Telling the quiet stories of educational design

Date / Time: 23 March 2015, 12-1.30pm
Venue: McLaren Room (TT.1.12), Faculty of Education, University of Waikato

Catherine Burke
Catherine Burke

Dr Catherine Burke is a Reader in the History of Childhood and Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK. She is an historian currently exploring cultural and material histories of education and childhood in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Her current research includes an examination of the relationship between innovation in teaching and the design of formal and informal learning spaces; the view of the child and young person in the design of education; and the history of 20th century school architecture. A major focus of the research is bringing an historical awareness to current initiatives to ‘transform’ education via school building renewal. She edits the ‘Sources and Interpretations’ section of the History of Education Journal and is president of the History of Education Society, UK.

This presentation explores how and why attention to the provision of intimate spaces such as quiet rooms, sitting rooms, bedrooms and child-sized openings was seen as indicative of best practice in the design of schools in the middle decades of the twentieth century. In England, the decades 1930s-60s saw an expansion of the image of the learning child to embrace dispositions of isolated quiet concentration, contemplation and thoughtfulness. There is evidence that discourses of quietness and withdrawal became part of a common vocabulary of design shared by progressive educators and school designers in the USA, Europe and further afield. These discourses, while on the face of it about the control of noise, were less concerned with designing for acoustical variation and more with the exercise of freedom that it was believed should be at the heart of the child’s experience of modern schooling. For a time, at a high point of investment in public schooling, quiet spaces were essential components of the built-in variety and educationally-driven schools designed for the young child.