Following this post about transitional devices, I decided to read more of DW Winnicott's Playing and Reality. This post describes my thoughts around a number of themes in this book that might have pedagogical value.
This is an excerpt from Playing and Reality:
...playing has a place and time. It is not inside by any use of the word. Nor is it outside... To control what is outside one has to do things, not simply to think or to wish, and doing things takes time. Playing is doing.
Try reading this excerpt again with the word knowing in place of playing, and then read this excerpt from Maturana and Varela's book The Tree of Knowledge:
This connection between action and experience, this inseparability between a particular way of being and how the world appears to us, tells us that every act of knowing brings forth a world... All this can be summed up in the aphorism All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing.
2 Present moment
Winnicott is interested in the structure of attention in play:
Playing and cultural experience... link the past, the present, and the future; they take up time and space. They demand and get our concentrated deliberate attention, deliberate but without too much of the deliberateness of trying.
This passage from Playing and Reality brings to mind what JG Bennett calls Present Moment, which is defined as being the totality of one's awareness, and can range in scope across the microscopic to the universal in time and space. In play, as in learning, we can be lost in the moment; we can experience the general in the particular.
3 Where is play?
Winnicott asks: What are children doing when they are playing? What are we doing when engaged in (cultural) experiences (such as doing mathematics)? Or rather, where are we?
If play is neither inside nor outside, where is it?
Winnicott calls this a 'potential space', or 'third area', which contains the product of experiences of the individual in its environment, overlapping with the experiences of others. It is brought into existence through trusting relationships. What is the nature of the potential space in the classroom?
The potential space happens only in relation to a feeling of confidence... The capacity to form images and to use these constructively by recombination into new patterns is dependent on the individual's ability to trust.
The potential space varies in every child, and is dependent on the child's experiences. Only when there is trust can the child creatively play. Can we extend this to learning? The child develops confidence in the reliability of the parent. Can we extend this to the teacher-student relationship?
The mother's or therapist's [teacher's] love does not mean meeting dependency needs, but it comes to mean affording the opportunity for this baby or this patient [student?] to move from dependence to autonomy.
How important is a child's perception of teacher reliability? If we believe reliability to be important, should we (re-)prioritise continuity?
Developing children's autonomy brings to mind Gert Biesta's domains of educational purpose:
In addition to qualification and socialisation, education also impacts positively or negatively on the student as a person. This is what I have referred to as the domain of subjectification, which has to do with the way in which children and young people come to exist as subjects of initiative and responsibility rather than as objects of the actions of others.
There is a (pedagogical) dilemma here, between supporting (joining) and developing independence (separating). We must be careful to avoid over-influencing students - what Mary Boole termed 'teacher lusts':
[The teacher] wants to proselytise, convince, control, to arrest any spontaneous action of other minds, to an extent which ultimately defeats its own ends by making pupils too feeble and automatic to carry on his [sic] teaching into the future...
Winnicott describes the process of separation as a 'danger area': trust and reliability are necessary when lowering the degree of adaptation to the child's needs in order to create a potential space where play (learning?) can occur.
How can these ideas help us in our teaching, in our relationships with our students?