Putting Sylvia in her place: history, geographical theory and the “New” Education

New Zealander Sylvia Ashton-Warner, a teacher in remote rural Mori schools in the 1940s-1950s, became internationally renowned as a novelist and educational theorist. Earlier commentators portrayed her educational theory as in conflict with those of her time and place, but recent studies conceptualise them as enabled by it. While space/place has often been considered the preserve of the geographer and time that of the historian, Henri Lefebvre and others suggest that: “these issues need to be thought together rather than separately” and that macro-, meso- and micro-levels of analysis be engaged simultaneously. The author traces how conceptual, linguistic, sensory and intellectual resources of the global “New Education” movement extended into the tiny bush-encircled Mori communities in which Sylvia taught and wrote in the 1940s-1950s and surfaced in her writing. The article zooms in and out between the “the immensity of the global” (the New Education, the Second World War) and “the intimately tiny” (her classroom and home). The “data” include Sylvia's non-fiction education texts and official documents of her time: school curricula, education policy documents, Ministerial and Inspectors' reports. What Lefebvre terms a “Rhythm analysis” of Ashton-Warner's educational writing shows intermingled pulses of domestic life, routines of educational bureaucracy, cycles of nature, and cataclysms of world events. It is important for historians to study “the where rather than just the when with location and landscape central parts of the analysis”.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Middleton, S. (2011). Putting Sylvia in her place: history, geographical theory and the “New” Education. Paedagogica Historica, 48(2), 263-282.
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