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The (Un)bearable Educational Lightness of Common Practices: On the Use of Urban Spaces by Schoolchildren

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The present paper is about the author’s current research on children’s education in urban contexts. It departs from the rising offer of programmes for school children in out-of-school contexts (e.g. museums, libraries, science centres). It asks what makes these practices educational (and not just interesting, entertaining and/or audience building). Based on Biesta (2006a, 2010) theory of education, the author frames and analyses the educational characteristics of, and possibilities of articulating, in and out-of-school educational practices. This paper aims at understanding if the occasional outing from primary school premises promotes interruptions in the humanist foundations of school. In order to analyse relations between different institutions and professionals (to be) engaged in educational activities and programmes, Nóvoa (2002, 2009) essays will be brought to the discussion, namely his conception of the ‘Public Space of Education’—as a space where culture, education, arts, sports and leisure are shared responsibilities, and where diverse institutions are networked aiming towards societal pluralism. I argue for the possibility of using cities’ public spaces as contexts with a worldly quality to complexify children’s education. Nevertheless, I draw attention to the unbearable educational lightness that these practices may carry if they do not go beyond the praise of chance; as well as to their unsustainable weight if they perpetually repeat school’s normal orders and add up rational discourses.

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  1. 1.

    Here I take the approach developed by Moss and Petrie (2002, p. 9), who define children’s services as “a particular understanding of public provisions for children: a very instrumental and atomising notion, in which provisions are technologies for acting upon children”.

  2. 2.

    As I will show further on, Nóvoa (2002) develops the idea of an «overflowing school» as its missions and goals have been increasing in the past few decades.

  3. 3.

    In this context, Nóvoa uses communitarism as a kind of sociological translation of Lingis’ rational community.

  4. 4.

    Author’s translation from the Portuguese edition of The Human Condition.

  5. 5.

    Author’s translation from the Portuguese original.

  6. 6.

    Author’s translation from the Portuguese original.

  7. 7.

    Here understood in the conventional understanding of a group of people sharing things.

  8. 8.

    Opposite to what happens with primary school teachers that are not supposed to teach more than 5 h a day schoolchildren should not waste any of those hours eight doing anything else but learning.

  9. 9.

    Heath and McLaughlin (1994) as well as Bekerman et al. (2006) highlighted the importance of out-of-school social and cultural experiences as a means of engaging with the world and of fulfilling personal and collective dimensions of our existence.


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Correspondence to Elisabete Xavier Gomes.

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Xavier Gomes, E. The (Un)bearable Educational Lightness of Common Practices: On the Use of Urban Spaces by Schoolchildren. Stud Philos Educ 31, 289–302 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-012-9289-4

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  • Pedagogy of interruption
  • Public space of education
  • Children’s education
  • Urban spaces