Thesis Defence: Haley Zhou

Friday, September 8, 2017 12:30 pm - 12:30 pm EDT (GMT -04:00)

Of the thesis entitled: From Pedagogy to Agency: Learning to Act in Rural China


How can a school teach us to act?

From Pedagogy to Agency confronts the imbalances found between rural and urban society in China and explores the role education have to play in their ever-changing relationship.

The challenge is to ask of schools, classrooms, and education to realize its importance as a place of mediation within our society. A place where differences are made not only possible but a critical component of our shared world. As homogeneity is observed in the spaces all around us, differences are rejected. Education is now defined by the answers we receive instead of the questions we ask. Education then, must learn to ask questions again, dialogue that requires us to negotiate and cooperate with one another. 

We build as acts of mediation as well. Whether it is to define ourselves against the elements or between each other, our buildings and their making serves as a reflection of our societies and our values. During my travels in China, the built environment of cities, villages, and spaces in between, revealed a culture at odds between its past and future. The inequalities within a modern education; one rooted in competition, reflect the traits of our neoliberal and globalized society today. The nature of its classrooms and schools all comes to be relentlessly uniform, introverted and hermetic. In fostering a new agency, schools then might look to become outward looking, expanded and connected to its communities and surroundings. These interactions then allowed will be moments of learning for the children; to learn to be curious, to learn to be with each other as a community, to learn about the nature of the world around them and to learn to realize their places in them as individuals. This process is filled with risks, moments of uncertainty and it is endlessly challenging. But, perhaps that is the role education must play, for us to learn to better be with each other and for a shared world to be possible.

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.” 1
-Hannah Arendt, The Crisis in Education

1 Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis of Education,” in In Between past and Future; Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 196.

The examining committee is as follows:


Anne Bordeleau, Univeristy of Waterloo

Committee Members:

Adrian Blackwell, University of Waterloo

Jane Hutton, University of Waterloo

External Reader:

Fred Thompson

The committee has been approved as authorized by the Graduate Studies Committee.

The Defence Examination will take place:  

Friday September 8, 2017                 
12:30 PM               
Musagetes Architecture Library

A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A.