Archive for May, 2011

The Learning Walk

May 13, 2011

“Celestin Freinet established the Modern School Movement in 1926…. He developed three complementary teaching techniques: (1) the ‘learning walk’, during which pupils would join him in exploratory walks around town, gathering information and impressions about their community (a pedagogical application of the derive…). Afterwards the children would collectively dictate a collective ‘free text’, which might lean to pretexts for direct action within their community to improve living conditions (local councils were particularly wary of Freinet’s pupils); (2) a classroom printing press, for producing multiple copies of the pupils writings and a newspaper to be distributed to their families, friends and other schools; (3) interschool networks: pupils from two different schools exchange ‘culture packages’, printed texts, letters, tapes, photographs, maps, etc.”

Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton
Translator’s notes to Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies

We have just finished a month-long iteration of Continental Drift! This time in Argentina with the gracious support and participation of members of El Levante in Rosario and El Museo del Puerto in Ingeniero White. Graciela Carnevale, Mauro Machado and Lorena Cardena from El Levante organized many visits and encounters for our group (which also included artist Alejandra Madrid from Chile and Leandro Beier from Bahia Blanca). Highlights from Rosario:

  • a review of the big cereal export operations as seen from a boat in the river (you can’t otherwise get near these securitized ports),
  • meetings with urban growers and attendance at a local Seed Fair,
  • an unauthorized tour of a copper mining port,
  • a meeting with the director of the Museo de Memoria
  • a visit to Sueños Compartidos who employ residents of villas miserias to build new housing, and
  • meetings that brought together people from very different positions in social and economic production.

We drove through the pampas during soy harvest and visited with farmers and toured a sneaker factory to learn that an average of 700 pairs of hands touch a typical sneaker before it arrives in a store. We landed in Bahia Blanca to be hosted by the Museo del Puerto somewhere between an enormous petro-chemical plant, the port, and the “neighbors” –neighbors provide the interviews, historical objects of working class culture, and weekly pies and cakes that drive this deeply beautiful museum whose heart is a kitchen and large dining room. Among other things, we accompanied a group of school kids who had designed a tour searching for the border between their neighborhood and the satanic towers of the petrochemical complex.

We did a workshop about the drift in Buenos Aires and asked for suggestions from participants about walks we could explore in the city and thus spent two afternoons guided by enthusiastic locals in our collective experience of perception.

For more details of our itinerary as it unfolded, see Brian Holmes’ Continental Drift blog (in Spanish) (with photos by me).

Home now and ruminating on the process – its limitations and potentials – I came across the above passage about the educational methods of Celestin Freinet and was struck by the parallels to our own methodology.

I also just reread Guy Debord’s Theory of the Derive. Our process of drifting certainly took a loose inspiration from the situationist concept but has not been modeled on it, so it is interesting to look at the 1958 text and ponder what has changed. The original derive was a specifically urban experience while we are intent on going to the edges of urban centers and beyond in order to recognize the ways that cities are always a part of larger domains. The exploration of scales and the interscale is key for us: the intimate or human-scale; the urban/regional, the national, the continental and the global: we live all of these scales simultaneously. While we practice in small groups and so conjure a territorial intimacy, the point is to think beyond that as we go.

Debord writes about “psychogeographical attractions”, “antideterminist liberation”, “the discovery of unities of ambiance”, etc. The emphasis on an enrichment of perception makes it an aesthetic project albeit with political implications in terms of denormalizing a relation to the city. I set out on the first mobile Continental Drift (through the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor) with the intention, among other things, to make research an aesthetic encounter, something experienced with the entire sensorium. But that is not an end in itself. One of the things I like about Freinet’s learning walk is that it is part of a larger process which includes experimentations in communication, exchange and action.