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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Cavanagh

Unexpected Meanderings

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Since my last blog, I have been expanding my reading to look more deeply not only into Froebel and his philosophy but also at play and creativity, slow pedagogy and the notion of being rather than becoming. This is not unexpected given these are central tenets of Magic Acorns’ vision and Froebelian principles. What has been unexpected, however, is that my reading has led me to the world of posthumanism.

What, you might say, is posthumanism and what does such a (modern) philosophy have to do with a 19th Century German, founder of the Kindergarten. On one level Froebel’s principles align very much with Magic Acorn’s thinking – the idea of play, putting the child at the centre of their learning, involving family in the process, providing the right environment for learning to happen – and on another level, aspects of both Magic Acorns' and Froebel’s thinking appear to resonate with posthumanism. Froebel’s belief that everything is connected and that there is a unity to the world through these connections is similar to posthumanist thought of the ‘more-than-human’ i.e. that humans should not think of themselves as the pinnacle of evolution, that animals, plants, objects have an equal part to play in the world and that the connection between all things is what holds the universe together (Barad, 2003). Humans are an integral part of nature but they are not above it.

My understanding of posthumanism at the moment, is that it is about looking at the world from a different perspective and not accepting the way things are just because they have always been like that. It is a way of questioning the status quo by flattening the hierarchy of human dominance and by so doing allowing new and emerging ‘intra-actions’ to form. It also seems to be about accepting that there are more than binary options available in the world. Mind and matter, knowing and being are inextricably linked and in relation with each other all of the time, making multiple possibilities in a continually evolving world. As Davies (2014) says ‘Each of us is a multiplicity in connection with other multiplicities….’ (p.9). This alternative view of being in the world, although perhaps difficult to comprehend, seems to me to be more ethically and morally sound than one which is about superiority and control.

When I first came across the notion of posthumanism, it felt as if I had suddenly walked into a very dark forest, where I couldn’t see anything and had no idea where I was going. It felt a bit scary – the uncertainty of where I was, strange 'shapes', 'shadows', 'sounds' all around. What did phrases like ‘more-than-human’ mean? What was ‘intra-active’ referring to? However, allowing myself to ‘be’ in the forest, to embrace the strangeness, helped to overcome the fear, the unknown, the vulnerability I felt. I began to grow accustomed to the light of the forest, to the 'shapes', 'shadows', 'sounds'. Some chinks of light were filtering through and the world of posthumanism was becoming a bit clearer. I began to feel more at ease in my new surroundings, by listening to, being open to and attuning to what I was experiencing.

I then had that wonderful moment when the penny dropped and I suddenly could ‘see the wood for the trees’, that this notion of ‘more-than-human’ was not so difficult to understand after all. Initially I had thought it meant there were things out there other than humans (!) but now I realise it means that there is more to LIFE than humans. It reminds me of the times I am by the sea, standing on the beach, watching and listening to the waves or at other times when at night I look up at the stars. These moments always fill me with a sense of awe at the power, strength, size of the sea/world/universe. They bring me to a realisation about my place in the world, that it is finite and actually fairly insignificant, and yet they connect me to the majesty of the natural world. Is this the unity/connectedness that Froebel talked about? Is this the intra-activity of posthumanism?

I recently went to Pen Green Children's Centre where a book about schemas was being launched. Everyone who had written a chapter had been invited to talk briefly about their thinking and why they had wanted to include it in the book. Chapter 8, written by Jan White, is called ‘Feeling at home in the world: linking schemas with landscape and embodiment understandings' and is, amongst other things, about paths. The notion of meandering paths, as opposed to straight paths, which tend to lend themselves to quick trajectory from one place to the next, allow for the unexpected, not knowing what is to come around the next corner. This helped me to think about being in the forest of posthumanism and how, by spending time not knowing where I was going, was really more exciting and inviting than just walking straight through the forest. And I have been rewarded by beginning to have a better understanding of what posthumanism is and how it might relate to Magic Acorns’ work and Froebel.

As I continue my research, I will use this new (to me) posthumanist lens when looking at videos of Magic Acorns’ work and try to use the notions of ‘more-than-human’ and ‘intra-action’ to see how Magic Acorns embraces an alternative viewpoint and how this might relate to Froebelian principles.

Barad, K., 2003. Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of women in culture and society, 28(3), pp.801-831.

Davies, B., 2014. Listening to children: Being and becoming. Routledge.


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