Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

Day 6 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: a severe case of communicado interruptus.

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The researcher is normally regarded as a source of error and noise, which has to be eliminated or least controlled as much as possible.  Breuer F. and Roth W-M. (2005) What Bang for the Buck? Usefulness of Auto/Biography and Auto/Ethnography to Collective Knowledge.

Whilst there are at least nine tactics that other people can use to get you to shut up, probably the most effective way of you putting a sock it, keeping schtum or buttoning it is when you realise yourself that it’s time to shut that trap of yours and stop letting the cat out of the bag, spilling the beans or just babbling incoherently.

Whether this self-realisation is due to your unconscious assimilation of other people’s desires for you to shut it, or whether it is learned from your own hard fought lived experience is for another blog, but one of the first times I realised that I needed to silence myself was when I was researching the experience of artists and teachers working together.

Interviewing people for a research project seems fairly straightforward on the face of it.  You both turn up at the same place (at the same time, ideally), make the tea, have a set of questions in front of you which are you both going to explore in an open, professional and amiable manner, switch on the tape recorder and off you go. It’s just a case of a directed chat for an hour or so, and if you’re lucky, you’ll agree to go and have a pint afterwards.  How hard can that be?

What have you might not have considered is the myriad of interruptions that destabilise that process.  The phone will ring, there will be perpetual knocking at the door by the teachers, the children, the parents, the caretaker, the gas fitter.  Uncle Tom Cobbley et al don’t even get a look in. 

You soon realise that for all your expectations of an open, professional and amiable conversation, there’s a host of other communications going on which the tape recorder doesn’t have a hope of capturing. 

You also realise that those cursed chairs that children sit on are no use whatsoever in establishing a cosy chat: your back starts complaining loudly, you start fidgeting, you keep adjusting your posture and the head teacher looks alarmingly at you when you wince at one of her answers.  It’s not what she’s said that’s caused you to squirm, just the fact that you’ve developed cramp in your left calf due to those pesky seating arrangements.  

Then the school bell goes. On and on. And on. Any hope of a confessional fireside chat is fast evaporating up the chimney and as she looks at her watch and then out of the window and then back at you, you realise it’s time to get on with it and get on with that list of questions which you have to have completely answered by the time she kicks you out of her office.  

To cap it all, your list of seemingly innocuous questions comes over to her as anything but.  She’s looking below their shiny surface to suss out what their sinister agenda is and to figure out what she thinks you really want to hear.  She wants to impress for maximum impact, she wants to be seen to be saying the right things and the last thing she wants right here right now is a confessional opportunity.  That’s the job of the visiting cleric and she’ll make sure she’s out of the building when he’s visiting. 

So you hurry along, apologetically and inadvertently stray into the taboo status of answering the questions yourself, finishing her sentences and blurting out your appreciation of their responses when it’s least needed. Or as I noted at the time, I am constantly amazed at my inability to read the signs!  She’s giving some insight here into how children are learning and I’ve ignored it and gone straight onto something else!!!  Must learn to listen!

Must learn to listen indeed; or in the terms of this blog, must learn to shut myself up once in a while.

This blog is contributing to The Mighty (Un)Mute, a campaign aiming to raise £5,000 to support the artistic creation for one of ten Globe Sculptures in The World Reimagined art trail across Leicester. The purpose? To recognise and honour those most impacted by the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans through the centuries to the present day.

The TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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