Professor Silvana Calaprice from the University of Bari, Italy, joined in conversation with pedagogists with the Provincial Centre and the wider community in May 2019. This exposure event, titled Pedagogy and the Role of a Pedagogista: A Perspective, offered opportunities for pedagogists to consider what is required to take on the role of a pedagogist, what might be possible when we take up pedagogy as a social science, and what it is to hold pedagogical commitments as a pedagogist.

In what follows, we share clips from the discussion, moderated by Dr. Randa Khattar, between Professor Calaprice and Dr. Cristina Delgado, assistant professor at York University and pedagogista with the Provincial Centre. We anchor each set of clips with some context and questions we hope you will grapple with and carry with you.

1. On the work of a pedagogist

For Silvana Calaprice and the tradition of pedagogical study she thinks with, to be a pedagogist is to grapple with deeply ethical questions: 

  • What concept of the human and of the child do I hold?
  • With what histories, knowledges, worldviews, philosophies, and relations do I build my understanding of the child?
  • How does my concept of the child shape my actions and possibilities for my actions as a pedagogist?

Silvana offers that the understandings we hold of children and humans are never crafted in isolation. Rather, these are a common project, one built within a collective of pedagogists and lively worldly conditions.

Sharing two examples – image of the child as competent, and “care” – Silvana invites us to consider how pedagogists must invent and tend to trajectories and processes that disrupt status-quo ideas of education as an applied field. Silvana insists on the provocation that pedagogists must be interested in opening up spaces and relations that create conditions for a collective to respond well to complex contexts. As pedagogists, she suggests, we must trace how our concept of the child shapes the situated relations we create, and we must answer to the local relations we create. How we participate in relations is woven with our non-innocent concepts of the human and the child. Questions that pedagogists must continually revisit include these:

  • How do I come to understand children and humans?
  • What is my concept of the human?
  • How do I understand children?
  • How do my actions, and the educational processes I open up, activate my conceptions of children and humans?
  • How am I accountable to these processes and concepts within a collective? 

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2. What is pedagogy?

Silvana asserts that pedagogy is a particular mode of study – a way of knowing and navigating worlds – that is concerned with thinking the purpose of education. In thinking the purpose of education, Silvana offers that we must think with subject formation and with living well within the relations and contexts we inherit and inhabit:

  • What subjectivities do we want to cultivate to bring something generative into the life of a collective?
  • How do we care for transformational relationships within our particular contexts?
  • How do we create educational processes that open up possibilities for living well together in these times? 

We hear Silvana arguing that pedagogy is resolutely against application. It refutes the interpretivist, individualist focus of psychology, which aims to understand and remedy unitary children’s behaviours. Pedagogy orients toward invention, not intervention. Pedagogy is concerned with encountering uncertainties and opening up processes toward different, tentative, more just futures. In this way, pedagogy inhabits the edges of theory and practice, weaving them together in the name of educational processes. Pedagogy is also, Silvana contends, carefully multidisciplinary: It is in constant dialogue with other disciplines, but it knows that these disciplines do not hold dear the same questions as pedagogy. This creates multiple questions for pedagogists to carry:

  • What relations do I stand for when I center questions of living well together in precarious times?
  • How do my practices, relations, and concepts of children, humans, and subjectivities shape particular responses toward inhabiting unfamiliar futures in a more-than-human world?
  • What modes of interdisciplinarity do I bring to my work as a pedagogist – with whom, and with what histories, do I think, read, write, cite, and speak? Why? How? 

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3. Having pedagogical commitments 

Silvana contends that pedagogy stands for particular political commitments: it is against applying a model; it refuses regulatory neoliberal images of competence; it subtracts itself from extractive self-centered assessments of what children already know; it complexifies status-quo conceptions of following the child in emergent curriculum; it wants to erase instrumental conceptions of education where teaching is framed as assisting children to fulfil a universalized, predetermined developmental trajectory. Pedagogists must not, Silvana insists, simply be someone who does a job. They must be deeply invested in their work, because they have situated pedagogical commitments and endeavour toward uncompromisingly pedagogical dispositions of openness and attentiveness. Pedagogists believe in what they do. Silvana offers the concept of “pedagogical energy,” which is the impulse and motion that propels pedagogists to continue researching, to constantly wonder, and live as a question, how to respond to fraught contexts. This impulse fuels pedagogical questions of how we might innovate educational processes in response to a particular context: What is it to do pedagogical work that refuses to be universalizable or scalable; work that subtracts itself from inherited logics of ‘best practices’?  

For us, Silvana is invoking a pedagogist deeply concerned with responsibility, where to be response-able is to be able to respond well to questions children, pedagogists, and others get knotted up in, in particular local conditions. This is not an individualized performative notion of responsibility, but rather one that is concerned with living well together in the precarious contexts we inhabit. Responsibility here threads through our relations as we grapple with questions of how to be response-able with children. Silvana offers that stories, and the stories children live within, are a starting point for getting to know what it is we must respond within, but she suggests that we need to go beyond knowing stories to inventing processes that enact our orientations and commitments, that create possibilities that are not currently present. Pedagogists, Silvana generously insists, have responsibilities to do the difficult, uncertain work of creating processes that are grounded in our pedagogical commitments and orientations. For pedagogists, this raises incredibly complex questions:

  • Do I believe in what I do?
  • What do I bring to this work?
  • Why do I hold these orientations within this place, when I hold to questions of living well together?
  • How do I enact these commitments in response-able relations? 

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