Cultural heritages are dimensions and places of learning that are commonly “visited” by a multiplicity of users, but above all by students and teachers. However, “visiting cultural sites”, understood as a complex practice, generally falls within a broad fabric of cultural and social relationships that requires specific alphabetical bases rarely identified or made explicit by the school. The lack of attention towards this practice reinforces the perceptions of exclusion supported by statistical data which show that, in all their meanings, the activities are still “frequented” and “known” in an extremely diversified and unequal way by the population. To examine the implications determined by the relationships between heritage and literacy contexts in educational interactions, which occur outside and inside school environments, it is important to understand first of all the relationships between education, heritage and disciplines from the point of view of the impact they produce in terms of cognitive, social and affective-relational repercussions, etc., as well as effects on the meaning systems of the various roles of competence of the institutional partners involved in heritage education.
This is because the goods are conceived as cultural texts that communicate through a variety of means and define the construction of meanings in different forms (written, verbal, iconic etc.), engaging the user in an active interpretative process that is experiential expression of those meanings. They require adequate cognitive tools with which it is possible to create new forms of literacy that draw precise cultural identities, which are at the basis of the processes of acculturation and capable of affecting both the social roles assumed by individuals and those previously assigned subsequently to the choices made within the wider society.
This article focuses on the importance that cultural heritage—such as cultural forms and languages conveying the symbols of culture—could assume if usefully used in education to strengthen the cultural and alphabetic profiles of the population, especially at a time when alphabetic forms are transforming and multiplying (multiliteracies). This provided that appropriate forms of mediation are used to facilitate access and appropriation of the meanings of these goods by all individuals, especially those that are weaker one and traditionally excluded from their use. In the article, the museum, as a “teaching space” for learning, becomes the privileged place in this sense, capable of stimulating learning social and cultural links with disciplinary knowledge, increasing the quality of training as whole.
2. Cultural Heritages, Languages and Literacies
For some time now, “heritages” have been recognized as “informal spaces” for learning and privileged places for permanent acquisition. Museums, specifically, are generally considered institutions that collect, store and exhibit collections of objects, documents, etc., which imply peculiar research and information which testify and celebrate the sense of human existence. The rich typological variety of the goods (art, history, science and technology, anthropology, natural history, etc.) implies, however, a variety of expressions, activities, dimensions connected with the position they occupy with respect to the territories and culture, whose exploratory nature is the starting point for any reflection on the acquisition opportunities offered to users for each category of good considered.
Over the past three decades, education in cultural heritage has undergone enormous development that has progressively changed the way we understand it (Mayrand, 1985). Today it has focused mainly on the alphabetic potential of the cultural heritage, as a positive social force. The social recognition of its democratic potential constitutes ample evidence of acceptance and sharing by the community of the principle of access extended to all. Although there has been critical attention towards transformations in this field, however, research has shown that this potential cannot yet be considered fully realized. In fact, while the statistics of museum visitors, archaeological sites etc., they tend to indicate that the visit has become a mass activity, although if in reality such attendance concerns populations of users of middle-upper culture (Nuzzaci, 2004a, 2004b; Bennett & Frow, 1991; Hooper-Greenhill, 1988; McCarthy, 1990; Merriman, 1991; Merriman, 1992). According to Bennett (1995), this data suggests the presence of a constant and profound contradiction that persists in today’s society in relation to the clash between a conception of the good as a public cultural culture - which is thought to be a benefit for all citizens - and its real fruition by the weaker social strata of the population. If, therefore, the emergence of new educational approaches to goods has challenged the conceptions of a traditional “heritage pedagogy” (Hooper-Greenhill, 1999), creating many internal disagreements among those who deal with it at different levels, there are still very obsolete methods in practice. In particular, some heritage experts are convinced that, as has already happened for art, the moment of the user’s approach to the good must be lived with an attitude of respect rather than understanding, while others believe that the meeting with it must take place in an extremely engaging and fun way and that the institutions have the main task of promoting its wide access through specific recreational activities. In addition to the obvious internal contrasts, there is a substantial body of research in the sector that identifies groups of factors linked to “power and status” that would actually hinder the evolution of ideas related to the “ability to train” of the good and its use, including those of common sense of veneration, of authority, of aesthetic contemplation (Adams, 1990; Hooper-Greenhill, 1996; Merriman, 1991), of authoritativeness (Harper, 1990; Heumann Gurian, 1991; Hooper-Greenhill, 1997), of class divisions between personal and public potential (Harper, 1990; Rice, 1988), of interpretations relating to intellectual passivity, conformism and homogeneity (Geddes, 1990; Horne, 1984; McCarthy, 1990; Bennett, 1995; Bennett & Frow, 1991; Durbin, 1996). Just as a romantic hypothesis survives, it sees resources as means that naturally transmit universal and accessible to all languages (Rice, 1997). Simplifying the problem, we can limit ourselves to noting that, beyond the different positions for and against a “strong” and “significant” education in cultural heritage in terms of learning, over time the inability of the various cultural institutions and museums to resolve these problems - gradually linked to very different motivations - led to a real “stagnation”. The latter is characterized by the persistence of modest variations in educational processes and products, in which however the importance of defining new forms and categories of activities that activate innovative procedures to look at the relationship between the construction of knowledge, culture and territory is recognized. Unfortunately, despite efforts, many educational proposals are still tied to old patterns of thought and language (Mathewson, 2003; 2008).
Education in cultural and museum heritage has therefore made considerable efforts to try to overcome these preconceived conceptions and to tackle thorny issues related to accessibility, in the sense of “the right to use” as a cultural right (Nuzzaci, 2007; 2020). The current debate highlights how the widening of fruition concerns all categories of subjects, which, at different levels, can become “visitors to the heritage” and be able to use and give meaning both to museum and cultural contexts and to assets, whose interpretative commitment depends in any case on the possession of specific, general and disciplinary skills (Anderson, 1997; Hooper-Greenhill, 2000; Housen & Duke, 1998; Mitchell, 1996; Sheppard, 1993; Stapp, 1984).
