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Teacher as Fool: A Study of the Teacher’s Power in the Carnivalesque Practice of Drama Education

15 Oct 2017
Teacher as Fool: A Study of the Teacher’s Power in the Carnivalesque Practice of Drama Education

In the past two decades, an increasing number of childhood studies have used Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnival theory to investigate children’s resistance to official knowledge and culture in and out of school.


A research by Dr Pansy Tam Po-chi, Assistant Professor at the Department of Early Childhood Education, The Education University of Hong Kong, conceptualised drama education as a kind of carnivalesque teaching and learning. Drawing on the notions of the carnival fool or king and decrowning–crowning, Dr Tam investigated the interplay between the teacher’s disguise in Teacher-in-Role (TiR) and the reversal of teacher-child power relations in the everyday Hong Kong preschool classroom.


Drawing on Bakhtin’s carnival theory, Dr Tam argues that teachers can play a transgressive role – similar to that of the carnival fool – by taking on a story role and interacting with the children in the drama convention of TiR, whereby the teacher takes on a story character in a drama lesson and interacts with the children in one of the roles. In this process, the teacher can be likened to a carnival fool in the crowning–decrowning ritual, since both pretend to shift their power to the powerless, giving the powerless sanction to laugh, feel and act freely. 


In the case lesson Dr Tam sampled, various theatre games and drama conventions were applied for story exploration and dramatisation. The teachers chose Room on the Broom, a well-known picture book, to foster the children’s creativity. In the lesson, problem-solving capacity, risk-taking, imagination, and opportunities for thinking were emphasised. The teachers decrowned themselves of their own authority, parodied the story and at the same time, crowned the children to laugh, feel, respond and act freely. 


The paper situated the study of the practice of TiR in a Hong Kong preschool classroom to evaluate its embodiment of decrowning–crowning in bodily and sensory forms. The bodily and sensory expressions of both the teachers and the children were interpreted against the frame of carnival categories. Based on the results, Dr Tam identified and evaluated the factors that may afford or thwart decrowning–crowning in TiR. However, the mainstream ideology and educational culture prevailing in Hong Kong can regress in the process and serve to restrict, if not counterfeit, the decrowning-crowning process.


The carnival notion of decrowning–crowning helped the researcher understand how the teachers disguise and share their power in drama class. Based on a sample drama lesson in a Hong Kong kindergarten class, the study investigated the teachers’ roles and the related teaching skills involved in the practice of TiR, and factors that influence the success or failure of carnivalesque decrowning–crowning drama practices in destabilising and transforming the routines and hierarchies of everyday classrooms. 


To learn more about the research, please click here


Dr Pansy Tam Po-chi
Dr Pansy Tam Po-chi
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Education and Human DevelopmentDepartment of Early Childhood Education
Research Area(s)
  • Chinese language education
  • Qualitative inquiry
  • Arts education
  • Children literature education