Becoming Mobius

The complex matter of education

By: Dr. Debra Kidd


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Products specifications
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Size: 234 x 156mm
Pages : 224
ISBN : 9781781352199
Format: Hardback
Published: May 2015

Across the world educators and policy makers are reaching for solutions to the very slippery problem of how to ensure consistency and quality in our education systems. There is an unwillingness to accept and live with uncertainty and yet each solution throws up more problems - many of them unexpected. This is because education, indeed the human brain, is a complex adaptive system in which outcomes emerge as more than a sum of their component parts.

Drawing predominantly on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, Becoming Mobius argues that teachers can and should learn to love uncertainty and complexity; that they should seek to become pedagogical activists working within a system while remaining outside of it - becoming like a Mobius strip both in and out. It argues that the interesting stuff in classrooms exists in the minute details, the pivotal moments of interactions, in relationships and in the affective dimension and that having faith in becoming attuned, and listening to the ‘gutterances’ of others leads teaching into a new world of possibility. 

This is an honest, challenging and incredibly profound book that makes you stop and think - deeply - about what you do, why you do it and the effect it has. You will never look at teaching in the same light again.

Picture for author Dr. Debra Kidd

Dr. Debra Kidd

Debra Kiddtaught for 23 years in primary, secondary and higher education settings. She is the author of three previous books - Teaching: Notes from the Front Line, Becoming Mobius and Uncharted Territories - and believes more than anything else that 'the secret to great teaching is to make it matter'. Debra has a doctorate in education and co-founded and organised Northern Rocks, one of the largest annual teaching and learning conferences in the UK.

View Debra's profile in Schools Week, October 2014.

Click here to listen in on Debra's podcast with Pivotal Education on 'teaching, learning and politics'.

Click here to watch a video interview with Debra as part of The Education Foundation's series of Education Britain Conversations.


  1. Debra Kidd's second book Becoming Mobius sees her stepping back from the -˜front line' of her first to inhabit a series of reflective, philosophical spaces. The ideas are complex and take some work to unpack, which is only appropriate given that complexity theory and its relevance to education is the book's central matter. However, one should not be put off by the folds and diffractions in time and space that we are asked to navigate, or the multiple -˜lines of flight' that see Kidd move from reflections on personal professional struggles, to theoretical physics, to the philosophies of Deleuze and Guatarri that sit at the heart of the book. Kidd helps us to navigate complex ideas and disorientating lines of flight by anchoring them in the classroom, thus Deleuze' notion of -˜chronos' and -˜aion' time are explored through a story of helping Danny with his spellings. Extracts from her journals are wonderfully lucid and their treatment unswervingly honest and compassionate. Kidd is clearly still a teacher at heart.

    Kidd argues that complexity and uncertainty are inherent within the process of learning. Rather than responding to this by reducing learning to a set of standardized outcomes, she encourages us to learn to “live with uncertainty”. Indeed it is within these moments of uncertainty that profound possibilities for learning emerge: “void space is event space in which the pedagogical aim has not been -˜the transmission of the same, but the creation of the different'”.

    We see this in action in a school curriculum designed to engage students with questions for which there is no easy answer: “Is the world a fair place? What is a good person?” Relating to and understanding complex concepts takes precedence over getting the right answer. Within such a curriculum the notion of standardization becomes absurd and Kidd argues very powerfully, unjust. The blunt tools of high stakes testing and inspection do not help us make sense of these complex environments and processes.

    What gives Becoming Mobius its vitality is its humane and empowering approach to its subjects. Kidd steadfastly refuses to allow the voices of the students to become mere data asserting “[t]o be worthy, I need to make the children more than text - more than characters in a story”. In an education system obsessed by data it is refreshing to read a book that brings human beings back into the center of educational discourse.
  2. What matters in education? Randomised controlled trials have their origins in medical and agricultural research so “what works” discourses in education tend to rely on simplified and predictable input/output models of causality. These fail to capture the complex dynamics navigated in classrooms every day and they fail to communicate what matters in education -” that is, what is significant for those involved.