In this sense, learning the good really presents itself as a complex process rather than as a result that facilitates the interpretation of an acquisition model of exploratory, large and multilayered. From the post-structuralist point of view, it is clear that the introduction of the concept of “visitor competence” also entails the ability to decode the textuality and intertextuality (Roberts, 1997; Silverman, 1995) of the good, from whose analysis a series of studies have started which they speak of the latter as a “cultural text” and of the public as a “reader”. The main ability of the latter resides in the ability to perceive and understand the meanings communicated by it and to engage in a path of reading/transaction/ interpretation that leads him to support, with personal experiences, the dialogue with the heritage making him no longer passive consumer but active manufacturer and producer of individual and social meanings; that is, he knows:
· activate the prerequisites and connect the previous experiences already acquired;
· define the purposes of the “reading”;
· make a forecast;
· identify and decode components and structures of the good;
· conceptualize, that is, read the fundamental and constitutive features of the asset
· (key information) before creating new meanings;
· view the setting, contexts, relationships, situations, ideas conveyed etc. from the good;
· ask oneself about the good;
· identify and understand when and why a minor or major interpretation is determined which explains the difference between an “expert”, “novice” and “poor” reading;
· clarify the type of use and corrective strategy activated, where necessary within a specific interpretative action;
· reflect and apply the new meaning assumed to new situations.
The ability to decode, to invest in significant events and to understand that “texts and contexts” cannot be separated from the social, cultural and political world to which they refer, cognitive operations are articulated. In the school field, for example, combining different texts and multi-texts of which the assets are bearers can serve to encourage students to carry out learning transfers in particular tasks; and this presupposes, on the part of the latter, the introjection of the learning objectives through adequate mediation based on:
· specific ways of communicating;
· strategies capable of activating the experience of the subjects and their expertise (“strong points”);
· relationships aimed at reducing the asymmetry of individuals’ relationships with contexts.
These three elements can be considered the conditio sine qua non to contribute through the “good” to building the active citizenship of all subjects by leveraging a “guided participation” (Rogoff & Lave, 1990), promoting dialogue and relations between cultural institutions, schools and communities. But not only!
It was found that organizing literacy events based on cultural heritage solicits the best use of the intellectual resources of students and teachers in pleasant ways and helps to relaunch ever more appropriate school programs and to advance more effective cultural proposals (Alloway et al., 2002; Lingard et al., 2002), continually renewing their practices and tools, especially curricular. Much has been done in this direction so that all students really had equal opportunities and achieved adequate school results; this with the hope that training would guide all subjects towards excellence with high chances of future success for all. Therefore, the school reforms that have followed since the sixties onwards have supported, in various ways, the need to increase the quality of educational experiences by using resources from informal learning contexts, such as museums, zoos, botanical gardens, etc. thus expanding the range of possibilities for students to make new acquisitions and to modify their perceptions of reality with the “outside the classroom”. The research then showed the great advantages of enriching the students’ educational experiences by leveraging additional types of knowledge conveyed by cultural heritage, which, operating transversely on knowledge, would allow the establishment of new interdisciplinary connections, with which it is plausible to cultivate the ability to critical thinking, appropriating the value of the arts and culture, increasing the desire to enjoy etc. These are components that do not seem to be particularly attractive in the current climate of educational responsibility, but which act as connectors for knowledge.
It is true, however, that we speak here of educational choices and sometimes very difficult tasks (Lingard et al., 2002), which cannot exclusively concern the predisposition of favorable environments and safe devices with which to help students and different social groups in the different “territories” to become actors aware of their own process of acquisition. Goods are something more; are intended as an attempt to seek relevant answers on the nature of the effectiveness of teaching disciplines and to try to overcome the perceived and real barriers on the “science of teaching”.
In all cases, engaging in heritage education appears to be an objective pursued by all cultural institutions in order to be able to prepare a program aimed at satisfying the needs and desires of the various social and ethnic groups, to encourage leadership within and outside organizations and to respond directly to the needs of the communities of reference, which, although modified (Dodd, 2002), must be placed at the centre of the debate on the problem of use. And this aspect occupies a key place in the process of taking on educational responsibility by “professionals of culture”. It is for this reason, for example, that museums are today discovering the need to reform their programming, developing an educational offer which, if in some ways it is very flexible, does not always come in line with the planning logic of the instruction. The time has now come when the different cultural institutions have understood the need to emphasize the importance of their specificity and the sectors they represent, as well as to offer the possibility for all individuals to experiment with alternative forms of knowledge and learning which, for through the goods, make them consciously more engaged in the world; a conceptual passage that highlights how one can still remain marginalized or excluded from certain symbolic systems of knowledge while continuing to go to school. These considerations stimulate reflection on the alphabetic nature of goods as learning “places”.
3. For a Culturally Integrated Heritage Education: From Literacy to Multiliteracies
Literacy, in addition to the quality or status of the literate, has also been defined as the ability to create and share the construction of meanings and the interpretation of texts (Winch et al., 2006). Contemporary conceptions of literacy contemplate an expansion of meanings that expand to understand it as a form of communication that basically involves the language with which we learn to make sense of our experiences (Emmett, Pollock, & Komesaroff, 2003), which makes it possible to objectify, conceptualize and express, but also make it work, the structure of the system of action.
Language is used to represent the world to ourselves and it is the way of representing our world view to others, since it is the foundation of every human interaction. In this sense, it assumes a crucial dimension in the construction of alphabetic competence which guarantees the full participation of individuals in social practices.
The meaning of language lies in its system function and its uses, in the synchronic extension (the condition for the existence of some form of language) and in the diachronic one (the change that occurs within a certain language over time). If, like verbal language, we considered the good as a collection of signs within a given “type and form”, which can be scanned as is done for the language, for example, in sentences, themes and motifs, that is in elements involved in the synthesis of the good, we would realize that the syntagmatic relationships that each element has with the other can be represented and understood. Therefore, as we interpret it becomes a decisive operation in terms of communication of meanings. The meanings of the assets are therefore made up of signs and symbols which, depending on the social and cultural context, are interpreted differently and can connote in an ambiguous way. The connotations of a sign represent the series of possible meanings which then also become denotations, which appear more stable and apparently verifiable than the former. Meaning is the abstract or mental concept that the sign recalls, such as, for example, that of “expressionist painting”.
