From semester one at University, I was sure the philosophical ‘Modern Liberal Arts’ education I was studying had something to offer beyond my own education at university. I saw so much potential in the educational approach of my degree being extended to schools, and this conviction only grew over my three years of study. Before I came to University I attended a Steiner school. Here, as at university, I had wonderful experiences of education and learning in that it was more than just digesting facts, something much more meaningful. But I realise these experiences are not shared by all students. In contrast to my own educational experiences many students find education lacking, lifeless and meaningless. Seeing that something else is possible, this affects me most deeply. This Liberal Arts for Teachers project is exactly the work that I want to engage in, broadening Liberal Arts education for children, bringing depth, meaning and perhaps I could say ‘soul’ back into learning.
To this end, the Liberal Arts days with Scurr Primary School were highlights of my degree. They were most inspirational days. For me personally this work culminated in my leading a year five lesson on Plato. I don’t think anything can prepare you for that first moment, standing in front of a class, thirty pairs of eyes expectantly looking at you! But how much more beautiful can a first lesson be than one where you’re engaging with the ‘big questions’ of life and when wondering what the ‘soul’ might be, a child tells the class that it is ‘a burning ball of light inside you’?! There was education in preparing and teaching the lesson too! Introducing Plato’s tripartite soul to a group of 9-10-year-olds was far from a simple task. It took us hours to pull out what was most central! But for me, there was education in the act of teaching too, in standing at the front of the room. It was there in that moment where you feel the butterflies in your stomach, seeing the children’s eyes sparkle full of life, wondering, struggling, questioning, thinking, talking, and listening. It was in these moments that I knew for certain that this is the work I have got to do.
I feel privileged to have been a part of this project. It offered me the opportunity to take my Liberal Arts education, its ideals and values out into the classroom. It was through studying Modern Liberal Arts and doing these Liberal Arts school days, that I truly developed my vocation to teach. I now seek to bring something of the educational philosophy of my degree into the classroom for children. To this end, I’ve just started working as a teaching assistant at John Scurr and am currently applying for a teacher training for next year. The Liberal Arts days I did with John Scurr during the past three years were an inspiration and springboard into the ways I now seek to live and work for education.
Maia Pritchard (modern Liberal Arts Graduate 2018)
Children have the wonderful ability to think and ask questions without the boundaries that we, as adults, often place upon ourselves. My 11-year-old son asks things about the world around him that frequently leaves me speechless, frustrated and unable to fathom. I feel we can learn so much from a child’s ‘freedom’ of thought. Therefore, it has been a wonderful and valuable part of my undergraduate experience to be a part of a group of students who have regularly visited a school in London.
During our visits to the John Scurr Primary School in East London, I have taken part in singing, bread making, reading, and asking big questions! And when the children have visited our university in Winchester they have taken part in debates, dance and movement. More recently a year 5 class was given a ‘Liberal Arts Experience’ when we delivered an afternoon session on Plato and his concept of the ‘tripartite’ soul. Although some of the content of this lesson was made more age-appropriate, the children taking part amazed us all with their willingness to be open to ideas, which for many of them, were completely new. Our discussions about our soul and what it might look like, and the three parts which Plato believed make up our soul; its needs and wants, the thinking part and the doing bit(!). The children were engaged and thoughtful, they offered wonderful ideas; one child thought that our soul may well be ‘a ball of light inside our body’. We then took part in a movement session which looked at ‘discipline’ and ‘freedom’. These concepts can be abstract and difficult to understand. However, through action and non-action the children could see how it felt to move freely or constrained; disciplining themselves to move in a particular way.
This continued connection we have with the school has enhanced my learning experience beyond anything I could have thought possible. In many ways it has allowed philosophical thought to be ‘put into practice’ but also it has enabled a grounding for academic aloofness! Learning happens everywhere, and I feel should be embraced in this way. My experience is part of the children’s experience and vice versa. As a look towards starting my Masters in Liberal Arts I hope I will still be able to take part in the precious gift that is youth; to continue to be left speechless, frustrated and unable to fathom!
Claire Rogers (modern Liberal Arts Graduate 2018)