Teaching by polarisation

Gert Z. Nordström

Article based on the book:
Bilden, skolan och samhället.
Nordström, Gert Z. and Romilson, Christer.
Aldus/Bonniers 1970.

Up to the present the teaching methods that have: been used in our schools have been, almost without exception,of authoritarian type. This is quite logical in a society whose main aim is to train people to fit in to a given situation and use specific technical skilIs. Individuals who think in conventional terms, accept direction from above, work like machines and consume somewhat more than they can afford are quite simply ideal for a cynical society that is striving to conserve its structures and its hierarchy. Today the Swedish school system is to an increasing extent abandoning authoritarian teaching forms in favour of 'free' forms, which do have certain advantages as far as individualisation, non-imitative work and so on are concerned (and art teaching has led the way in the uevelopment of non-imiative teaching methods during the forties and fifties) but the freedom is only apparent and the ultimate aim is still the conservation of a given social structure, since pupils are left at the mercy of inflexible conventions adopted without any genuine alternative in thought, methods or work situation.
A teaching method wvhich could be used in place of the authoritarian methods or the combination aurhoritarian-"free" must strive to develop the individual's potential consciöusness. This requires a dynamic teaching method which activates, provokes, reveals and informs. In short: a teaching method which at the same time as it is liberating its pupils, is teaching them to discover new tools relevant to present-day society.
In order to make the essentials of this alternative method more clear, we can describe it in the following way: In a picture of a sphere and its centre, wve let the surface of the sphere represent the phenomena being studied while the centre represents the pupils and the teacher -the group. It is important that the group expriences itself to be in this situatioon -in the middle of a conglometion of conflicting political and economic systems, religions. aesthetic theories and so on.
A "free" teaching method can also be described in this way with a 'pluralistic' sphere, but the difference is that in the alternative method described above -which we could call the method of polarisation- we polarise the subject matter, that is to say, we emphasise the opposites in different ways of living, acting, thinking, and so on.
This emphasising of opposites involves amongst other things a detailed analysis of the way in which everything is formed by the interplay of conflicting elements within istself -how this can change and which forces are the decisive ones- and the order of importance of the various opposing pairs of elements. Since this method of polarisation does not content itself with a superficial or isolated analysis of a situation, it must, at least in those cases where it is intended to expose basic values and attitudes, distinguish

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between primary and sècondary conflicts. A distinction must also be made between gcneral conflicts of more abstract nature and the practical, concrete ones that occur in everyday life.
This method of teaching by polarisation consists of three main parts each of a pedagogic nature: analysis, information and production.
Since this method assumes the integration of practical and theoretical activities, none of these main parts can be omitted or regarded as of minor importance.
There is no definite order in which these three main parts must he applied. It is reasoable to begin with a certain studly area (theme) and analyse it. There is however no reason why one couldn't begin the other way round with productive activity (practical work of various kinds) leading to analysis and iformation which could in turn 1ead to a group spontaneously choosing a study area. This implies that teaching by polarisation has no concluding phase: it is continually on the move and evolving new ideas and new thngs to do.

The Pedagogic Analysis

There is no doubt that people in our society base their decisions and their actions on conclusions drawn from very narrow and one-sided references. I say one-sided because they always implicitly involve acceptance of the patterns for co-existence already established. Only a little elite of philosophers and writers are permitted to speculate beyond the normal frames of reference. A so-called ordinary person has never been offered a non-conventional starting point for his conclusions, and this leads to its quite natural consequences. In the same way we can see that any analysis carried out by the pupils in a school Îs predestined to arrive at certain conclusions. Someone has always decided what it's to be analysed and how it is to be analysed. The rules of the game -here as in all other matters -have been formulated by a little group of decision makers.
The narrow and specialised roles to which we have been brought up or been obliged to accept more or less against our will inhibit various possible forms of activity. The "obiectivity" of the expert contrasts with the undeveloped and subjective impressions of the ordinary idividual who need not be taken seriously. Schools contribute to conserve this inhibiting categorisation by glorifying science, research and all kinds of expert opinion in all situations. Large numbers of examples could be quoted to demonstrate this. Society has equipped itself with "holy cows" to which the man in the streef has no acccss. Schools assist in the mystification