    Kidd shows the pedagogical potential offered by unpredictable encounters in educational spaces. She describes some of the implications of policies and practices in schools that aim to eliminate unpredictability to ensure linear progress, measurable outcomes and control, drawing in particular upon the writings of philosophers Deleuze and Guattari.

    It isn't easy to find a way of mobilising concepts and theory creatively without losing the complexity and liveliness of educational practice. Kidd's efforts to think with difficult concepts don't always work, but she avoids the clumsy impositions of a conceptual framework that can too often plague the unreflective use of philosophical and theoretical concepts in educational research and policy. She also resists many of the presuppositions governing educational research in respect of reliability, validity, proof, and evidence.

    Her sensitivity to the nature of pedagogical practice and her desire to understand and explore significant, although unpredictable, moments of teaching and learning is worked through with data excerpts in each chapter to stimulate reflection. This inner dialogue of a teacher thinking through what it is she is doing underscores the text and makes it coherent.

    There are many humorous, insightful and wonderfully descriptive anecdotes that communicate something of the liveliness of education and the messiness of research, and one gets a strong sense of Kidd's relationships with her students and the complexities of life as a teacher.

    Moments like the wink she gives to her students, the words of the boy responding hesitantly to the theme of multiculturalism and immigration, or the difficult encounter between three boys when she feels excluded, all help to imagine education in terms of singular cases that don't fit comfortably beside one another, undoing the idea that every particular can be subsumed under a universal maxim. The tenor and energy of many of these stories will be familiar to practitioners, but may not be so for policymakers.

    Yet there are some problems with the book. Although the author is aware of the decisions she is making methodologically and structurally, in particular in relation to the non-linearity of the piece, it can dance too quickly between ideas and, at times, its meandering obscures any insights.

    It would have benefited from more waymarks to orientate the reader. Using the image of a map is fine but it helps to have some sense of where one is going and why.

    Eliminating some of the reflexivity and positionality, in particular in relation to the PhD process, would have focused it further, but the journal excerpts are terrific as are the descriptions.

    At times, I would have preferred more depth in terms of working through a number of the concepts, and I wondered how someone unfamiliar with this tradition of philosophical thought would cope with the array of ideas.

    This is not to say that Kidd is wrong in her interpretation of these philosophical ideas - many of her intuitions seem right to me - but rather greater elaboration would have been welcome.

    Notwithstanding these issues, it is very much worth reading. The examples are particularly engaging and Kidd does well in the difficult task of inviting an interplay of ideas and practice, rather than privileging one over the other.
  3. The teaching manual is a form of book which has become increasingly popular in recent years. With its tips and menus of how to be a -˜brilliant' teacher, there is an assumption that careful replication of set principles should underpin the work of teachers. However both the ethical and the particular can become buried and lost in such narratives. Becoming Mobius, growing out of the philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari, instead emphasises the particular, the transient, the detail of the lived experience in education. It provokes the reader to consider the intricate networks of teaching from a series of alternative perspectives and in so doing, to reflect on their own assumptions about practice, ethics and beliefs. This book challenges us to think and reflect on what we value in education, not by telling us how we should act, but by sensitising us to the everyday complexity and experience of being a teacher.
  4. In this compelling, conceptually-rich and moving book, Debra Kidd creates a unique engagement with the UK educational environment. Taking inspiration from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, she uses insightful analyses of ethnographic data taken from her own classrooms to explore how experiences of uncertainty constitute the living material of educational practice. She shows how the fetishization of certainty, of a fixed stock of knowledge and -˜values', constrains educational practice now more than ever before in the UK, thanks to increasingly centralized political control. Yet uncertainty, Kidd maintains, is not to be feared. It must instead be seen as a positive contribution to order, as the source of novelty, surprise and transformation. Through eight chapters presented as -˜plateaus', extended engagements with awkwardness, difficulty and antagonism in the classroom, she extracts from her experiences moments and encounters which exemplify learning in the sense articulated by Deleuze and Guattari, the -˜making of sense from sensation'. Kidd shows with clarity, humour and verve how the classroom can become a site of small resistances that hold open the promise of different futures, multiple lines of flight shot through a deadening crust of compliance and conformity.

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