Prior, R. W. (2009) Contextual dimensions of drama in education: a case for valuing tacit knowledge and clear pedagogy. In: Theatre and Education at Centre Stage. Athens, Greece: Hellenic Theatre/Drama & Education Network. 9789609846639. pp. 259-267.
Much of the value of drama comes from its experientially derived processes which leaves much understanding in tacit form. Knowledge(s) gained this way will often be considered ‘soft’ knowledge and relegated to the sidelines in preference to ‘hard’ or factual knowledge. Dewey (1968 ) understands that personally significant experience creates meaning for the individual. The educator’s function according to Taylor and Warner (2006) might usefully be seen as ‘structural operators’ whose task it is to ‘experiment with different strategies and find creative ways of locating them in the drama session’ (p.2). Unfortunately many well-meaning drama practitioners sometimes engage students in experiences which are neither pedagogically coherent nor useful in making tacit knowledge more accessible to either the students or others beyond the classroom. Some educators shunned the work of Dorothy Heathcote and Cecily O’Neill when together they sought to make classroom drama encounters more fruitful by using process-orientated approaches and developing theoretical understandings of such processes. Resistant educators believed there was some sort of aesthetic loss to drama and that pseudo actor training approaches were somehow more faithful. However the models and understanding of western actor training have generally not been as useful to the classroom as some practitioners may have first assumed. Perhaps surprisingly, understandings of actor training generally remain largely inert or tacit even to the most distinguished of actor trainers (Prior, 2004). However education has an important cognitive function. This paper argues that the performative act alone is not sufficient to warrant the curriculum inclusion of drama in main-stream schooling. It is in the ability to harness tacit knowledge and use productive pedagogy that drama makes its most valuable case as a learning medium which can be added to more traditional learning approaches. There is knowledge about drama and there is knowledge which is generated through dramatic action. Knowledge becomes personal when the participants experience situations and interrogate thoughts and feelings. In drama, views of knowledge are reinforced or perhaps even influenced by Stanislavsky (1988 ) who suggests ‘in art “to know” means to be able to’ (p.121), which he juxtaposes with the kind of ‘general’ knowledge that he proffers is without feeling. He suggests that this kind of knowledge is ‘of no use whatever to an actor who is also a creative artist’ (p.121). Knowledge is the result of experience and also that knowledge(s) of acting are inextricably entwined with feeling as in affect states (Prior, 2004:287). Similarly, when non-actors work in role they too can generate personally significant meanings which are bound with feelings. This paper proposes four dimensions of drama in education which are represented as: Intellectual; Practical; Personal; and Social. The practices of individual drama teachers are more or less influenced by where their emphases are placed. These dimensions are not oppositional in nature but are simply different ways of rendering meaning. There is also movement between the intellectual and practical; personal and social contextual dimensions. In developing a comprehensive understanding of pedagogy and to apprehend tacit meanings generated experientially, it is argued that teachers need to be aware of these four important contextual dimensions which shape their practice.