HYDROPONICS continued – musing on the disconnect between a thing and how it is done and how it is taught, using the example of 'playwork'






Musings on the Edge-of-chaos in Human Endeavours


There isn’t much that can be done about this because  is an emergent feature of the system: that system being society, or education, or grass roots movements or whatever.


Codified knowledge issues (as in Max Boisot’s ‘information space’ [nice guy, died last year, met him at complexity events]) Codifying usually means reification. The high priests study the people, come to rule over them, lose contact with them, cannot understand them, speak a reified language that the people cannot understand. Some people adore the priests, other denounce them, most ignore them and don’t go to church.



It’s about people. Humans are social animals. It’s a bit tribal, it’s a bit Dunbar’s number.

‘No man is an island’. Sure but how and why… I think Donne admitted the possibility of the solitary island man, a mental Robinson Crusoe if you will… I think that, like me, he wanted to redefine ‘man’ (leaving aside the putative linguistic and cultural sexism of his era) as ‘human who is in contact with and nourished by his connections to humanity’. My own view is that we are or become ‘mental in the head’ if we are solitary, like a sad penguin I once saw baking in the summer heat at a children’s zoo, or a gorilla in a 1930’s zoo cage. I think we can only be human if we are connected to others.  I coined the phrase’ through play we become human’ and the play I had in mind was not screen-based, it was out and about, exploring, and it was the rough-and-tumble of human interaction. Perhaps I should say ‘through social varieties of play we become human’ except that I don’t believe that. It’s about all the unfolding aspects of play becoming and suchlike. Perhaps ‘through social play we become sociable’? Nah. ‘Through rough-and-tumble play we become rough-and-tumble-able’ – that I like but it’s not sufficiently true. Stop now! Next I’l be going ‘What is play?’ Possibly a less interesting question than ‘what is in your coat pocket?’


So what we see is a common effect, partly generational, young playworkers and teachers the same age as their parents, partly social – you don’t mix with playworkers no more, your reference group is other academics.


But the most important reason is this:



Edges are interesting. Eddie and Penny are fascinated with liminal space, edgelands. I’m fascinated by edges like beaches (where life probably began), and far-out jazz at the point that it surfs the edge between order and chaos in a Pharaoh Sanders solo. And edge don’t persist, well they do, but they don’t persist in space, the wave moves on, you can’t step in the same river twice’. What persists on jazz is an edge where the interesting stuff is happening, but that edge is always moving, changing. The edge of jazz in Britain in the early 60s was Indo-Jazz fusion, In Miles Davis’s work, in the late 60s we got ‘In a Silent Way’ (and later the lauded and lesser Bitches Brew) in which the edge was electric instruments/acoustic and the possibilities that looong notes on an electric keyboard offered to Miles’ sound-making.


A simpler, cruder metaphor is ‘punk rock’ or, as we prefer in the UK, simply ‘Punk’, or ‘The Punk Movement’. Not the music so much, but the attitude, the social movement. Lot of very smart grammar school and art school kiddies slumming it in 3 chords back then (a bit like playwork when I were a lad).


Punk was an edge. There is always an edge. Jazz is a long-established edge of popular music. Punk was an edge of chaos of poular music. Jazz, in a fractal way, has its own edges, it’s been around long enough for that to happen. Jaco Pastorius had an album of ‘punk jazz’ – an edge on an edge.


The edge of chaos.  OR the edge of order. It is the same thing.


The edge of chaos. People don’t listen.


(and again, Francis,  ‘people’ is NOT the person you might have in mind. I meet people all the time who love my ‘edge of chaos stuff’ and don’t get it.) It’s as if  I said ‘the top of the table’ referring to the flat plane on which we put our crockery and cutlery and morning paper; it can be Chippendale or IKEA or, a plank on top of a dented barrel under an urban flyover, it doesn’t matter. Some folk run off to obsess over catalogues of  dining furniture looking for the perfect table, others run up hills to get to the top. It’s not tops. It’s not tables, it’s table-tops. Sort of thing.)


So we have this idea of the edge of chaos in a context. Jazz is the edge of chaos of popular music. (Did you know that ‘Kinda Blue’ and ‘So What?’ were on jukeboxes in the 50s/60s?  But only in black clubs and bars, only in the hip joints in the hip cities. (cue hip-replacement joke))




and I hope I have built my case for this punchline:




The ten-year dalliance with childcare not withstanding. In any case, childcare is a subset of education, broadly speaking.

If you are interested in the (leading) edge of new approaches to education look no further than the fringes of the work -to adventure play, to forest schools and the like.


There are university courses in jazz. Forensic fossil hunters. There are people playing jazz, unbeknown to the colleges. A playwork revolution (which I have noticed, and play no part in) is afoot.

Johnny Marr is now a lecturer in Music at Salford University, I believe. He used to be big in the 80s in a band called the Smiths. Jessie J’s fans haven’t heard of him, and their mum’s haven’t either, they were into Duran Duran and Wham. Recently a young struggling band in the US advertised for a guitarist, like you do. They wanted somebody who was into ‘this sort of stuff’ and had ‘these sort of influences’ and who had a Johnny Marr-type sound.




Some might say – what a tosser, a rock star teaching at a University in his 40s.

I say – what a dude, joining a band at his age.



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