Ed Lewis is part of the Shake! team, focusing in particular on political education. Here discusses the significance of the project for him and reflects on the most recent Shake! course, held at the Stephen Lawrence Centre this February.
I spend most of the working week as a teacher in a secondary school. I experience the pressures, challenges and limitations of working in compulsory education, as well as the rewards and pleasures that can come from doing so. Experiencing Shake! alongside my working life has been hugely interesting. Schooling can encourage teachers to have a restricted view of the capacities of young people – when their engagement is limited and their answers are one word long, cynicism can easily develop. Some teachers, myself included, are also disappointed when they encounter many of their students approaching their education in a fairly narrow way, seeing it ultimately as an economic investment, and the value of time in class to be judged in terms of how it will contribute to their exam results (there is a tendency for teachers to see things in these narrow terms too). There are a range of reasons why this is the case, but part of the answer is to be found in education itself. An obvious but too easily forgotten fact is that the content of formal education is overwhelmingly externally imposed – students are not encouraged to pursue their own interests, to develop intrinsic motivation around learning. And the mechanics of schooling – such as the relentless focus on target grades – and the rhetoric employed – such as the use of sports-style aspirational language – encourage the investment-oriented outlook of students.
So my first experience of Shake!, back in 2010, was a liberation. In a context devoted to thinking, learning and exploring in its own right, defined in many ways by the participants themselves, fusing political inquiry with creative activity, I saw an energy and engagement from several of my own students that I hadn’t encountered before. As an educator, it was a release to have the freedom to discuss and explore ideas without the confines of a highly prescribed curriculum. What’s more, I felt that I was able to utilise my skills – for all its problems, formal schooling does equip one with some valuable knowledge and capacities – in the service of critical political education in a way that is very difficult to achieve in school. I’ve worked on Shake! ever since, buoyed by the energy of that week, and looked forward to re-launching the project, which we finally did this February (not that things were quiet in the interim – we did loads!).