Make like MacGyver

During the past week I’ve been engaging with some very different groups of people. On the one hand, I’ve spent time with some people talking about public communication and on the other, I’ve attended a workshop on using stories in teaching (thanks to the team at InfiniteSpace for that). As is my usual bent, I’ve been thinking about crossovers and scope for sharing that with others.

The idea that occurred was that in both the classroom and the public arena, things aren’t how we’d like them to be. Students do not spontaneously leap into action at every opportunity, producing well-prepared and critically-engaged contributions, which are then thoughtfully discussed, built upon and then turned into learning resources that connect to other areas of learning and make a wider contribution to academic debate on the topic. At least, not all the time.

Likewise, the average Joe doesn’t have a handle on the semantic ambiguities of political, social or economic language, nor on the various theoretical approaches to such questions.

In both cases, people muddle through (to greater or lesser extents).

That’s potentially deeply frustrating, even if as a teacher I’d be out of a job if all my students did all the things they could with no need for support at all. However, it’s how things are.

Tool of the trade…

My jujitsu move on this is to make like MacGyver.

Younger readers will be largely ignorant of this fine example of 1980s US television, recounting the adventures of mullet-haired secret agent MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson). MacGyver’s big thing was avoiding violence when possible and building ingenious contraptions, usually with little more than duct tape, paperclips and his Swiss Army penknife. Think of it as the A-Team on a smaller production budget.

Like MacGyver, we find things that aren’t working properly and need us to intervene. But rather than lugging around every possible device that might be of use, we have to start using what we find lying around us, working with the core tools that we already have to hand.

I think this works for two main reasons.

Firstly, by using what we find, we implicitly recognise the situation we are in and acknowledge the values of those we seek to influence. What might seem trivial to us might be central to someone else and if we don’t see that, then we risk talking past people, not to them. Indeed, having someone else’s perspective can be essential in opening up people’s attitudes and reflection: if we all thought the same way, then we’d struggle to develop and evolve. If we can understand, then we can get much more purchase on supporting peoples’ learning.

Secondly, it forces us to keep ourselves engaged in the learning process. By constantly having to change and adapt to make the most of the situations we find ourselves, we also engage ourselves in that process. That in turn helps us to develop both our ideas and our practice. So educator and educatee [?] benefit.

So pop down to your hair-stylist today, get that mullet sorted and off we go!

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