Review by Aislinn O Donnell

4 Oct 2015, 19:00

Becoming Mobius: The Complex Matter of Education

What matters in education? Randomised controlled trials have their origins in medical and agricultural research so “what works” discourses in education tend to rely on simplified and predictable input/output models of causality. These fail to capture the complex dynamics navigated in classrooms every day and they fail to communicate what matters in education — that is, what is significant for those involved.

Kidd shows the pedagogical potential offered by unpredictable encounters in educational spaces. She describes some of the implications of policies and practices in schools that aim to eliminate unpredictability to ensure linear progress, measurable outcomes and control, drawing in particular upon the writings of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari.

It isn’t easy to find a way of mobilising concepts and theory creatively without losing the complexity and liveliness of educational practice. Kidd’s efforts to think with difficult concepts don’t always work, but she avoids the clumsy impositions of a conceptual framework that can too often plague the unreflective use of philosophical and theoretical concepts in educational research and policy. She also resists many of the presuppositions governing educational research in respect of reliability, validity, proof, and evidence.

Her sensitivity to the nature of pedagogical practice and her desire to understand and explore significant, although unpredictable, moments of teaching and learning is worked through with data excerpts in each chapter to stimulate reflection. This inner dialogue of a teacher thinking through what it is she is doing underscores the text and makes it coherent.

There are many humorous, insightful and wonderfully descriptive anecdotes that communicate something of the liveliness of education and the messiness of research, and one gets a strong sense of Kidd’s relationships with her students and the complexities of life as a teacher.

Moments like the wink she gives to her students, the words of the boy responding hesitantly to the theme of multiculturalism and immigration, or the difficult encounter between three boys when she feels excluded, all help to imagine education in terms of singular cases that don’t fit comfortably beside one another, undoing the idea that every particular can be subsumed under a universal maxim. The tenor and energy of many of these stories will be familiar to practitioners, but may not be so for policymakers.

Yet there are some problems with the book. Although the author is aware of the decisions she is making methodologically and structurally, in particular in relation to the non-linearity of the piece, it can dance too quickly between ideas and, at times, its meandering obscures any insights.

It would have benefited from more waymarks to orientate the reader. Using the image of a map is fine but it helps to have some sense of where one is going and why.

Eliminating some of the reflexivity and positionality, in particular in relation to the PhD process, would have focused it further, but the journal excerpts are terrific as are the descriptions.

At times, I would have preferred more depth in terms of working through a number of the concepts, and I wondered how someone unfamiliar with this tradition of philosophical thought would cope with the array of ideas.

This is not to say that Kidd is wrong in her interpretation of these philosophical ideas – many of her intuitions seem right to me – but rather greater elaboration would have been welcome.

Notwithstanding these issues, it is very much worth reading. The examples are particularly engaging and Kidd does well in the difficult task of inviting an interplay of ideas and practice, rather than privileging one over the other.


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