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Choosing the "Enterprise"

Rules of Mantle of the Expert: Choose the "context"

First of all, I’m looking for a [fictional] context which will permit the children and I to penetrate all the range of curriculum interests. And of course, just breathing will do it. I mean, if you’re alive and breathing, you can get into the curriculum. But it’s a bit more tricky when you’ve got 32 [children in the class]. (Dorothy Heathcote)

In planning a Mantle, you should first choose your curriculum area - be it Tudor History, a Shakespeare play, algebra... etc. ​Do a "mind-map" of the possible topics / learning areas which you might cover. ​Now, you will have to decide the "enterprise" that will enable you to meet your teaching aims.

When planning a Mantle project, Dorothy Heathcote thought in terms of “domains”: "Now, I use the word domains here because it helps me think of all the potential of this enterprise in terms of the curriculum." She used the example of a Mantle about running a funeral home. Some of the "domains" in this case might include: flowers; caskets and rituals; wills, inheritances, last wishes and the testaments.; beliefs about the afterlife; research and archives (etc.) Dorothy said: “You bring in what you think is important.” You can also “take it to where you think the kids will get a kick out of it.” (1) [For more on "domains", see our account of Dorothy's plan for a Mantle about a "funeral home," here.]

Here are some possible enterprises:

  • Government agencies - Home Office, Environmental Affairs, local Council

  • Services: Police, Hospital, Travel Agents, Town Planners

  • Organisations: Oxfam, Greenpeace, National Trust, zoo, vets, RSPCA

  • Gardens & outdoors: Landscapers, Farmers, Garden Centre

  • Museums: museums, Art Gallery, stately home

  • Manufacturing: Factory, Bakery, Fashion House

  • Arts & Media: TV company, documentary film-makers

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The list is endless...! Tip: try to be oblique – don’t be too direct in your choice of "enterprise"! One of the principles of the work, however, is that the children learn about one thing – while they think they are actually doing something else!

Here's an example: a teacher was working with a group of Y5 pupils in a UK school. The curriculum topic was India. The enterprise chosen was an airline; the children called it Sky Jet 7. At a certain point, a (fictitious) "commission" arrived, inviting them to bid to run new routes to three cities in India. As far as the children were concerned, they were simply running their company. But of course, in putting together their proposal to run the new routes, they actually learned a great deal about India! In this case, other possible enterprises could include: Travel Agency; Tour Guides; TV documentary makers, etc. 

"It pays you to be a bit perverse..." 

If you are teaching about, say, Ancient Egypt, it may be tempting to choose an enterprise very closely linked to the topic – people running a museum, for example, or an archaeological site (digging up a Egyptian tomb). 

In 2008, Dorothy Heathcote was leading a training event for the Mantle Network. She was given a curriculum topic - the Ancient Egyptians – and asked to invent a Mantle based on it. She said:

Now, I tend to be a bit perverse in my thinking, because it suits me to avoid the routine way into things. Because I find if you go - if you take for example, Tutankhamun as the way everybody thinks of the Egyptians, well he was only, you know, he’d didn’t reign for long, he’s not all that important. He just happened to have a particularly nice coffin. There’s so much more…

Her “perverse” way-in to the study of the ancient Egyptians was to frame the class as wig-makers, helping the Egyptian government to create a pageant of the Olympics, to celebrate the “gifts of the Nile.” 

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Later, she observed, apropos a different training event she was planning (for NATD):

I’ve got to do the Fire of London, you see, and I’m at the stage now with the Fire of London – how on earth can I avoid Pepys burying cheeses? How can I avoid that bread shop, or whatever it was called? How can I get out of that "box," so that the Fire of London means the horror, the terror, not these tweezly little stories. … I’m thinking, "I’m not doing Pudding Lane." What I’m not doing is important to get clear. I’m not doing it, because I don’t know how to make it new. I just don’t know how to get rid of all the previous bits and bobs. ...


And then, serendipity: I hear a man on the radio, saying he’d just written a book on what happened the day after the fire, and Pepys and Christopher Wren, and the Mayor … and a merchant from the Goldsmith’s Guild, I think, met among the ruins of St. Paul’s, and said, "London shall rise again." Now I reckon that will teach us what a hell of a time that fire was…

I think it pays you to be a bit perverse, a bit perverse, because what you can do is: "make strangely", sensible… 

Sources: from the unpublished transcript of an event for teachers at Newman University, 2008; except (1) from the unpublished transcript of training event for teachers at UCEl, 1992. The book referred to is The Phoenix: St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Men Who Made Modern London by Leo Hollis.

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