The Aesthetic Classroom and the Beautiful Game

Journal of Aesthetic Education 44 (2):50 (2010)
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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The Aesthetic Classroom and the Beautiful GameBradley Baurain (bio)IntroductionSoccer fans will not be surprised that understanding "the beautiful game" can contribute to understandings of teaching and learning. After all, at least one theorist sees "the nature of all social life" to be reflected in soccer: "The unfolding match between team-mates and opponents [illustrates] … the interdependency of human beings, and the 'flexible lattice-work of tensions' generated through their social bonds. Power flows fluidly between players, jockeying for possession and moving between attack and defence."1 Another finds striking parallels between cultural history and tactics of play in soccer, including a "modernist" period emphasizing cautious ball control and defense-oriented player formations, and the current "postmodern" style emphasizing creativity and fluidity; he even identifies the history of the free kick as a microcosm of the whole.2The idea I explore in this essay is in a sense simply an extended analogy: A well-played soccer game has much in common with a well-taught lesson or course. Features of the one are set for comparison and discussion alongside features of the other. Yet, as with any good analogy, matters are not really so simple. One makes the comparison so that the juxtaposed items inform and illuminate one another—that is, one looks at a thing in order to see a different thing more clearly. So while I contend that soccer has much in common with teaching, the reverse is also true; I am not using soccer only as a "way through" to teaching. Neither of my terms of comparison are merely means to an end; instead both are ends in themselves. Reading the soccer parts of this essay will, I trust, inform and illuminate teaching and [End Page 50] curriculum, but at the same time my goal is for any soccer player who might read the teaching parts also to learn something about "the beautiful game."Soccer, "the beautiful game," is an apt comparison for the aesthetic classroom. My thoughts on what characterizes aesthetic teaching will emerge and take on flesh as this essay develops, but let me begin by describing it as "concerned for acts of mind as opposed to end products, fluidity and imagination rather than fixed sequence, judgment within learning experiences in contrast to deciding everything in advance, and dwelling with subject matter rather than merely covering subject matter."3 As Wanda May comments: "I suggest that when teaching is done well … it is a work of art because we reconfigure and decorate our spaces, make our marks, elevate ourselves and others above confinement, routine, and the mundane. We expand our capacity to see, hear, love, critique, and act on our possibilities in the world."4 I could as easily have applied both of these quotations to soccer. It is no accident that John Dewey links sports with the aesthetic: "Dance and sport are activities in which acts once performed spontaneously in separation are assembled and converted from raw, crude material into works of expressive art."5I anchor my discussion in four concepts foundational to the aesthetic classroom: play, relationality, process, and flow. My analysis of each of these key ideas moves back and forth among soccer, aesthetic and pedagogical theory, and classroom research and narratives. Examples, including those from my own experience, are drawn primarily from the related fields of language education and English as a Second Language (ESL). If soccer and the classroom can have much in common, another way of introducing this essay is to say that I spend it trying to see what takes place in the gaps, in the "muchness" that lies between the two terms of the analogy. I hope that readers will "make much" of this, too, for without them the seeing remains incomplete.The Concept of Play, Playing with ConceptsThough it has become a multibillion-dollar global business, at its best soccer is play: "We play sport, we don't work sport."6 Play means having fun and inspiring joy, but this sense of freedom does not mean play is unstructured. Games have rules, skills, procedures, and boundaries, and these features enable rather than constrain. From Dewey's point of view, they are...

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