The signifier is the sensory impression of the sign, the mental image of the signs on a page or on a clay table, the sounds in the air, moving bodies, etc.; it has a material dimension, such as the vibrations of the vocal cords or an instrument. The connection between signifier and signifier can be so deeply rooted that it cannot be separated, if not rarely, and establishes a metaphorical relationship. We must ask ourselves what distinction exists between verbal language and other types of language. And between the different forms of sign, digital and analog? The former is manipulated by discrete units, numbers or words, while the latter is part of an infinite range of gestures, images etc. These questions reveal an idea of heritage as a “system of signs”, as a “simulacrum of culture”, whose understanding encompasses a significant segment of literacy, since meanings build “ways of seeing”, of categorizing and formalizing cultural or subcultural.
In fact, it is cultural and social conventions that dictate the appropriate uses of a certain heritage and the answers that are given to a specific sign, which may have characteristics transferable from one type of asset to another, also because there is no sign without a category (medium). Each asset is therefore never neutral and is incorporated in its own cultural constraints and meanings, the understanding of which implies forms of literacy which must provide appropriate educational mediation methods, especially at a time when “global society” makes it necessary to extend the knowledge in larger domains that modify traditional literacy processes into more complex conceptual frameworks.
The international debate has in fact at present taken a critical perspective on the nature of literacy, trying to clarify what it means to be literate today and what forms of cultural capital are needed to live in a knowledge society, in addition to those of reading, writing (Baynham & Prinsloo, 2001; Gee, 2000), of “accounting”, of using technologies and of speaking a second community language.
New research in the field of literacy (Freire & Macedo, 1987; Heath, 1983), including on multilingual (Blackledge, 2000) and critical (Cummins, 2001; Luke & Grieshaber, 2004) literacies, has problematized this concept by highlighting the discreet repertoire of skills to which it refers, which recall socially and culturally built practices within varied social and institutional spaces.
Some studies have also found the presence of a disjunction existing between literacy practices that take place within schools and those that occur in other educational contexts, especially multilingual and multicultural, which have a different and peripheral “alphabetical positioning”. In this regard, the New London Group (1996) further emphasized the importance of creating learning environments capable of involving individuals in a wide range of practices, actions, creative and cognitive events that bring together textual, cultural and multimedia forms suitable for promoting elaboration of complex meanings in order to evolve the languages of the subjects and those of the community to which they belong; these factors capable of supporting the assumption of an indispensable critical commitment that allows them to plan their social future (New London Group, 1996: p. 60). It is therefore clear at this point how the term “multiliteracies”, coined by the New Group London (1996), assumes a decisive value within the debate on literacy, recognizing communication as a crossing of cultural and national borders given by the nature of contemporary means that require the ability and awareness of using different information and communication methods and channels and a wide range of media products, which often act in combination. Duncum (2004) refers in fact to “multiliteracies” as a vision that pushes us to look at any place or cultural context according to multiple readings, generated from multiple positions and points of view. This explains how goods can constitute a basin rich in sources for those who operate within training precisely with the emergence of new alphabetic forms that urge different education professionals to activate innovative cultural practices and to escape those literacy that sometimes risk appearing too restrictive. This is precisely because tomorrow’s children, adolescents and adults are not only called to communicate effectively in oral, written, graphic, technological, etc. but they need to do it efficiently in multidirectional ways. What has been said clarifies the relationship between “factors”, “ways” and “spaces” that have given rise to the idea of multiliteracies, whose intersection implements the meeting between different alphabetic systems but also between media, territories, cultures, goods of a different nature determining the proliferation of ways of operating multifocal. Here the written and oral word live as integral parts of a totality that contemplates visual, audio and spatial codes and patterns interacting in a “time frame” where the growing cultural and linguistic diversity is characterized by local variety and global connection, which impose a continuous restructuring of forms of education and education at any level. For this reason, it is necessary to initiate a “pedagogy of multiliteracies” which, suggesting a reading of the fragmentation of the concept of literacy in discrete parts that reveal its articulated set of actions and intersections, imposes specific “critical frames” that identify all those actions educational that can generate unprecedented learning profiles in all individuals, including those relating to heritage, since the different skills and knowledge are to be considered as articulated units of the different literacy processes. In fact, for example, at school level, the goal of a teacher is to broaden the range of choices available to students by allowing them to become “multi-literate experts” and thus further expand their learning styles.
The epistemological positioning of “learning by design”, promoted by the pedagogy of multiliteracies, integrates in the teaching guidelines such as: situated practice, when the learner “experiences” the known or the new; the clear instructions, when the learner “conceptualizes”, or calls or theorizes; the critical framework, when the learner “analyzes”, both functionally and critically; transformed practice, when the learner “applies”, both appropriately and creatively (Kalantzis & Cope, 2006; 2009). These elements, carried out to support the development of the skills of the “multi-literate student” (New London Group, 1996), represent the principles connected to four ways of knowing, of acting and of elaborating the meaning of meaning (Kalantzis & Cope, 2004) within a “process of knowledge”, which it provides ways of learning that outline a type of “knower” closer to the “knowable” (Kalantzis & Cope, 2005a: p. 71; 2005b). Therefore, multiliteracies encompass a wide range of literacy activities in a single concept, which, in the theoretical design proposed by Cope and Kalantzis (2000), substantially connotes the existence of a communication based on a plurality of channels (paper, electronic, etc.) where the text is often connected to the visual, audio and so on, or rather considered increasingly multimodal; this is the case, for example, of Internet sites which may contain various types of texts, images, graphic presentations, audio-visual symbols, musical texts, codes and animations etc. However, its reading can be approached from different but complementary perspectives, which, beyond those focused exclusively on the characteristics of the media or types of text and methods, investigate it in terms of contexts or situations, purposes or functions, or they still examine it from the point of view of information management, of cognitive processes or of the technical skills employed or required (McClure, 1997; Labbo & Reinking, 1999), as well as of the source or resource, as is the case with cultural heritage. However, there seems to be a common datum for all these interpretations: that it helps to outline the profile of the “contemporary multiletter”, who is able to understand, analyze, reflect and evaluate traditional printed texts as well as a whole range of products, documents, documents etc., both linear and non-linear, which are used in different contexts (Bruce & Hogan, 1998); it is the “reader” who speaks fluently the literacy of the good, who understands the different typologies (McClure, 1997; Labbo & Reinking, 1999; New London Group, 1996), who possesses a certain dose of technical competence and who recalls to himself the forms and dimensions of literacy indispensable when using and accessing the symbolic repertoires of the assets (Kellner, 2002; Chandler-Olcott, & Mahar, 2003). This is because all signs are carriers of information and literacy can also be understood as a particular structure and “information modality” (Poster, 1996), which includes the assumption of a critical and ethical literacy concerning the evaluation of information concerning both contained both tangible and intangible expressions (Kellner, 2002).