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Teaching by polarisation comprises three main parts namely analysis, fnfonnation and production with followlng-up. The difference between analysis and fnformation is that the former consists of observation of the present situation and environment while the information takes up things about which there was little or no knowledge. The production is the practical work taking up those problems that have been treated theoretlcally. None of three main parts can be excluded, but there is no defin!te order to be observed.

of reality -everything is presented as being more complicated than it actually is. In this way, any spontaneous activity can he neutralised by saying, "you do not understand the situation" or "you are not acquainted with the facts" and therefore you are only a "layman". In consequence people express no opinion in discussions about important problems and choose meaningless and uncontroversial activities in their spare time.
The alternative to the expert analysis that is florourishing in our schools and in society in general would be a "folk analysis" in which everyone was encoura~ed to take up, both theoretically and practically, the questions that involve them. It is necessary to call in question and to attack the present selection of information offered to us and to make serious evaluations with other premises and other conclusions. Let us take an example: We have a picture on page 21.

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It was published as a fuIl-page advertisement in Life on 22nd. July 1968. We see a man in the foreground and two couples in the background; the interior is from a restaurant. There is a heading in the middle of the picture: "Who is he?" To begin an analysis of the picture we can take up the following central questions:
1) What does the picture depict?
2) What are the formal characteristics of the picture and the text? this description should also take up details in the picture.
3) For whom is the picture and its text intended? Who is the sender and who is the receiver?
4) What purpose lies behind the picture?
5) What basic evaluations characterise the picture? Can we find political, economic or social aspects?
The analysis ought also to include the technical construction of the advertisement and a discussion of the entire process of production from the sponsor and the picture-maker via the distributors to the so-called consumer.

The Pedagogic Information

The method of polarisation does not imply a definite routine; it consists of a large number of variations. Two of these are of such obvious importance that we will give them special consideration.
One kind of polarisation is a way of working applicable to a definite object, event or culrural phenomenon. It has been described above under the name pedagogic analysis.
Another type of polarisation is based on rhe comparison of different identities in place and time. This has bern termed pedgocig information. It is this that gives us the wider pcrspectives, the gIobal aspects and the alternatives to our ordinary range of experience. The pedagogic informatÏon has in turn been divided into three parts. The fitst of these is information about historical events, the second comprises the non-Western alternatives and the third information about the future -what is likely to happen in various fields and how this can be influenced.
We can take an example to clarify the discussion. Suppose that we have chosen CARS as the subject of our study. Part of out analysis will be the critical evaluation of the car as a means of transport. We can amongst othcr things compare different types of car with one another. We can also compare thc car with other relatcd transport devices of the present day such as the bicycle, motorcycle or bus. Here the most important question is the decision between private and colIective systems.
But this is not enough. Before we evaluate the car as phenomenon we wish to know how other societies with different references and olher systems of values have solved the problem of moving people from place to place.
With the three kinds of information discussed above we get the folIowing;
In this case we must go back to the time before cars were invented. We might take a stagecoach or a sulky as examples.
Here we might take up an East Asian perspective and choose a coolie and his rickshaw as object of Dur study.
We are presumably most interested in how cars may develop in the immediate future. We can of course see trends in the experiments being carried out by the car industry. We can also turn to authors comic strip artists and experimenters working with projects of science-fiction type.

We should pay special attention to one of these three types of information; the historical information. Despite the fact that much time is devoted to history in our obligatory schools, th1is has not resulted in progressive attitudes.
When one bears in mind that historical research has never been carried out by (or on behalf of) anyone except the ruling class in society, this is not really so strange. Our history hooks reflect their systems of values. It is therefore easy to understand yhy the teaching of history has never had any ambition to expose class struggle or exploitation, or why it has been a means of conserving and strengthening attitudes and preiudices already in existence. Our selection and usage of historical information needs thorough revision in order to become a significant tooI in the building of a fairer and more effective society.
Information concerning the future has recently acquired new importance and relevance, amongst other things as a result of the discussions that have taken place about the planning of the environment. It has become evident that if people are to have a say in the planning of their immediate environment then they must have access at an early stage to the general lines for development that the responsible architects and local administrators have drawn up. At the moment the experts can take sole responsibility for this work without any interferenèe from outside; we so-called consumers can at most make small adjustments after the main work has been clone.
Education's reply to a negative development trend is to give everyone more knowledge about the ways in which society and its planning function. This is the only way in which people will be able to receive their share of responsibility in the planning and changing of society.

