Whimsagogy: Reform Begins With a Giggle, Erupts in a Roar
Barbara Dziedzic is the lead teacher and curriculum writer for Arundel High School's Community Development and Global Citizenship program. Over her 10 years of teaching she has participated in a number of international education partnerships that support teachers and learners around the world.
I am dressed in blue tights, a purple tutu, and turquoise converse. I am holding a fairy wand. Am I dressed for:
- The school play
- Spirit Week
- An administrative smack down
Trick question. The answer is “C and D” but, really, spirit week merely served as a guise to gird myself in whimsy. The previous day there had been tears, there had been venting. Without including incriminating details, suffice it to say that during an administrative walk through, my objective was not clearly posted. It was obvious to everyone in the classroom—EXCEPT the administrator—that my students were clearly learning. I was mad—for all the reasons any good teacher would be. I was poised for an angry email, a venting session in the teachers’ lounge, and a call to my union rep…
But that evening, as I rifled through my twin toddlers’ dress-up clothes looking for something to wear for spirit week’s “NEON DAY”—internally fuming about the injustice of it all, externally surrounded by beads, stethoscopes, and purple tulle— I was struck by this absurd juxtaposition of fury and funny. In this moment, I had an epiphany…or rather an epi-funny.
What follows is a modest proposal for WHIMSAGOGY and the employment of righteous whimsy in order to create meaningful educational reform.
What is WHIMSAGOGY? Well, to start, WHIMSY is the playful pairing of seemingly incongruous persons/places/things/ideas in order to inspire joyful reflection. Therefore WHIMSAGOGY is my educational philosophy that seeks to infuse humorous, wily, exuberant celebration and critique into every aspect of the
shared teaching and learning experience in order to reveal unproductive constructs and provoke innovative reflection and action. By pairing educationallevity with educational gravity, the result is educational epi-funny.
Need convincing? Here is why whimsy is wise…
- Whimsy is disarming. Let’s begin with our pop quiz and the tutu at hand. I entered the administrator's office that spirit day girded in whimsy and was able to set a tone with my supervisor that made it really, REALLY difficult for him to be uncivil or overzealous. I staged a “Laughter-vention” if you will. Turns out it’s tough to dehumanize someone in a purple tutu. Whimsy creates a space where people don’t feel defensive and instead become willing and able to lay down their weapons. The administrator and I discussed my goals for the class and were able to focus on what really mattered: the learning environment I created for my students. I invited him to drop by again soon.
- Whimsy is provocative…or should I say, PLAYvocative. The goal of whimsy (and wiliness) is to exaggerate a social reality to such a degree that we are able to see its flaws and absurdities. Whimsagogy allows the audience to examine hard issues with a cocktail of laughter in hand to soften the sting.
- Whimsy is inviting/inclusive. Whimsy is laughing WITH not laughing AT. It invites everyone to share in the joke. It brings enough tutus for all. Whimsy is not a weapon. Whimsy is not about laughing to forget, or avoid, or deny the hard truths. Whimsy helps us open the eyes of the audience so people previously resistant to positive change are able chuckle their way to common ground
- Whimsy is positive. In literature we teach our students about the “protagonist” and “antagonist.” And yet, in the English language, we have been allotted the action of “antagonism” but not “protagonism.” Likewise, in our attempts at educational reform, teachers are often cast in terms of what we DON’T want rather than what we DO. Whimsy allows us to practice “protagonism” as we advocate for our students and our profession. This allows us to move from passive-aggressive to active-addressive. For example, currently many teachers' unions around the country are working AGAINST teacher ratings tied to testing. Instead, at my school, I've begun to actively advocate FOR so-called "360 Review" which would allow
teachers, students, and administrators to all evaluate one another. I've found that teachers are much more open to discussing their own evaluation system if it would mean they were able to meaningfully review their management as well.
- Whimsy is rejuvenating/enervating. Let’s be honest. Righteous indignation can feel really good for a while, but lordy, is it exhausting. Humor gives us shelter and warmth in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict of educational reform. We can picket in the same angry red shirts or we can bedazzle a new uniform, complete with spandex, a cape, and sequins thrown in for good measure.
Ultimately, I believe it’s easier to make change with tough minded whimsy rather than righteous indignation. Educational reform does not have to be a zero sum battle between politician, parents, school boards, and teachers. Whimsagogy instead seeks mutually ensured elation. While purple tutus are, admittedly, not for everybody, isn’t it time we affirm that “metaphorical” sparkle we’ve been hiding under a bushel? That satirical truth we weren’t quite brave enough to tweet? That superhero alter-ego we thought was only welcome at happy hour?
So get your whimsy on! Whether you start with a dash, dollop, or dunk, it takes a lot of whimsy to raise the world. Play and creative elation are not peripheral to educational transformation. They are essential.