The foregoing presupposes that everyone can:
· learn the specific languages of goods;
· develop ideas about them;
· communicate and interpret the meanings of the goods;
· understand the goods in reference the contexts.
In this way, multiliteracies conveys a conception of the good as a “complex text” which calls for advanced skills to make the different contexts, situations, purposes, methods, processes and combined techniques readable, which are typical of those literacies that combine writing and reading other technical and transversal skills. According to Cope and Kalantzis (2000), the increase in multiliteracies is mainly connected to diversity and multiculturalism, which make sub-cultural differences more significant than products that go beyond traditional printed texts, that is, to all forms of message from the media mass, video games, computers, music channels etc. Therefore, if we stopped to think of cultural heritage as a real media (Davallon, 1992) we could reaffirm that it is one of the tools that different cultures have to enter into intimate relationships and give voice to their own community. But as locals, cultural goods, as languages and texts, are also markers of groups and subcultural differences which can become transnational entities inducing a constant crossing of borders; and from a marketing niche to become an essential glue for the full participation of citizens in social life. This emphasizes the need for their adequate reading, which can make it an effective starting point for the evolution of multiple literacies that allow children, teenagers, adults, but also educators and learners to have appropriate conceptual systems for “read” reality. And so the cultural multitude, of which the heritages are the mirror, requires a reconsideration of the identity of the fruition which passes through the act of recognition of the latter as a “situated practice”, which is carried out by means of experience, of decoding and understanding of the different cultural codes and their writings, which are offered to subjects from time to time, and not as a transcendental capacity, a “state of grace”, attributable to a maturational approach that regulates growth and development. This approach resonates principles such as quality, democracy and active citizenship which, encapsulating themselves in a succession of experiences, call for qualitatively appreciable interventions capable of producing appropriate cognitive and affective development that gives rise to a deep and effective learning based on critical investigation and on the co-construction of knowledge.
If, therefore, the question on literacy has frequently taken on simplistic tones (Doecke, Howie, & Sawyer, 2006), particularly centered on the scarce efficacy of literacy processes (Alloway & Gilbert, 1997) at school and in the intertwined context of the current educational debate conducted internationally in many countries especially in the English-speaking area (Love & Hamston, 2003), considerations such as that, for example, that young people build their “alphabetic identity” both at home and at school and that therefore the experiences made in both contexts should integrate to give more satisfactory results in terms of strengthening cultural profiles in order to make their poor performance higher given the complexity of the factors involved, they must be interpreted with caution even if you look at them with great interest. Suffice it to recall that the results of the survey envisaged by the International Student Assessment Program (PISA), in all OECD countries, show how socio-economic and cultural variables still remain highly significant for achieving high student test results (OECD, 2019).
If it is true that literacy has changed, it is equally true that many traditional notions still persist as linear, textual and formal and with these also those on the evaluation of results. On a scientific level, there has been the recognition of the urgency to broaden its meaning within a “globalized knowledge” which also presupposes the ability to use the languages and images of the rich and varied world of heritage that implies peculiar systems different semiotics and forms of reading, writing, listening, speaking, seeing, representing and thinking critically ideas. This redefinition imposes special practices related to acquisition processes and multimodal ways of engaging critically in knowledge, attributing a specific role to complementary communication devices. But the changeability of literacy continues to pose above all the problem of the gap between curricular needs and challenges to which individuals in our society are called today. In this sense, unfortunately, the educational discourses on heritage remain mainly anchored to a concept of literacy “monocultural”, whose competence is conceived as a format of the knowledge that does not emphasize the critical aspects of the acquisition processes, self-regulated active learning, deep understanding, which, on the contrary, are often traced back to generic ways of understanding that do not take enough account of individuals’ mastery and previous experiences.
This aspect is connected to the issues raised by several parties (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) regarding the indispensable conditions to carry out learning (Cummins et al., 2005), which mainly connect to three elements:
· the meanings of critical literacy;
· languages (that is, an understanding not only of linguistic, visual codes, etc., but also of their critical awareness, as forms of capital that intersect with the power and social functions aimed at including or excluding different individuals from specific cultural goals);
· uses (where education creates opportunities for all subjects to produce knowledge and skills that correspond to different territorial, social and cultural realities).
In this context, the investment in culturally strong fruition as a key constituent of identity processes (Cummins et al., 2005) and the recognition of an effective and inclusive pedagogy that needs to identify the peculiarity of the interactions that occur not only between teachers and students, but also among children, becomes fundamental. adolescents and adults, between peers, parents and children in the intergenerational comparison, which takes place in the interpersonal spaces where knowledge and the exchange between the identities that are negotiated are generated (Hall, 1990; Hall & du Gay, 1996; Norton, 2000). Learning could be increased if these interactions were able to capitalize on “cognitive investment” and “invest in identity”: this can be determined precisely through a qualitatively appreciable use of heritage. In fact, while the goal of heritage education is to develop skills in individuals and communities with which to provide an understanding of goods, that of literacy provides for a state in which the competence to manage knowledge of heritage would be obtained by contributing to the creation new additional values and achieving an overall improvement in the quality of life.
What has been said concerns precisely the fundamental premises for the development of a heritage pedagogy that goes in the direction of multiliteracies and becomes heritage literacy, suitable for linking to multilingual and multidisciplinary practices whose multi-sign forms engage the subjects in “interpretative territories”, which refer to the building the identity not only of teachers and students, but also of children, young people and adults, and which involve the expansion of a wide range of literacies operating within a multiplicity of contexts.
