre in Brighton, and commissioned and supported by the Evens Foundation, as part of a Europe-wide project to involve children in imagining the future of learning. (Other events are happening in France and Poland.)
It was a fast-moving day with a great choice of activities that energised body, hands, voice and mind. There were also quieter moments of reflection about the challenges facing young people in the future. Workshops were offered by creative and environmental educators, some more geared to young people, some more for adults, but with plenty of mixing of ages. Three short sessions drew everyone together in the theatre for physical and musical warm-ups, sharing of ideas and things created on the day, with everything BSL-interpreted. By the end of the day, a beautiful Web of Wishes had been woven on the stage, summing up everyone’s dreams for future learning.
A strong theme was the need for more embodied learning. We are animals, and so our brains develop when we use our bodies in myriad ways. If you’ve ever wondered how starlings flock and flow, one way to work it out is to be a human starling. A workshop led by Felix Prater involved making a murmuration. To visualise a better world, your thoughts won’t take shape if you keep them in your head, but can really fly if you use your eyes, hands and body. So, ONCA’s outreach officer, Ellie Liddell-Crewe, helped participants make models of the schools of our dreams with playdough and Lego.
Being land-based animals, our habitat is largely one in which we interact with plants – so young people need to learn about plants. Most importantly, they need to learn about food. Community chef, Robin van Creveld, ran several workshops where participants made dishes such as borek, crumpets and compote, to explore the alchemy of materials and cultures. Through the smells and tastes of food, learners can explore how people have lived in different places, and shared their knowledge of plants and cooking as they have moved around. The day also made use of the woods nearby, with planned sessions on games in nature, sensory journaling and science through the eyes of a child, although some of these were affected by the rain.
We are creatures that are quite good at getting out of the rain. Being advanced tool-using animals, we have come to manipulate plants and other elements of nature, to our benefit up until now. However, we are at a critical point, at a peak of meddling with nature where it is starting to harm us, especially the poorest humans and other animal species. Some sessions focused on how school could help us think more effectively, and more ethically, so that we can make a better future. Children from St Luke’s Philosophy Club led a workshop to show how children can be philosophers. One boy explained how philosophy helps him express himself, that when he works out complicated thoughts he feels much better in himself.
Some sessions were pointing towards the future. For example, film-maker Gani Naylor, asked young people to discuss and make digital outcomes about the kind of technology they wanted to see in future schools. One young man said that schools are using technology to fit within an existing frame of thinking, and that they should be more free to form new ways of thinking by playing with it in their own way. I ran a session attended by most of the adults about how learning organisations could turn to face a future of critical planetary change. I talked about the Future Views toolkit we have created for three Bridge organisations, by consulting young people, aiming to help Cultural Education Partnerships imagine and plan for the future. The participants of this session offered many ideas for small steps towards being future-ready but a big shared theme was that schools need to be as loving, supportive and empathetic as possible.
This is only a snapshot of a rich day that will have been experienced differently by every attendee. To see all the contributors see the full programme here and do explore ONCA’s programme as they develop their work with schools and young people.
ONCA believes that the arts are capable of catalysing dramatic shifts within society. Their mission is to inspire positive action in response to current cultural and environmental urgencies, through creativity, collaboration and learning. They curate and support a wide range of arts events and activities at their gallery in Brighton, and beyond.