Listening in an educational context

Listening of Production: Part 3 of 3

 

Some years I lived in Itabira.

Principally I was born in Itabira.

That’s why I’m sad, proud: of iron.

Ninety percent iron in the sidewalks.

Eighty percent iron in the souls.

And this estrangement from what in life is porosity and communication. […]

From Itabira I brought various gifts that I now offer:

this ironstone, Brazil’s future steel,

this Saint Benedict of old saint Alfredo Duval;

this tapir leather, spread out on the couch in the living room;

this pride, this hanging head …

I’ve had gold, I’ve had cattle, I’ve had farms.

Today I am a civil servant.

Itabira is just a picture on the wall.

But how it hurts![1]

 

The work I facilitated with administrators in the municipal network in a small city in the State of Minas Gerais was part of a bigger movement in Brazil that proposes to increase school hours and expand the pedagogical activities offered in the public school system. The sessions took place at the Fazenda do Pontal, a place that belonged to Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s[2] family and that today is a public space that holds workshops, exhibitions, and other cultural and educational activities. The first core goal of working with administrators was to activate the conception of integral education – a model of education that considers all those involved in the process as subjects in the municipal network. The second goal was to produce teaching guidelines for the implementation of a wholistic pedagogical program. Participants were also oriented in different manners to produce a fertile space for listening and exchanging technologies and knowledge related to education. This essay emphasizes the ways that listening was used as a way to enrich and consider the multiple elements of the educational process.

 

Listening in the Training Space or listening to the Training Space

The space where the sessions with the administrators took place is an emblematic place—a mining town in the state of Minas Gerais. Mining is a striking presence in the city – from the jobs it offers, the interferences in the landscape caused by the huge mine dumps that border the city and by the presence of huge craters, including one of the ancient landmarks of the city, Cauê Hill, which after mining, has become Cauê Hole.

Despite of this remarkable presence, with its intersecting concrete and symbolic landscapes, its absence in training sessions or in the school curriculum is noteworthy. If we understand the school curriculum as connected to the wider social production and intimately marked by cultural production, the lack of pedagogical problematization of the fact of being a mining town is disturbing.

Considering the precise space where the training sessions take place, the reason for this small deviation will be understood, since they happen in the old farm that belonged to the family of the poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. In the year 1973, the main house of the Farm was dismantled to clear space for a dam for ore washing. Vale[3] kept it dismantled for thirty years. In 2004, the company rebuilt the house with the original pieces and “handed over to the community this important part of Drummond’s childhood”. [4] Today, the Fazenda do Pontal is situated a few kilometers from its original location and overlooks the ore washing ponds or, simply, the waste.[5]

It is noteworthy the fact that the Fazenda do Pontal was delivered to the city thirty years after it gave way to ore washing. According to Suely Rolnik, this is the time it takes for a trauma of social dimensions to return and be elaborated. The time of a generation. On the other hand, it makes you wonder how long it takes to produce a silencing, understood from both cultural and curricular perspectives.

 

The Silences and the Limits of the Training

Back to the training experience, it is possible to say that some silences that were repeated there began to sound like noises that were just as hard to avoid as they were to face. The work of Raquel Stolf[6] called Assonances of Silence helps to access silence from an affirmative point of view and, thereby, differentiate silence from silencing. This work consists of records on compact disc of fifty different silences – silence with cricket, with wind, with many birds, with emptiness and insects, with a refrigerator running, with a glitch, among other sound situations recorded by the researcher.

The experience of listening to the silences, as she proposes it, is a sound experience. To what silence does it refer, then, since there are recordings of different sounds? One possible approximation of this question is the fact that there is no recording of voice, breath or any other indication of the artist’s presence in the recordings. Is the silence, here, connected to a who? From this, it may be possible to think of a kind of relative silence, in which the subject disappears except for the sound recording of what is going on in the surroundings. However, if we understand the subject as that which resounds in it, we could emphasize the subjective presence in the recorded silences, understanding the inventory of silences recorded by the artist as an apprehension of what in it resounded as silence. This leads one to think the relation between silence and listening beyond the field of the subject founded on reason or as an a priori.

During the fourth session, an administrator pulled me aside, almost in confidence. It was not the first time she had. Her observations, always delicate, contrasted with her corpulent presence. “It’s been 42 years of school,” “I am impressed these days with the fatigue that I feel when trying to understand something that is so natural for them.[7] In the midst of this seemingly trivial conversation, rather banal talk about the city came up: “Did you know that Itabira is the city with the highest number of suicides in Brazil?” (I was not aware of it until that moment). It was surprising that this information had only come from an aside, almost as a confession, after almost two years of work in the city. Why was this data considered unimportant?

“We have lost the ability to establish resonances between things” states Vladimir Safatle[8]. It is possible to question whether this capacity has been lost or if it is interdicted via multiple forms of silencing, both cultural and curricular. What must be done, in the recording of a pedagogical-clinical process, is to reestablish the possibility of resonating; to provide situations of listening in which people perceive themselves in a force field and to draw lines that connect and simultaneously give visibility to what imprisons and what drives life; to resume our ability to establish resonances and to bet that this can cause the body to reverberate in order to break the silence and create possibilities consonant with the vital processes.

It is important to question the ways the traversing of a mining company’s presence in a city expresses itself subjectively, and if the high rate of suicide attempts is not connected. It is also necessary to question how the educational task confronts this suicide rate, that is, the effects from the point of view of a public school curriculum.

