The new Bank Street Occasional Paper Series #48—“Learning Within Socio-Political Landscapes: (Re)imagining Children’s Geographies”—launched today to explore tools, technologies, and practices that can deepen children’s understanding of their immediate environment and how it relates to broader socio-political landscapes.
In the Q&A below, guest editors Kathryn Lanouette, GSE ’06, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences and Science Education, William & Mary’s School of Education, and Katie Headrick Taylor, Associate Professor of Learning Sciences and Human Development, University of Washington’s College of Education, provide a closer look at the theme of this issue and how we can help children make sense of the world around them in more meaningful ways.
Q: The theme of this issue focuses on the importance of place-based learning for children and the potentialities of mapping and other digital tools to elevate this learning. Why is this theme particularly relevant in today’s world?
A: So much has shifted (and still needs to shift) in our approaches to teaching and learning with young people. Most immediately, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all sorts of assumptions about where, when, and how learning happens in public education, from pre-K to higher education. It has revealed once again how learning can (and always has) unfolded far beyond school building walls—within homes, community spaces, family life, and beyond. At the same time, there has been a dramatic return to “encapsulating” teaching and learning, constraining learning to sedentary, indoors, and disengaged pedagogies. All the while, ongoing climate and racial injustices continue to unfold, calling for teaching and learning that engage with these inequities at local and global scales. All of this is occurring as maps and mapping practices continue to be transformed by increasingly mobile and participatory geospatial technologies. In this moment, for educators and researchers alike, there is a need to imagine and enact forms of teaching and learning that sustain, nourish, and energize learners in ways that entail movement, connection, and change.
Q: This issue makes several references to the “here and now” of young people’s lives, an idea that guided the vision and work of Bank Street founder Lucy Sprague Mitchell. Can you elaborate on this idea of “here and now”?
A: Mitchell’s phrase “here and now” has a simplicity to it but is grounded in a resolute belief in children’s capabilities to delve deeply into complex, intricate understandings of how the world works. In Young Geographers, she wrote about the tremendous potential in rooting teaching and learning in the local immediacies of young people’s lives, with the school walls porous to city life outside. This idea centers learning around where children are in the moment—physically, socially, emotionally—as being integral to their understanding of increasingly complex interrelationships shaping the world around them.
In this special issue, we seek to extend and reimagine Mitchell’s early ideas in several important ways. We draw on the term socio-political landscapes to encompass holistic, justice-centered accounts of teaching and learning in the “here and now.” This includes authors elevating what is alongside what was and what could be. Authors also examine how race, space, and place are mutually constituted in the moment, as well as the agentive entanglements of lands, waters and more-than-human life in teaching and learning. Combined, authors in issue #48 are collectively deepening and expanding Mitchell’s early ideas of “here and now” in important ways.
Q: How can immersing children in their geographies help them understand and confront inequities and other complex socio-political issues?
A: Children are always deeply immersed in their local and global geographies! In this special issue, we seek to show some of the many ways we might engage directly with the socio-political, ecological, and racialized dimensions of young peoples’ geographies. Several authors point to the role of movement in this process—be it physical or pictorial. Other authors show how map making—in digital or paper forms—can open up expanded forms of expression, connection, and social action.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this issue?
A: We hope that readers come away inspired—by what becomes possible when young peoples’ expertise, questions, and insights are the starting point for learning. We also hope readers take away a nuanced and dynamic appreciation of place-based education, specifically attending to history, power and possibility. We hope they try out approaches in their own teaching and research practices that transcend and defy the confines of current schooling practices in the United States. We hope readers feel hopeful about what young people and adults can accomplish together.