4. Building Bridges between Formal, Informal and Non-Formal
The need for the development of multiliteracy comes above all from studies such as those of Nixon (2003), which have shown how in the school we often limit ourselves to the production of classically intended exit literacies and to evaluation practices influenced by traditional approaches not always aimed at structuring truly solid skills. In some research, which investigated the informal and formal characteristics of technological literacy practices (Blair & Sanford, 2004; Panciroli & Luigini, 2018; Nuzzaci, 2015; 2017), for example, it was concluded that many children, considered illiterate, distinguished themselves in various media activities, often reproduced through a guided participation in informal contexts, inducing researchers to identify elements common to multiple literacy practices. The results of these studies underline the need for teachers to take advantage of “out of school” to provide in school “bridge” experiences that can facilitate or strengthen formal learning and vice versa (Nuzzaci, 2000; 2015; 2016).
Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Darbel, 1972) argued that there is a close relationship between the type of cultural capital that a subject carries with him and the extent to which school curricula recognize it, work on it and build it. And the heritage is nothing more than the collective cultural capital of the community, alive and in constant change or creation, which, as an integral part of culture, contains a set of elements such as: recognition, research, protection and communication of the identity (Bourdieu, 1966a; 1966b).
More recently, research has also suggested that a child’s “alphabetic identity” is characterized by both the family and school worlds, which add up overlap and inform each other (Ryan & Anstey, 2003). The social nature of learning therefore reveals that the success and interest of students are related to a dynamic and open literacy process.
However, a great concern for training emerges today in all countries of the world and it is now clear that in the new knowledge society traditional patterns are no longer adequate to respond to cultural requests coming from many parts; on the other hand, for their part, school systems have not been able to progressively introduce a certain structural flexibility that would allow them to adopt sufficient pedagogical strategies to determine high quality education and to ensure a safe cultural investment for all individuals for the future. The time spent on education now covers all life and the proliferation of educational institutions and learning opportunities (Delors, 2005) force us to rethink training devices, methodologies and tools with a view to lifelong learning that can be achieved in an integrated way.
In this regard, cultural heritages, precisely because they involve different disciplinary aspects, involve learning of various kinds which occur in different experiential environments, that is, which take place in contexts:
· formal, that is, which take place in institutions formally dedicated to education and training and which lead to the achievement of recognized diplomas and qualifications;
· non-formal, that is, which take place independently of the formal education system and which are usually not related to official certifications;
· informal, that is, which occur naturally in daily life, even in an unconscious or unintentional way, and are not tied to specific times or places.
The learning of goods often refers to informal or non-formal contexts, since it generally refers to systematic and cumulative aspects of a spontaneous experiential nature that are built on encounters, more or less random, with open and dynamic objects and environments in which individuals of all ages learn respecting personal rhythms, satisfying their curiosities, the need to research and express their ideas, to socialize and have fun.
Goods, by their nature, have a great wealth which, if properly used, can be able to contribute to helping people acquire a whole series of cultural and scientific information and concepts, to awaken dormant interests, to build orientations and attitudes social, emotional and cognitive, which, in a complementary way to formal educational environments, manage to impress an important “scientific corrective”.
They, considered as cultural layer and multilayer phenomena, allow individuals, through appropriate educational mediation (which does not include improvisation and superficiality) to experiment, understand and evaluate reality.
Their learning implies a multifaceted and multiple experience that provides alternative approaches to knowledge. It is a process that not only includes emotional excitement but involves intense mental activity. The extension of the concept of experience opens a new passage to the richness of the contamination between emotional and rational-cognitive sphere, whose reversibility and interrelation is testified by the most advanced research which explains to us how experience leads continuously to deepen and capitalize on other experience. It is clear then that learning to know a good inevitably leads to the understanding of the recipient, whose nature of knowledge, both creative and exploratory, highlights all the levels of its conceptual structures allowing it to achieve mastery about its most striking characteristics.
It should be stressed, in any case, that some factors remain present in the evaluation process, especially from an emotional point of view, which is always consequential with respect to the sedimentation of what was previously experienced.
In this sense, active learning and the individual creation of meanings are processes that tend to occur often, for example, in museums (Dierking & Griffin, 1999; Griffin, 1999b). In this regard, John Dewey (1934: p. 19) wrote that one of the basic functions of an educational institution is to balance the various elements of the social context and to prepare the conditions for each individual to save himself from the bonds of the social group from which he comes, thus entering into direct relationship with the surrounding environment. By transferring what has been said to the museum context this means that the different institutions can offer an individual the possibility of establishing links between different social and cultural customs and, in doing so, of creating authentic bonds between them and the community; the object dimension of the museum improves the positive conditions that guarantee the construction of learning processes and the development of thought, as well as communication and social transmission (Vygotsky, 1962; 1978). Proceeding in the wake of this reasoning, Bruner underlined the value of the action in the discovery of the learning process and focused on the need to treat every cognition as a form of social construction (Bruner, 1961; 1996), within which the good becomes an influential ally of the knowledge that stimulates the identification of specific useful activities for a specific group of subjects.
This means that the cultural asset contributes to building the meanings of knowledge and that the “individuals in use” are not to be conceived as passive recipients waiting to be “filled” with cultural contents, but should, on the contrary, be considered as active participants who follow “individual knowledge-building programs” through interaction with institutions, objects, spaces, people and territories.
The creation of favourable conditions for the learning of goods therefore certainly concerns the preparation of a pleasant, welcoming and stimulating environment that satisfies the individual needs of experience, individual contemplation, communication and social interaction, but above all concerns the possession of those cultural requirements that strongly legitimize the need to elaborate personal meanings; in this sense it can be thought of as a vital nucleus of educational work on heritage, which induces each individual to interpret his or her fruitful experience and each specialist to understand what he or she is responsible for.
5. Learning Heritage in a Museum Context in the New Models of Multiliteracies
The previous paragraphs explored the field of study relating to multiliteracy and the relationship with cultural heritage. Now we will focus our attention on the museum visit as a literacy event that implies the presence of a “multiletter” user, given the complexity of the literacy requests that the reading of the museum assets brings into play. Even if the literature has not sufficiently addressed this dimension of the problem, some provisional considerations in this regard seem opportune and worthy of a future research effort.
