Share

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation - CERI

Interview - Soren Kjaer Jensen

 

Consortium Director - Play and Learning
Learning Lab Denmark

THE DANGERS OF MOVING TOWARDS A FRICTIONLESS SOCIETY

The Psychology of Embodiment

OECD
Why do you do the work you do – why is it important to you?

Søren Kjær Jensen
To be honest, I’ve always tried to go for a combination of something that would be interesting and challenging and fun with environments and people - anything but bland. I easily get bored and I really like crazy people. I started out very young as a photographer, moved into music, did music as a sideman, starting composing as a producer, and moved into multi-media. I ended up setting up my own small company in technology and play and did consultant work for the LEGO Company. You can say I’ve been around a lot of different things in my career. So my career is not career planning – it is just falling into opportunities and taking advantage of that. These days, a good part of my time is spent helping to set up strong research environments that would bridge cognitive sciences, neuro-sciences, and the psychology of embodiment – a kind of an alter-ego speaking about what it means to be human considering that we actually have a physical body that has its needs. You can look at those needs from psychological, socio-logical, political, power-oriented angles and to me the issues in relation to children primarily have to do with the notion that our education systems largely undermine the physical body. I believe we would benefit from allowing and embodying and helping children to have a more movement oriented, sensuous, and rich environment to live in, to work in. The challenge for the education system is that a lot of people won’t believe that this is beneficial to human growth, development and learning.

OECD
How do you approach incorporating our physical needs?

SKJ
I piggyback on research in order to persuade people that rich learning environments have to do with being very open-minded, artistic, and multi-faceted in designing the learning experiences. I’m not implying that we should teach more in the arts or that we should dance mathematics or draw language – even though I think that these are very good and relevant methods – it’s just an overall sense that educational systems are way too much focused on higher cognitive functions represented in language and writing. That undermines the quality of many children who do not have any time at school to absorb what has been told to them. Or what they should read. It is actually detrimental to the rich learning of any child that would gain from an environment that would be more wholesome.

OECD
What's happening in the learning environments in Denmark - what have you been seeing? 

SKJ
Well, my take on things is definitely that I do not support the thing on multiple-intelligences, because I don’t think that it is a strong theory. I do think that it is a good take on undermining the classical belief in IQ. But it is not a good theory. I don’t think it is something that one should teach – as you are beginning to see in many municipalities in Denmark. Because it is a solid scientific theory. And so with multiple learning styles (even though it is commendable and good that we should work with many styles of learning and teaching and theory) I see immediately a take on things like Howard Gardner’s or Donald Dunn’s approaches to things. And once that is presented in a way that is appealing to teachers and educators, (because it supports a need that they do have or particularly that some of them have) it then turns into churches. And I personally don’t like that. The problem with that is that it takes stuff that is really not substantiated or supported in solid evidence. And by evidence here, I am not just referring just to science or very hard core neuro-science. We can have evidence-based research into classroom and kindergarten practices that would just be as valid as neuro-science, but they would need to be very strong, and I haven’t seen any good examples of this.

OECD
I read in one of your recent articles that you said we need new research in this area – in regards to the relationship between the body and learning - is that right?

SKJ
Absolutely. And to be very certain about it, my job is primarily to build up projects, relationships, and to get funding. I am more of a project manager than a fundraiser. But a lot of what I’ve done has resulted in funding. So you could always criticize me for shipping bad news and promoting the idea that everything is wrong. For instance, I think that Denmark is a very good society in respect to informal and formal ways of teaching and learning, but it is not enough – my point is that it is not good enough. We always have to be ambitious and strive to create something that is even better that what we have. So, what initially infuriated me and disappointed during the process of what I originally called body and knowledge (to take a pun on what knowledge really is and to take the body into account) was the statistics of how multi-skills, of how multi-performance and of how obesity are at a worse stage than what they used to be. This is, for me, a strong indication of a society moving towards a frictionless society. And lots of people, particularly politicians, and policy-makers and people in the sports disciplines think that obesity is the biggest issue. And we do have obesity projects in Denmark that address that, but to me, my educated guessing is that the implications are on a much grander scale than just something having to do with being fit or not. It is an issue of what knowledge and values are at stake in a society – and if we keep on playing by or following certain trajectories of international benchmarking testing – a narrowly defined curriculum – I think that we don’t end up with a very instrumental take on childhood development and growth, and that it will be, in the long run, detrimental to many children.

OECD
And if it continues in this direction -

SKJ
Well, my core motivation is that I think that the socially outcast, the weaker families and children, will suffer even more because of an education system and a working arena that demands from a society a more cognitively oriented, traditional or skilled-oriented improvement in relation to cognitive skills, in relation to a regime of testing and of taking certification and improving on formal education all the time, we are leaving the bottom forth or third of society and that is something has its markers also in the physical markers, or science, or signs you can see that weak children are also overweight. And things are inter-played. And it is important to take these things apart and to be very critical and analytical of what levels of analysis and interventions we are looking at and I think that we, in particularly other disciplines, need to address this in a concerted way and I’m trying to persuade people into working with this stuff because it’s important. So when the politicians say, “We need to fight obesity” well, I’m trying to use that agenda as a driving force for an agenda that is a bit more complicated but in my view not less important.

OECD
Has it been successful in some ways so far?

SKJ
I think so. We have made sure that aspects of multi-development and physical skills and environment – body and nutrition – have been informally placed on the descriptions on what needs to be worked within kindergarten. This will be expanded upon.

“If we keep on following certain trajectories of international benchmarking testing we will not end up with a very instrumental take on childhood development and growth - and (this) will be detrimental to many children”.

OECD
How do you communicate your ideas to all groups of people like policy-makers, educational specialists and practitioners – you give a lot of workshops, for instance, what makes them effective – how do you get your ideas across?

SKJ
Well, we’ve done workshops for all different targeted user groups. It’s not at all difficult to do that.  The important bit is to be very mindful and analytical about “What is it good for?” If you’re dealing with policy-makers and you’re doing workshops on what is to be done, you should address it in a totally different way than if you’re doing this stuff with high school teachers, or with teachers of adult education, or with kindergarten. And doing workshops is all very fine and dandy but what Hans (Sigaard Jensen) and I are really discussing is this: it is fairly obvious that we are going to see a wave in the future of reoccurring professional retraining of various groups. So, the model that we are trying to develop, the model for best practice in approaching this is first of all an analysis of “what do these arenas need? And how is this expressed by the participants? What can we contribute by partly going in with a participatory approach to developing whatever these organisations and individuals need and partly going in with an ethnographical and anthropological analysis of what is taking place in this institution – functionally, sociologically, and psychologically?” For instance, one of the things that often or almost always will be written out when you are talking about children - is children. The level of analysis in dealing with how this affects children is so often omitted because people often resort to the easy way of asking the analysts how this is going. You have to take into account what happens to children. How do you validate that? How do you investigate that? To me, a model of professional development should be mindful and analytical about the structures and the participants. It should be developed with them. There is no excuse. Workshops – that’s easy.  It’s easy to come up with a lot of things that one can do – that are built on rich insights. But that’s a limited take. It’s more than that. It’s has to be eye-opening.  It has to be a way to getting to discuss with people to find out what their needs are and if there is something we can do to help them.
23 February 2006
Copenhagen

 

Related Documents