‘Statio’ by Nick Swarbrick

And over on his own blog, our Nick Swarbrick is writing about the solstice. Here is a taster, the full blog is here:


The year’s midnight. 

“Always winter and never Christmas.” C S Lewis’ ultimate baddie, the White Witch, keeps Narnia frozen in a time when the natural cycle of death and birth cannot continue. Will Stanton in Cooper’s The Dark is Rising has his midwinter birthday interrupted, threatened, brought into its rightful place by the crises in the book. Kay Harker’s dream (or not-a-dream) sees the Christmas of Merrie England restored when the dark powers of   sorcery threaten to destroy it. I feel I also have to note en passant the most terrifying version of this for me, Michelle Paver’s adult work Dark Matter, where the narrator faces months of night time and solitude – and something far worse out on the Arctic ice. The time in late December is reenacted in these stories as a time of crisis, and the subtext seems to me to be a worry that as the days darken, the sun will not return, no hope for love “At the next world, that is, at the next spring.” A fear that This is It.

Remembrance in Schools: November 2019

November is always the busiest time for our project  – researching annual commemorative  events in the school setting, this is when we gather our data and do much of our work with schools. This year is no exception.  We published our first journal article from project data since we can only do I research once a year it’s been some time coming. I personally had the privilege of visiting to schools and joining in the Remembrance Day events speaking with a class of pupils before joining in with the whole school silence, and giving the address to a large congregation of current and ex pupils in another school’s chapel. We’ve created our project website with access to our research summaries our pamphlet for schools and as a portal for this November’s research. If you are a UK based teacher or student aged 17 or more we are looking for short accounts of your schools event – any and all views are welcome. And if you are a headteacher please do contact us: we are trying to find out more about the texts used and the messages and themes that come through.

Our project has not been longitudinal n the sense of a repeated design with the same participants. But returning to the same event or set of events we’ve gained layers of data  different perspectives which touch between them on what happened, key narratives about remembrance and more amorphous but equally important – atmosphere and emotions. Our research has been humanistic in its approach so generalisable data was never a priority. And we’ve made a virtue out of the different disciplinary perspectives on the project team. What we’ve done could maybe be described as eclectic but perhaps also this comes with the territory. Remembrance Day events are powerful and highly charged occasions. With rituals like the silence and widely recognised symbols like poppies there’s a lot about these events that becomes familiar through annual encounter. But in other ways they are strange – these are unusual occasions in the life of a school.

In the wider public arena November 2019 has felt different from November 2018. Then you couldn’t escape remembrance: there were poppies everywhere! Of course people have wondered what would happen after the centenary of the First World War had passed and the project team has been curious about this too. We planned for the project to cover the years 2013 to 2019 so the centenary years and a bit more. Over this period we’ve reached out to staff and pupils through questionnaires, and face to face through interviews and observations (see summary). We’ve collaborated with teachers, other researchers, interest group members and heritage specialists on our pamphlet for schools to help with planning of remembrance events. We’ve worked particularly closely with two schools, on projects gathering staff and student views which we and they took to a national AHRC First World War engagement centre event in Cardiff in July. Will we stick to our plan or will we be like the sports personality who retires and then comes back? Watch this space. The different feel between 2018 and 2019 was something we anticipated at the outset and has made us pause for thought. But does lesser publicity mean lesser interest? From our work over the last 12 months I don’t think it does. At the risk of a poor prediction I can’t see schools not doing engaging in Remembrance Day events any time soon – what happens ten years down the line is another matters…. For now, we have more articles to write and our pamphlet to revise in 2020. And who knows, for our empirical research, maybe we’ll do an Andy Murray and come back.

By Susannah Wright (susannahwright@brookes.ac.uk)

Mat Tobin: ‘Whose worlds are we sharing with children’?

Mat Tobin’s recent post on the ‘Lantana’ publishing blog offers some top tips on building a diverse and multicultural bookshelf and on becoming a ‘culturally responsive teacher’.

He starts as follows:

When I began my first year at Oxford Brookes University, working alongside trainee/pre-service primary teachers, two events occurred which radically challenged my concepts around multicultural literature. Before investigating these experiences, I think it important to share the following definitions collated by Dudley-Marling (2003: 305):

‘Literature by and about people who are members of groups considered to be outside the socio-political mainstream

(Professor Emeritus, Rudine Sims Bishop, 1992: 39)

‘Literature that represents any distinct cultural group through accurate portrayal and rich detail.’

(Professor Emeritus, Junko Yokota, 1993: 157)

The words and phrases underlined were key in challenging those entrenched precepts that had informed my teaching, learning and ideological beliefs with regards to multiculturalism.

The full post is available here:

Nick Swarbrick on Compassion, Kindness and Charity

Nick Swarbrick has been busy again, this time on the #365daysofcompassion blog, a tale of complex roots and etymological confusion. He writes:

“It’s tempting to talk about compassion by selecting from one or two very specific traditions, using soundbite sources such as Thich Nhat Hanh or the Bible –  as if the soundbite is everything. Compassion in many ways cuts across religious traditions and it is therefore easy to take a syncretistic line, mashing Tao, the Buddha, a bit of Plato and the foundational texts of Judaism, Islam and Christianity all together in a kind of psychological fusion food. What I’d like to do here is to disentangle this a little by looking at compassion in the early Christian West. That’s not to claim it as a western phenomenon, or one from the first centuries of the Common Era, but simply to look at one of the ways it has been explored, discussed, and developed.”