The “visit to museum assets” inevitably involves the interaction between multiple languages and forms of communication, which include multimodal media devices, including video, audio, gestural, spatial, technological, printed, etc., provided through panels, labels, flyers, catalogs, educational files, audio-guides etc., and visually represented “in and through” objects, tools and display systems, lived through the senses and physical movement, within precise “spatial texts and physical fruitful environments” which include, in turn, “sign readings” that must be negotiated. Participation in literacy practices involving museum use involves a high degree of competence in reading, interpreting and constructing the meanings of these multiple forms of language, also encompassing the ability to negotiate the complex dialogical relationship that exists between the written word and spoken, images, objects, times and spaces. In museums, this relationship is not always simple, direct and coherent. In fact, in addition to the multiple information and communication sources, the different collections incorporate the historically established, institutionally legitimized and reproduced systems of meaning and forms of representation that make up the “museum discourse” (Gee, 1991: p. 4), which affects interpretation and cultural practices of visitors in relation to the type of previous experience carried out. In keeping with James Gee’s (1991) definition, traditional museum discourse is ideological in nature, resistant to internal criticism and self-control, and concerns certain objects, concepts, points of view and values. It is organized, created and communicated in a variety of multimodal texts, which constructively complement the historical memory of visitors, whose positions take on meaning and power in relation to the museum functions.
Although educational theories have denied the notions of transcendence and authority in the museum, the interactions that occur within it tend to legitimize an idealistic aesthetic (Duncan, 1995) and a preferential vision for cultural practices conceived as natural dispositions rather than arbitrary effect of the social distribution of power. Through these passive interactions, idealistic approaches have historically been perpetuated with the result of endorsing all experiences based on these assumptions.
This did not happen without opposition. Think of what Pierre Bourdieu argued, who established that aesthetic appreciation is socially determined and that the competence to decipher specialized messages is learned. In this theory of artistic perception, Bourdieu (1968) speaking of the work of art, believes that it exists as such only for a person who has the means to appropriate it and decipher it and that the richness of “reception” depends primarily on competence of the “recipient” and the degree he has to master the code of the “message” (Bourdieu & Darbel, 1966: p. 38).
According to this approach, the consumption of culture constitutes an act of
Figure 1. Intervening variables of educational interaction, Antonella Nuzzaci.
decoding which presupposes the explicit or practical mastery of a cultural code and the encounter with the good cannot be conceived as “love at first”, but as a form of knowledge that presumes the realization of a cognitive acquisition (Figure 1). Some contemporary conceptions of the “teaching of goods” have attempted to explicate the interpretation action that puts the subject into action in the fruitful experience to identify different explanatory possibilities of mediation, distinguishing layers of meaning that change over time with reference to individual visitors (Roberts, 1997).
Such an approach leads to literacy within the school, however, putting it in relation to other dimensions, which place the “visit to goods” within a wide network of relationships that occurs territorially in a differentiated way, connoting itself as a social activity with which individuals have different experiences, because of their life stories and subjectivity.
The good therefore fits into the alphabetical repertoires (Barton, 1994: p. 34), suggesting that literacy is a social activity that can be better described in terms of practices to draw upon when individuals take part in various cultural events or events; which means that the latter belong to multiple alphabetic sources that are associated with various areas of life.
The fact that literacy practices intertwine with a complex of social relationships makes it essential to describe the social context in which the corresponding events take place, including those in which the institutions give specific support to the subjects. Cultural institutions are also based on symbol systems used for communication and, as such, exist in function of other information exchange systems used to represent the world. With this we want to argue that literacy is part of the technology of our thinking and that awareness, attitudes and values that concern it guide our actions; individual life stories contain many literacy events from early childhood, where the present is built in the moment and through practices from the past.
Likewise, literacy situations involving museums have their own social history.
While Barton thinks that literacy can be generically traced to facts and practices related to different contexts, the multi-faceted nature of the skills associated with fruition has been recognized in a very limited way within the literature on “museum literacy”, the which has entered an emerging phase that has combined the previous idea of generic “universal accessibility” with a more precise concept that sees it represented by a set of essential skills and abilities that users should possess in order to use intentionally and independently the museums. Stapp (1984), referring to what is considered “basic”, defines it as the competence in reading of objects (visual literacy), which induces the user to make use of the overall structure of the museum, including the various elements and aids, in an intentional and autonomous manner; it therefore presupposes full and effective access of visitors to the museum by virtue of both mastery of the language of objects and familiarity with the institution. In other words, the “museum writer” is the “visitor” who has an articulate mastery of museum languages, facts and phenomena.
Using the dominant multiliteracy approach proposed by Kalantzis and Cope (2009, we could say that the knowledge processes useful for the interpretation of goods are recalled here, such as:
• verification of the known and new;
• the conceptualization of the denomination and theorizing;
• the analysis of functions and interests;
• the appropriate and creative application.
Living the already known and identifying the new has to do with familiar domains of experiences, situations and texts, while the integration of the known in the available repertoire can lead to a cultural change that requires firm points and that engages forms of subjectivity congruent with the use of literacy museum. The conceptualization plan concerns the operation of attribution of the name to the concepts and theories providing individuals with a language to understand, evaluate and discuss their experience and interpretation of museum phenomena. Analyzing the functions and interests means recognizing that the social purpose and cultural context influence the “writings” of a museum and the critical process that takes place between practice, code, user and text (Luke & Freebody, 2000). The application it is an appropriate and creative way that recognizes situated practice the importance of expressing meaning through action, which includes the ability to understand and take part in the construction of “museum texts”, which can be written, verbal, visual, experiential, etc., proceeding towards the construction of a bridge that fills narrative gaps and represents personal meanings. The identification of specific alphabetical-museum needs has implications significant for education and, in particular, for school-museum relationships, as it determines a recognition of the peculiarities of the learning experiences that take place within this environment to extend cultural participation. However, the methods and the incorporation of different knowledge and systems that work together and the uniqueness of the museum as a learning context make this task very demanding.
