Outsiders – insiders: becoming a creative partner with schools

When an outsider comes to school, when an artist knocks on the door or walks into a classroom, how does he or she engage with the cultural practices and frameworks of the school.

  • Do the ‘outsiders’ adapt and assimilate themselves within it?
  • Do they resist it because there may be some aspects of the school culture or its educational framework that will discomfort their engagement with it?
  • Do they challenge them or just blindly ignore them?

Keaney suggests that outsidersare faced with choices of assimilation, acculturation or accommodation and pluralism(Kearney, 2003) and I would like to extend contribution a bit further. Outsider/Insider theory gives us three particular insights about schools and how they operate.

Dobbie (2004) writes about how schools are hysteretic systems, that is to say, where you get to is determined by how you get there; school change methodologies for example are not simply a matter of some industrial model of cause and effect, but behave more in more complex and chaotic ways so that the process of how change happens informs the ultimate destination.

Merriam (2000) on the other hand, talks about the differences between insiders / outsiders as being more like membranes, rather than boundaries which I think useful in terms of thinking about how schools engage with the wider world.

If we can see the difference between the insider and outsider as being membrane-like,as opposed to being like partitions, this now allows for flow between the two: whether this be ideas, resources or personnel. Crucially, Butler’s work on Identity (1990), suggests that Identity is what you do, not what your role or what your job description is. It is what you do; it is not what you are. That, again, gives you the choice to apply different identities according to the context you work in. Those are the three very brief insights into what the outsider/insider theory is.