This question points to the power of education to increase perception of influences from the outside, to be affected by them and to work in a way to resonate such issues from the point of view of the organization of contents and learning situations, that is, from the curriculum. Perceiving this specificity gives strength to the educational actions that work with horizons of extension of the students’ experience. What’s more, to offer activities that consider singularities and act to extend freedom and to produce empowerment means to fight actions restricted by the sieve of profit.

In view of what has been presented, it seems possible to map out a kind of silencing regime, partially worsened by the high rate of suicide in the city and by the devastation of the local landscape. Thus, it is important to differentiate silence from silencing. The silence in Stolf’s work is affirmative and productive, since from it, it is possible to perceive from its absolute impossibility until the access to sound spaces that can trigger multiple threads of meaning. On the other hand, the silence around the issues related to the high suicide rate and coping with the effects of the presence of mining in Itabira can be understood as a silencing of questions from the outside and its possible connections with the curriculum.

What happens if we listen to the mining’s presence and to the high suicide level from a clinical-pedagogical perspective? It happens that we can position ourselves on this question. I’m referring to an institutional positioning and, when it comes to the schools, it means a curricular positioning. In other words, the schools could discuss and think how to face it from a curricular point of view (what we do with what we listen to).

Considering it was not possible, for several reasons, to do that with the schools, it is still possible to imagine curricular responses to those questions, for example: studying contents related to mining from different subjects’ perspectives; doing a field survey with the students in order to register and testify the mining effects – the visible and the invisible ones; proposing several aesthetic interventions such as literary and poetic texts, or images; interviewing older dwellers about the old spots and life before and after the mining; thinking collectively (educators and administrators) about practices of valuing life, talking about suicide in a nonmoral mode; mapping possible causes (affective rather than scientific). At the same time, we must always have in mind the following question: how can what we heard and researched affect our educational propositions? How can life, even when considered from the perspective of suicide or death, impact educational processes? It’s also possible to think and propose activities not directly related to mining, but those able to make the social imaginary wider, for example,by exploring and experimenting with other possibilities of political organization.

The interweaving between the economic sustenance of the past and the present and the prospects of the future around mining activities configures a dependency relation that restricts the field of possibilities in the city. On the one hand, this shows how the capitalist mode of operation infiltrates life, something perceptible in the movement of the great machines that carry tons of ore a year, the sound of the train that crosses the city or the ferrous colour of the water lines in the small village in the countryside; that is to say, one cannot go beyond capitalist functioning. On the other hand, it is precisely this interweaving that suggests the possibility of resisting, refuting, blocking or not being able to cope with capitalist flows, understood in a broad way as the principle of placing profit over life. If it is here that the river runs, it is precisely here that it is possible to bathe, build a dam or start a crossing. The perception that each process, be it existential, curricular, technical or of any other type, connects with the production of subjectivity as a whole, even if this is not done in a visible way at any and all levels, it can suffocate or, on the contrary, stir up the power to act.

Such power is also placed in the educational field. Hence the educational task moves a whole field of forces that cannot be restricted to the areas of knowledge. If the school’s role is, in general, to promote learning and if we understand the curriculum as the proper artefact of school education, our instruments to connect body and word, culture and pedagogy, life and education are precisely in the curriculum. This may mean understanding that the curriculum is a producer of subjectivity to the extent that it is affected by the process of subjectification. Being attentive and porous to the resonances to which the educational process is subject is one of education’s tasks, when it is thought about from the perspective of life itself, its circumstances and resonances.

 ~Paula Chieffi 

 

[1] “Confidência do Itabirano”, poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

[2] Important Brazilian poet, born in 1902 in Itabira. Dead in 1987.

[3]      One of the largest mining companies in the world, founded in 1942 in Itabira. Privatized in 1997 in a not-so transparent operation, while still called Vale do Rio Doce. In 2015 it was one of the responsible for the environmental crime resulting from the rupture of an ore washing dam in Mariana, MG, which resulted in the contamination of the Rio Doce.

[4]      Available at: <http://www.fccda.mg.gov.br/index.php/2013-03-08-00-07-21/fazenda-do-pontal>.

[5] It should be added that in Itabira there are about 30 dams similar to the one that broke in Mariana.

[6] Available at: <http://www.raquelstolf.com>.

[7] Referring to the relationship of students with the application that takes the name of pokemon go – an expanded reality interface that indicates, by geolocation system, the presence of animated pokemon characters and allows their capture via application. Despite their presence on the sites, they can only be accessed by the application. Without it, the characters are invisible.

[8] In a speech that included the release of the book Crisis and Insurrection in 2016.

 

Bibliography

BARTHES, Roland. 1990. O óbvio e o obtuso.  Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira. Translated by Léa Novaes.

DELEUZE, Gilles (with Claire Parnet) 1996 From A to Z.  US: The MIT Press. Translated by Charles J. Stivale.

DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Félix. 2009 Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.Penguin Books Ltd.: Penguin Classics. Translated by Robert Hurley.

GUATTARI, Félix. 2015 Psychoanalysis and TransversalityTexts and Interviews 1955–1971. US: The MIT Press. Translated by Ames Hodges.

NANCY, Jean-Luc. 2007 Listening. New York: Fordham University Press. Translated by Charlotte Mandell.

ROLNIK, Suely and GUATTARI, Félix. 2007Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). Translated by Karel Clapshow and Brian Holmes.

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