The pedagogical models that have expanded the traditional opinions of “school culture”, opening the school to the territory, have allowed us to look at the visit to the museum as a real literacy event suitable for realizing effective practices that could correspond to a new way to “provide education” (Thwaites, 1999). Accustoming students to “literate with the museum” is not only a problem of transferring skills, but of ways in which education can lead to their full possession and reuse within precise interpretative schemes. This statement aims to highlight how the various museum alphabetic forms bring into play ways of speaking, interacting, thinking, feeling, reading, valorising and using tools and symbols that must be successfully assumed by all citizens drawing on different resources, proposals, paths, models etc. which include a series of educational approaches referred to by the “pedagogy of multiliteracies” (Winch et al., 2006).
This entails the relocation of educational and museum practices in the process of attributing new meanings to real contexts, which build experiences on peculiar aspects of the “world of students” thus allowing them to acquire a metalanguage and a critical framework relating to the interpretation of the context and the social purposes of knowledge. This is in order transform the actions, that is to use the already existing meanings to create new ones in other contexts.
The metalanguage in multiliteracy is based on the concept of “design” (New London Group, 1996: p. 73), implying that any semiotic activity involves elements such as: the “design” available, the design and the redesign, which underline the active and dynamic processes involved in the construction of meanings (New London Group, 1996: p. 74).
The “design” available includes the grammar and conventions of a certain cultural and artistic language and the resources with which the meanings are built, while the “design” constitutes the path of formation of the emerging meaning, which creates, transforms and recreates or re-contextualises the “available models”; finally “re-planning” which requires mediation to reconstruct and renegotiate the identity of what is reproduced and/or transformed. In order to deal with the grammar and languages of a particular good, for example musical, a conventional “design” discourse opens which encompasses a specific style, genre, articulation, structure etc. (the style embraces the semiotic characteristics, the gender the configuration, the articulation, the expressive components, the harmonic structures, the particular meanings of music and voice). Using the notion of grammar involves the use of a specific language that best describes the representation.
Exemplifying: “being literate in jazz” does not mean that it is in all other forms and musical dimensions, but only with respect to the different degrees of “grammar and syntax of jazz” and the messages it is able to convey.
In analogy with what has been said above and by transferring the reasoning to musical goods, we can note that being literate to “jazz goods” does not mean to be literate in all other forms and dimensions of the musical heritage, but only with respect to the different degrees of “grammar and syntax of jazz goods”.
The implications for fruition are quite clear, since each of the above modalities is central to the representation of at least one cultural dimension, within which forms of “mestizo” and “assimilation” can occur, as the musical world shows and that of musical heritages where different types of contamination occur between popular music (rap, soul etc.) and cultured music (melodrama), between musical languages and visual and gestural actions coming from the same or other cultures. This highlights the need to think about literacy in a transversal, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary sense. So how can we deal with these changes on an educational level and respond appropriately to them?
This dimension of learning in relation to socio-cultural factors and the specificity of the domains (Lave & Wenger, 1991) is of particular interest to museum institutions, since it requires taking into account the variations in contexts/contents and involves taking an educational approach not based solely on “explanation”, but also involving aspects such as demonstration and discovery; these latter actions are based on the use of heuristic and creative strategies that stimulate the formation of specific skills and require the use of integrated skills in order to draw on cultural resources to learn (Mills, 2006). Therefore, multiliteracies, applied to museums, concerns the recognition of individuals’ knowledge, experience and attitudes and the analysis of the cultural position and the ability to immerse themselves in the “museum discourse” to build connections between previous learning and sources of information hired at the moment. Furthermore, the reconsideration of museums as places of learning also affects the disciplinary problem of the production of knowledge, of their ways of recognition and of the crises they go through, with evident impacts on the relationship between the structure of knowledge and that of experience.
We propose below an example of what has been argued by using visual education. When we talk about visual education, can we exclude that it happens without a practice of attending art museums that allows the student to have a broader view of this literacy? We can still ask ourselves if only art museums are naturally linked to the visual arts.
If the answer was affirmative, then we should ask ourselves in what way and for what genres of art this has value. And from here we ask ourselves whether or no the art museum embodies the study of the visual arts. If we wanted to try to answer these questions, we would have to remember, as Stapp (1984) argues, that the development of visual literacy is in literature addressed essentially to all art museums and is inherent in basic museum literacy, as “looking at art “is a complex operation, culturally loaded with actions that can be traced back to peculiar characteristics of the artistic disciplines (Rice, 1988). Some sector studies suggest that visual literacy consists of a set of skills that can and must be taught in museums in partnership with the school. Rice (1988: p. 14), in this sense, identifies some key components:
· greater awareness which can be reached through direct observation;
· an extensive and adequate vocabulary to talk about formal and effective elements to communicate the feelings one has when examining objects;
· an ability to think critically about art.
However, while there are many authors who deal with the problem of visual literacy, few are those who examine the issue of the multiliteracy-artistic heritage relationship. In the absence of such research, Duncum (2002) proposed to accept the idea of “visual culture” to deal with the problem of art education, starting from a wider movement that has re-conceptualized it by tracing it to a multiplicity of aspects concerning the “visual” in culture86 and showing how communication and its meanings derive from various types of images. The importance of this model for museums is central to the study of visual and cultural images within a more general discourse concerning social contexts, with a direct focus on the political, economic and daily life as a social activity. Duncum (2004) recalls how it is in fact decisive to move towards a critical perspective relating to the values inherent in “aesthetic places”, since often in art education it is assumed that art is a value in itself and consequently the canon prescribed by the artistic world is passively accepted, as there is no education that concretely invests in visual culture. This conveys an idea of images as expressions an “ideological struggle” that does not help to use the student’s cultural experiences as a starting point for the educational process.
The basic orientation can generally be that of “understanding” (Duncum, 2002) the diverse forms of art, since critical understanding and recognized empowerment are the final objectives of an artistic education based on a visual culture potentially linked to the development of museum audiences.
In spite of the positive assertions on teaching directed to visual literacy in the museum in relation to the school public (Housen & Duke, 1998), Duncum (2004) suggests that there would be no exclusively visual sites and that all museum and cultural contexts contain images including relationships with other modalities communicative that employ various interpretative paradigms. In response to this need he proposes a rethinking of traditional disciplines with special attention within the artistic education, to the visual, which can have significant implications for a highquality museum education. This entails a reflection on literacy and an appeal to the “pedagogy of multiliteracies” for the realization of new meanings that originate from the interaction of a series of communication and information methods and channels.
