Encounters and Proximity

Pedagogies in Viral Times takes up the pandemic as an event that uniquely positions us to think with the concept of proximity. Proximity became the pedagogical catalyst for experimenting with. What might encountering each other and the world during the pandemic do? How might these encounters transform education, us and those around us? What responsibilities are ushered in proximity? For us, as Todd (2015, p. 249) writes, “proximity is not solely about a fixed spatial distancing but about the movement inherent in approaching the other.” Through careful pedagogical and curricular processes, we and our worldly relations have been subjectively shaped again and again.

The pedagogical preposition(s) at the heart of this project are not offered as the premises for a pedagogical approach or a model but as a situated educational response to the conditions in which Santana’s Children’s city found itself in the first wave of the pandemic. The intention was not to adjust the mode of delivery so that we could continue with the same curriculum. The intention was to take up a pedagogical gesture that turned our attention to the actual conditions and create a different educational experience that afforded an alternative perceptual field. Experimentally, we remade schooling by inventing other ways of doing education. Within this alternative and emergent field of perception, we (participating children, teachers, families and researchers) re-encounter ourselves and the world at the intersection of pedagogical and aesthetical processes. 

The documentation in this website is not only interrelated geographically but also  conceptually. The pedagogical work comes together through the concepts of proximity and encounters. We invite readers to view this documentation mosaic both individually and by tracing their interrelated echoes.

For us, it is also important to mention the incomplete character of each documentation. This incompleteness reflects the ongoing process that each educator experienced in figuring out the process of making curriculum, nourishing ideas, proposing situations and finding ways to cultivate emergence in a novel fashion. We intentionally want to work with (and make explicit) such incompleteness by attending to some of the not-yet-activated processes that become visible in the documentation. We do this by making speculative drawings of what could have been, but it was not done.

These drawings are visible as speculative supplements that are added in specific sections of the documentation as a pop-up window when clicking on this symbol:

This is a gesture that projects into a possible future by hinting into a  trajectory that could have been proposed and taken up. 

In the gardens, we carefully sustain situations that help us to encounter and relate to the presences, histories and memories that singularly make each one of them,  and  to slowly cultivate  different educational and aesthetical experiences. Indeed, each garden became the space for turning children’s attention towards enlivening relations that were unfamiliar and outside the taken for granted curricular trajectories that teachers were accustomed to. The pedagogical processes emerging within the gardens allowed us to shift perceptions and sensitivities and to pay attention towards encounters that would touch us, surprise us and even displace us.

In el Vergel, we encountered mud as the main medium to create pedagogies that helped us to become close to Andean ancestral onto-epistemologies. These pedagogies allowed children to engage with the difficulties of living and dying and its existential circularity. It created the conditions for children to narrate themselves and their relation to life-death in ways that troubled transcendence. Working with the concept of circularity, it invited us to a greater proximity with the garden’s space, inhabitants and co-existences. We not only inquired into the circular forms that were present in many animals and plants within the garden, but we also intensified our attention to circularity by experimenting with it as a concept within alternative ancestral economies. 

Unlike in el Vergel, in Cabogana, clay encounters brought us closer to the histories and memories that are embedded in the soil of this mountain. Pedagogically, we engaged with processes that opened multiple and alternative temporalities to recognize soil as a pedagogical protagonist and medium. Soil turned our attention towards the interrelated concepts of transformation, embodiment and memories and, in turn, these  concepts allowed us to experiment with the continuities, discontinuities within events and the shape of memories and histories.  

Engaging with soil differently, in Narancay, we attended to underground invisible worlds and how we are connected to its many inhabitants. Our pedagogical struggles focused on multiple attempts to undo the persistent under/above ground binary. We did so by carefully noticing and working, in speculative ways, with the lively and ongoing movements that connect the under-above worlds in this garden. Motivated by life in the soil, the children encountered bacteria, fungi and earthworms, and engaged with the many lives we can’t see as we enter the decomposition process. Using pastels, watercolors and soil as languages for tracing and finding pathways, we reconfigured dichotomies by animating the creatures of the soil.

Through a process of storytelling, in Challuabamba, we gestured towards the difficulties of undoing the able-normal-independent human and reconfigured human existence by following children’s invention of a human living underneath the world. Painting, drawing, sculpting and shadow making provided pedagogical possibilities for blurring human exceptionality and noticing unthinkable collaborations between perceived separate beings.

In El Tejar–a garden that is home to a flock of chickens– we intentionally moved away from generic conceptualizations of “chickens” to attend and create processes that brought us into encounters with the singularity of each chicken. Our pedagogical purposes involved focusing on the difficulties that emerged in the attempts to encounter the irreconcilable differences. Pedagogically we noticed the shifts within– and continuities between– the notions of self and other. Through drawing as a medium for paying attention, we efforted ourselves to engage with other logics of movement, existing and relating in order to embrace the puzzlements that emerged from the incommensurabilities between children and chicken’s lives.

In San Joaquin 2 we created processes to enable approximations with spiders and their dwellings. Pedagogically, we sought to unsettle ideas of the technocratic human as the sole maker of the world, and instead drew on both the work of the spider and ancestral weaving, to reconfigure our relationships with human agency as ones with humility. The spider webs became the site for attending to the complexities and sophistication that spiders are capable of in the making of their world.

In Puertas del Sol we worked on pedagogies that brought us in proximity to the Tomebamba river. Although the Tomebamba is geographically a central presence in Cuenca, a close relationship with it is often taken for granted. Children in Puertas del Sol encountered the singularity, history, complexities, contradictions and toxic and non-toxic relations that make this river. Through multiple media (textile, charcoal, watercolors), we connected with the Tomebamba’s sound, fluidity, languages, memories, absences and presences which, in turn, invited us to think its singularities and the different ways in which the Tomebamba exists in relation to water, trees, peoples and stones. Through these encounters, children not only became close to the river but also speculated on what they share with the Tomebamba.

In San Joaquin 1, children encountered the Yanuncay river by attending to river-light relations using simulation as a pedagogical concept and curricular process.  Moving between multiple encounters with the river and our re-animations, we blurred the lines between magic and reality, natural and unnatural, bodies and shadows. This project brought us close to pedagogical processes that enact logics that are not based in duality and fragmentation but in an attentiveness to the fluid properties of the river and light that this garden is in relation with and dependent upon.

In the Cholas de Piedra, children noticed traces of others who were once in the garden but have disappeared. Using yarn as a language to think with/through, we encountered white feathers and empty webs that birds and spiders have left behind. We intentionally created pedagogical processes to think together about what might be required for their return. Yarn became the material language that gave us the grammars to knit together stories and correspondences among children, educators, absent creatures, and ancestral presences.