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Jun 8, 2021

Relation-Centered Education Network conference

Last weekend and on Monday, I spent some 30 hours on Zoom, attending the first full conference of the relation-centered education network (RCEN). It started out as a conversation. Ann-Louise Ljungblad, a Swedish researcher and I were having lunch in Oslo in May 2019. Both of us were interested in educational relations. It occurred to me that there are hundreds of other people around the world that are interested in the same thing, and we never talk to each other. Very few pleasures in life compare to turning an idea into reality. We all secretly crave creation.

Two years later, here we are, a conference with 47 presentation by people from 18 different countries. When you meet an old friend, there is a way of skipping the chitchat, and going straight to real things that matter, like life, love, and loss. That is how this conference felt to me. There is a tribe out there that is just coming to self-awareness. We all share the assumption that education is more about human relations than about anything else. Sharing basic assumptions improves the quality of conversations.

I was also in awe of the great arch of scholarship made visible. It had philosophers with their power of abstraction, along with a psychometrician discussing the Cronbach’s alpha. The conference included qualitative researchers, an art presentation, and several practitioners talking about their work with youth. At an interdisciplinary conference like this, you can see how concepts turn into stories, stories into studies, studies into practices, practices into measuring instruments, instruments into policies, etc. There is a great comfort in discipline-based scholarly communities. Interdisciplinarity may be annoying for we all have different conventions and standards and conventions. However, it also provides a wider view. The great arch of knowledge is rarely visible; we tend to see out small slice of it. But it does exist.

Scholarship can be much more influential in public discourse and public policy if scholars and practitioners were better organized. For that we need a big common project, like affecting the direction of the great ship called education: from job-worthy skills toward well-being and a meaningful life.

Barbara Stengel called us (approvingly) a ragtag band rather than a proper scholarly society. That’s what we intend to remain for some time.

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