For more see the original #365daysofcompassion 

Mat Tobin on masculinity, reading, and changing lives

Mat Tobin has been writing for ‘Beanstalk’ about the men in primary education, reading and assumptions about masculinity. He argues for more men becoming reading helpers in a primary classroom, as sharing books can create conversations and bonds that can change lives. Read more here: https://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/blog/you-can-not-only-change-a-life-you-can-actually-save-lives-says-mat-tobin

Nick is Spellbound

From Lewis Carroll to C. S. Lewis, Tolkien to Garner and Cooper, and to the present day with Philip Pullman (who has written an excellent essay to accompany the exhibition), Oxford is seen – or maybe sees itself – as a centre for writing about magic and fantasy, and the museum and library collections support this in so many ways. Nick Swarbrick has visited the Ashmolean Spellbound exhibition and reviewed it for Folklore Thursday. Here is his review.

Stranger Visitors

Nick Swarbrick again on Maurice Sendak, published on his own blog site on 10 May. Here’s a snippet, but go to the original for much more.

Five years ago we lost Maurice Sendak, or at least we lost his continuing ability to create. It was an amazing, richly endowed talent. In this post from BrainPickings, for instance, we are presented with his anarchic, triumphant pair, Jack and Guy – it was the eagle-eyed Mat who first pointed out the illustration of Trump Tower in it to me – whose carnival through the chaos of modern times has lots to tell us about how to live well. For me, it is his pictures of the outside breaking in – the Goblins and the menacing sunflowers in Outside Over There – that always make me wonder about the complexities of breaking-in from outside in stories. What is so bad about things breaking in?

From Generation to Generation: An Exploration of Myth and Landscape in the Work of Alan Garner

Research Group members Nick Swarbrick and Matt Tobin have been busy in the Cheshire countryside, in this guest post for Folklore Thursday.  I suspect others might be retracing their steps soon!

Reading between the lines of landscape, and drinking in a sense of place from the unpicking of a collective memory, be it literary, anthropological, geographical, or our own sensory experiences, is something that has been toyed with for decades. The emotional and spiritual dimension of being in place, in the work of Alan Garner, powerfully reminds us of our connection to, and relationship with, the land and the memories/stories attached to it.

Alan Garner is a prolific writer perhaps best known for his two books The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963). These are both magic realism adventures in which two children visit his Cheshire homeland and encounter creatures from British legend. All of his books are either re-presentations of folktales or an unearthing of the mythologies which have collectively been woven into the landscape over the centuries. The commonality throughout is the emotional and spiritual connection that modern peoples have with their past. With a gap of some fifty years, he completed the trilogy in 2012 with Boneland. After reading Garner’s last two novels – Boneland and Thursbitch – we came to the conclusion that the landscape itself is a character. There is something sentient about the physical space; it is as if the elves in the earlier novels and the psychological disturbance of his middle-period fiction are revisited with an almost surgical exploration as he looks at the relationship between spirituality, landscape, and story.

– See more at: http://folklorethursday.com/creative-corner/generation-generation-exploration-myth-landscape-work-alan-garner/#sthash.ZEP26LIJ.dpuf

University as both vehicle to, and shelter from, the future

Research group member John Lowenthal’s latest blog post for the ‘Imagining the Future’ project on urban and rural youth transitions – this project also involves Humanistic Perspectives member Patrick Alexander. John is currently resident in the States but sharing his thoughts online…

Discourses of education are often centred around notions of investment and the future. Young people are encouraged, as well as threatened, to go further and further into their studies through an ideology of delayed gratification. By “sacrificing” the present and committing time, effort, and in the case of HE, a great deal of borrowed money then you’re in with a chance of great things. Whilst a lottery, the future is kept alive through the promise of possibility. Failure to strive within this forward momentum is depicted throughout schooling as dangerous, degenerative, and against one’s own future interests. Yet even then, education is framed across the life course as salvational and solutional. Adults without a degree may “redeem” themselves later in life; much like aspirational immigrants who “use” education to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”; meanwhile, those already with a degree increasingly consider further, and yet further qualifications, trying to escape a dull or competitive present in the hope of something better.

For more see: https://urbanruralyouthtransitions.wordpress.com/

Why Picturebooks Matter

And here is Mat Tobin, introducing a post on his own blog:

What is children’s literature and why it is worthy of our time, as adults, is something that I have been exploring since first graduating as a Primary Teacher. Although the two words could be read as mutually exclusive, they do in fact go hand in hand. In order to break down the walls of criticism that comes with studying children’s literature, I decided to write the following blog as an introduction to exploring what children’s literature does and why it is important that, as educators in all forms, we recognise its potential.