However, it has happened that many arguments on learning heritage have resorted to the concept of museum literacy without directly adopting this term91. This is demonstrated by the fact that investigations in this sector have increased, especially those aimed at identifying the specific skills associated with museum learning and its nature (Anderson, 1997; Housen & Duke, 1998).
The importance of such work and its application within any educational experience in museums is emphasized by Ralph A. Smith (1985), who argues that the main purpose of the museum in the education process is to help subjects “acquire skills that train for aesthetic appreciation” (p. 10), which must be formally taught. On the museum side, Goodman (1985: p. 57) supports this claim by asserting that if the museum does not find a way to encourage the exercise of these skills it will not perform the other main functions either and its works will reside there as dormant as books written in illegible language. On the other side, that of the school, Stapp (1984) is convinced that if the latter does not decide to face the knowledge, skills and competences necessary for the construction of a museum literacy, generally attributed to a misinterpreted and misunderstood concept of “mastery of museum languages” relegated to the sphere of spontaneous and innate, will soon lose an important slice of “cultural heritage”.
6. Educational Research on the Relationship between Museum Literacy and School Literacy
Education is widely recognized as potentially capable of providing subjects with important foundations which constitute the ability to visit museums and use goods (Anderson, 1997; Bourdieu & Darbel, 1972). A recent scientific literature suggests that passive use combined with a relatively idealistic approach to museum experiences has determined over time the teachers’ lack of confidence in the way to use the museum as a learning tool (Mathewson, 2003; 2008).
The research conducted by Stone (1992) explains, for example, how teachers tend to use large-scale museums with minimal effort by failing to integrate this kind of experience with classroom experiences. This is also supported by Hooper-Greenhill (1991), which states that the grafting of museum experiences into the curriculum is still the central problem of the school-museum relationship, since school visits are currently conceived as an “indefinite” opportunity to acquire information and develop generic learning processes. The confusion that students often feel about the purpose of visiting the museum (Nuzzaci, 2001), as well as the inability of teachers to fully define the educational objectives to which it belongs, support the hypothesis that the attempt of the school community is to justify the educational value of the visit in itself rather than identify specific characteristics and main purposes; these data are corroborated by both international (Griffin, 1999a) and national (Nuzzaci, 2004a; 2004b; 2001), revealing that in school visits to museums teachers express a limited number of learning objectives which often remain vague or uncertain, instead focusing mainly on the general sense of experience, on the its alleged cultural enrichment and the effects of social interaction (Harrison & Naef, 1985).
Furthermore, while the importance of constant collaboration between museums and schools for the enhancement of positive “collaborative and learning relationships” between them (Eisner & Dobbs, 1986) has been stressed, some main factors have been identified that would hinder relations between the two institutions, among which above all those due to the lack of understanding by the various professionals of the respective “professional worlds”, which require the coverage of substantially different roles and responsibilities by the parties involved. The poor understanding is attributable to the absence of communication and, in some cases, of friction, due to the different configuration and educational logic assumed by the “environments” to which the professionals belong. Furthermore, more specifically, in many studies there is a lack of museum education of teachers (Beer, 1992) and an incorrect use, which sometimes becomes abuse, of very imprecise current terms—it is the case of words such as “informal”, “free choice”, “self-direct”, “creativity” etc.— (Hughes, Jackson, & Kidd, 2007), normally used to describe the type of learning that occurs in museums.
And this contrasts with the variety and specificity of museum collecting and with the sense of effectiveness of communication and educational mediation. It is worth mentioning that the objects contained in museums, which include their conservation and interpretation, are physically and visually oriented in spaces that vary in structure, shape, comfort and hospitality (Vallance, 2007) and are driven by the interpretative action of the participants (Harrison & Naef, 1985). This is demonstrated by the fact that the distinctive qualities of learning at the museum have been the subject of observations aimed primarily at studying the types of collection present in the museum (Silverman, 1995), the pace of direct or direct auto acquisition (Heumann Gurian, 1991) and exploratory educational approaches and participatory employees specifically activities and social interactions (Vallance, 2007; Griffin, 1999a). This would be in line with the common opinion that the learning opportunity offered by museums would consist in enabling subjects to examine “specimens” and offer opportunities for discussion that allow them to follow naturalistic trends and learning models, which they incorporate the sharing of deciphering processes, communication and exchange of ideas, questions and perceptual skills that help individuals collect information from objects and experiences.
The results of the most advanced research in the educational field have then shown how the reading of objects, of spatial dispositions, of exhibition choices are intimately connected with the reading of written texts (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007) and that this includes reflection on different cultural and material methods, which make museums of exhibition “showcases” for different contents and expressions of particular cultural values (Eakle, 2007b). Suffice it to say that museums usually show an abundant presence of printed, descriptive texts on panels, labels and so on, becoming particularly rich places and sources to draw on new ways of teaching and where to practice “multiple literacy”, since visitors can read “the texts of culture”, catching both “words” and “reality” (Freire & Macedo, 1987: p. 29). In fact, a museum is conceptualized, designed and built, with the idea of having to be decodable and understandable, involving various meanings that are based on the experiences of readers and on the dynamic integration of skills and the knowledge they manifest in the uses of the various channels and texts. For example, in the construction of meanings of a printed museum text, readers draw on multiple resources, including experiences with different objects and spaces. In fact, many often particularly attentive teachers guide students in reading the different texts and images as they would in other situations.
In this sense, the practices of education would benefit greatly from all this, also in reference to the implications that would derive from it for strengthening the relationship between objectivity and virtuality in training, for improving the quality of teaching-learning and multi-alphabetical processes, thus increasing training results.
In conclusion, we can reiterate that if it is known that a diversified use of resources leads to adopting more balanced educational practices (Baumann & Ivey, 1997), promoting authentic literacy experiences in students with which they arrive at forms of “truly informed teaching”, it is equally certain that literacy practices they are often clouded by educational policies that seek to relegate them to the level of reading and decoding the word, with scripts and procedures taught only within the classroom. On the other hand, they are firmly convinced that if they move beyond conventional borders, museum literacy would be able to guarantee teachers suitable ways to develop best literacy practices in compliance with the norms, needs and objectives of the schools in which they operate.
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