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An example of the polarisation of the litarary content of two pictures. We see here two pictures that speak of violence in different ways and for different purposes. Working with polarisation as teaching method it is quite natural to contrast violence against violence. It is also possible to polarise within each picture; in the Manhattan picture we can discuss the contrast manly-womanly, in the other violence-tenderness. We could also take up a formal analysis of the pictures end questions of distribution, effect, range, etc.

The Pedagogic Production

The third component of teaching by polarisation is creative activity; but it is better to avoid this term and talk about pedagogic production instead. The meaning of the word 'creative' has become more and more .confused. For many people it is only art and craft work that is creative activity; for other people it is many other things, including almost all school activity and all construction and development in society. The word production says more about what we are concerned with here, namely the production of such concrete things as essays, poems, pictuces, films, plays, concerts, news-sheets, pamphlet5, exhibitions, and son on. How many functions could the above activities not fill in today's schools! Now the pupils could really receive tools which can be used in their own interests. At present most production forms are imitative. We perform Moliére, interpret Bach or recite classics - which is not wrong in itself: the mistake is that we do not see that we could also work non-imitatively. Production can be a means tor stimulating us to form and express opinions.
But our production will not become effective communication merely by being non-imitative. Nor does it suffice to let the pupils learn things in the formal and technical fields. A study of the middle period of art education, that I referred to earlier in this article as the 'free' method, shows this most clearly. During this period much of the art teaching in our country was based on non-imitative methods; this was the first altemative to the authoritarian methods in our obligatory schools. The copying of an originial by van Gogh or Rembrandt was a cardinal sin and all exact realism was abandoned.
Unfortunately this initeresting experiment continued to be just a reaction; nobody developed it any further. I lacked a constructive and social orientation. Most of it remained on the private psychological level. The pupil's creative activity was free from the authority of thc teacher but seldom succeeded in leading to any important communication. If one further bears in mind the strongly emphasised division between art and politics that was prevalent during the forties and fifties, and also had its influence on school activities, then it is easier to understand the isolation and the thinness of creativities and their preoccupation with individual problems.
Development beyond this 'free' period required an awareness of alternative ways in which one could work and of the general economic, social and political situation. It is at this turning point that we stand today.
There are schools of thought in education which argue that information and analysys inhihit production. A common postulate is Ihat "too much talking causes a reduction in crcativity". This is not in fact the case what does occur is a highly temporary reduction of level during the change from the old way of ,vorking to the new one. People need time for this change and the greater their eariier lack of awareness the more time they may need. Nor is it a bad thing if some people change their minds and decide to devote themselves to same other activity. The most important thing is that they are doing what they believe they will get most out of. In most cases, however, a new production is soon under way. This may be in a new form: perhaps film-making or the compilation of an exhibition may replace throwing or drawing. But consciousness will be greater, expression more alive and important and language more clear.

Following Up

The pedagogic continuation is a development of the proouction in more and mlore concrete forms. This usually results in an exhibtion, a play, a musical performance or something of this nature. At present this is often difficult to carry out.
If, as we hope, our schools can be developed from pieces of artificial and bureaucratic machinery into more organic and living wholes, this must involve the present mechanical division into 45-minute lessons and 10-minute breaks being abandoned. Work periods will be adapted to the people instead of the other way round.
Until we have achieved such a radical and anti-bureaucratic solution of the school situation we must make adjustments within the present system. That this is necessary depends not least on the fact that many ideas and suggestions that arise during our school work must be utilised in order that radical changes can be made in the furure. Under the present system teachers are only present during lesson time (and in the evenings when it is perhaps most necessary there is no qualified pedagogic help at all), some subjects have been allocated too little time, others have been Jeclared 'theoretical' and are carried out in the absence of sensible work areas and equipment, and so on. One way in which to improve on this situation and at the same time pave the road for progres!iive ideas is to work with various projects or themes wher sevcral teachers and subjects take part togcther.
Some schools have already made experiments with such projects which have also been followed up in the form of a common production, but this has only been able to happen in cases where a foresighted school administration has assisted by placing certain subjects together in blocks on the timetable and where the teachers involved have contributed a lot of voluntary work. In other words, the problems associated with the fragmcnted school are considcrable and inhibit sensible and necessary pedagogic following-up; they must be taken into account in any theoretical model of a total teaching method.